It now appears that what many hoped would be a clarifying election between policies favoring the rich versus an emphasis on a more widespread enjoyment of the fruits of democratic capitalism isn’t going to happen.
The choice, according to electoral slogans, was to be between the 1 percent and the 90 percent — or the 60 percent, which defines the middle class.
Since Romney’s latest zig-zag, a smart left turn in the first debate from a “severe conservative” governor of Massachusetts to a sunny, middle-class moderate, the choice seems more between twiddledum and twiddledee.
Unless something drastic happens in the next three weeks, there won’t be a triumphal leader chosen with a broad mandate — left or right — and a fresh new Congress ready to work with the new president.
Polls show Congress will remain pretty much intact; that is, frozen, which is just what the wealthy group Romney addressed wanted.
The tea-party core of the House is a kind of fraternal firewall for the super-rich right, a party it financed. Each is anti-regulation, pro-freedom for corporations and believes in cutting support for the ‘”lazy” to keep taxes low.
Articles, books and studies have been written that support my shorthand description of the cause shared by the tea party and its wealthy donors. It is a cabal that would drive a President Romney insane, as it did Eisenhower.
More later on Ike and the right, but first, what would a Catholic bishop or writer tell the rest of the gathering at Boca Raton, if one had been allowed to attend, about the now-famous 47 percent.
David Carroll Cochran, director of the Archbishop Kucera Center for Catholic Intellectual and Spiritual Life at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, writing in the progressive Catholic magazine Commonweal, had this to say:
“The Catholic tradition is not opposed to wealth, private property, or free markets. Their value, however, is … beneficial to the extent that they contribute to the good of all, creating a widely shared prosperity.
“To ensure they do this, markets need government. Laws are needed to enforce contracts, insure transparency, and prevent corruption, and regulation is needed to prevent what Benedict XVI calls the ‘scandalous speculation’ in the financial sector that recklessly risks the security of those in the larger economy.
“According to John Paul II, markets must be ‘appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the state to assure that the basic needs of the whole society are satisfied.’”
Trend lines for the past 30 years have pointed away from that vision of wealth and society and toward the establishment of a plutocracy: government of, by and for the well-to-do. In three decades, incomes for the top 1 percent rose 260 percent, only 14 percent for the bottom 60 percent.
By 2007, the top 1 percent earned more than all 150 million people in the bottom 50 percent — combined. This does not look like the economically just picture of America we hold in our heads.
Continuation of a trend toward more plutocracy and less democracy, if allowed to continue or accelerate, undermines the foundation of both social mobility and stability: two nations, one very rich, the other struggling or poor; each hostile to the other.
Cochran, in his Commonweal piece, asserts, “Plutocracy is a repudiation of Catholic doctrine. Seeking to disconnect the fate of the wealthy and powerful from all others, and maximizing private gain at the expense of the common good, it is the opposite of solidarity.”
Social unrest, potentially ugly, is out there, just beyond the horizon.
If Obama had laid out his vision for the economic future, described how his vision was frustrated by a recalcitrant House, he would have been more confident and forceful in the first debate, maybe winning a sweep of tea party House seats.
Whether his performance in the debate Tuesday recast the election is hard to say, but it’s safe to say a President Romney would have rocky relations with Congress — if Eisenhower’s experience is a predictor.
“The most ignorant people now living in the United States” was one of the ways the hero of World War II described the right wing of his party, the leadership then as it is now.
It is easy to imagine the “moderate” President Romney privately telling his press secretary as Ike did Jim Haggerty, “If the right wing wants a fight, they’re going to get it. If they want to leave the Republican Party and form a third party, that’s their business, but before I end up, the Party will reflect progressivism or I won’t be with them anymore.”
As the final days of the campaign dwindle down, it looks very much as if gridlock will continue whether it’s Obama or Romney. The boys of Boca Raton can relax, their firewall is intact; the march of plutocracy hasn’t been halted.
H. Brandt Ayers is the publisher of The Star and chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co.