It’s a new year, so let’s talk about something new. It seems that there’s a fairly significant disparity between the haves and the have nots, the rich and the poor, the 1 percent and the 99 percent, thems as got it and thems what ain’t. I know this because suddenly, the Alpha dogs in both political parties are saying “We’ve got to do something about how the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer. Dang, when did that happen, and why didn’t we know about it?”
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If nobody had actually noticed it, the Alpha dogs wouldn’t even bring it up, because they’re all jacked up on the donations from those who’ve become richer, and nobody much gets anything from the poorer because they don’t have any extra to throw away on some wild goose chase of a political representative – hoping that he or she will make things better for them – and a major segment of them don’t vote anyway.
But for some reason it’s become as obvious as “there’s gambling at the casino,” and lots of Alpha dogs are now in the hunt. The hunt is a game of how to make it look like we’re doing something that makes things different. The real hunt game is how to make it look like we’re doing something different without really doing anything different. The fact is that actually doing something different would run the risk of hacking off the big donors.
Paul Ryan went and visited in a couple of poor neighborhoods and got the lowdown on being poor and stuff, so now he’s all concerned about the poor because it’s cool (and might pay off somehow in the next election but I’m not real sure how) to be concerned about the poor. Telling them about how the deficit will plague their great-grandchildren 50 years from now should make them want to vote Republican but, somehow, it doesn’t. Telling them how we can’t afford not to spend gazillion on some new missile system to protect us from Uganda is supposed to work because, somehow, we need to be protected from Uganda even if it does raise the deficit. After all, who wouldn’t rather be poor or dead than Ugandan?
The cost of half an aircraft carrier would probably pay for the extension of unemployment benefits, but some Alpha dogs wouldn’t think of delaying or defunding half an aircraft carrier in favor of the poor — what if Uganda nutted up and started making threats? Think about that for a minute, and think about how it would be if some poor person said something like “I don’t give a s**t about the Uganda threat, because I can’t even feed my baby or pay my rent since my unemployment got cut off.”
“But don’t you realize that these benefits are just keeping you in this state of dependence and stagnation, and the Uganda threat is really real? And don’t you worry about the deficit and how it will ruin your great-grandchildrens’ future?”
“H**l no, I don’t. Tell the landlord I can’t pay the rent because I’ve got to pay for half a new aircraft carrier to protect us from Uganda. I’m pretty sure he’ll see your point and not kick me out for not paying the rent, due to the Uganda threat and all.”
Some smart heads say income inequality is tolerable as long as “mobility” is vibrant and robust and the poor actually have opportunities to move up. Income inequality when combined with immobility, however, is said to be a serious canker on the body politic and indicative of a democracy in real trouble. When immobility starts dragging down the ranks of the middle class as well as the poor, then the social fabric is seriously torn. That’s what some of the honest Alpha dogs on both sides are beginning to recognize. They know what’s wrong, and they know how it got wrong, and some probably have some good ideas about how to start fixing it.
I doubt they really will because it’s too big, and it might require making changes that some people would really be opposed to — especially those who have gotten 278 percent richer since 1979 or whenever. And when those people get hacked off, they tend to start throwing their money to the “other guy,” which hacks off the current guy who then has to apologize and change focus away from exploring the inequality-immobility problem. That is:
“It’s a darn shame that not everyone takes advantage of opportunities that are so abundant. There must be something wrong with them. If they really wanted to improve things, they’d start being a lot more worried about the deficit and Uganda and all the other things we tell them they should be worried about instead of just whining and thinking of themselves. Yeah, that’s the answer.”
I do applaud the Paul Ryans and other Alpha dogs who at least have begun to look like they care and are willing to go out on a limb (gingerly to be sure) to get others to begin to care. Long may they prosper.
Chris Daley is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. His column appears each Friday.