Sunday, August 28, 2011

Wrong Approach

Really, Chris, don't do their dirty work for them. We already have President Obama for that.

On Thursday and Friday evenings, substituting for Lawrence O'Donnell, Chris Hayes took up the idea of Florida Governor Rick Scott to test welfare recipients for illegal drugs. Concluding on Friday, Hayes cannily observed

What we`re seeing instead is that the category of welfare queen has simply expanded to now include the working poor, and those unlucky enough to lose their jobs during the Great Recession.

That observation not only is accurate but captures a fundamental shift in GOP philosophy and tactics. As it is no longer safe to go after minorities (directly), the party has subtly transitioned to casting aspersions on the great mass- the non-wealthy- of Americans. The tax system must be flattened, we are told. The rich pay too much while some of those pesky middle class folk get away with paying no income tax. Payroll, sales, property, and all manner of excise and user fees and taxes just will not do.

Despite this GOP tactic, Chris Hayes- the Chris Hayes of The Nation- on Thursday commented

But actually, there is one way I could support a plan to drug test welfare applicants. It comes from Mike Konczal, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, who writes for one of my favorite economics blogs, RortyBomb. He`s been a guest on the program. He wrote not too long ago, "I think I can support this idea, that is testing welfare applicants for drugs, if and only if it is also required that people who claim a mortgage interest tax deduction are also required to take a drug test."

I mean, after all, we don`t want to subsidize people`s drug habits. And welfare is welfare is welfare. Am I right, homeowners of America?

Though the tax deduction for mortgage interest paid is enjoyed by the wealthy, it is viewed by the public (the electorate) as one dedicated to the middle class. And in fact, no gun is pressed against the head of members of Congress preventing them from exempting interest on huge mortgages ($1,000,000, $500,000 or whatever) from its benefits.

But Hayes did not recommend restricting the mortgage interest tax deduction, preferring to take a swipe at "homeowners of America" (code for "middle class"). Instead, he lumped drug users in with the middle class, probably not a way of drawing sympathy for your ideological persuasion from the majority (electorate) of Americans who are of the middle class and the vast majority (electorate) who believe they are of the middle class. Or, for that matter, the vast majority of Americans who own a home or are working 1, 2, or even three jobs at a time in order to be able to become a full-fledged, property tax-paying homeowner like their parents are.

Not smart, Chris and not helpful to the progressive/liberal cause. And that is especially the case when we have an IRS code that taxes capital gains at a lower rate than ordinary income and contains other goodies for the well-healed. Hayes could have decried a tax system, or even a culture, which favors wealth acquired by moving money around over that earned by labor- what once was called the "sweat of one's brow," though nowadays is more likely to have been earned by exuding less perspiration.

There is no reason to adopt GOP strategy. Republicans already effectively set the middle class against the poor, just as they set whites against blacks during the last quarter of the twentieth century. It is an ongoing strategy, one damaging to the nation (which Hayes seemed to understand the following night, on Friday), and one which is better left to the right, for which it is almost raison d'etre.

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