Sunday, April 21, 2013

Why we're succeeding on social issues, failing on economic issues

I've wondered about this, too. We don't seem to be making the same progress on economic issues that we're making on many social issues.

Despite the screaming from the right, they've already lost on gay rights. We've made really dramatic progress there. I'm still surprised by it. And despite lingering racism, they've given up entirely on issues of segregation, anti-miscegenation, and fair housing/employment laws. Even when it comes to immigration, Republicans are starting to throw in the towel (desperate as they are for Hispanic votes).

But when it comes to economic issues, we've seen no progress at all. Democrats these days are more conservative than Republicans decades ago, and Republicans have gone completely insane. When it comes to economic issues, Barack Obama readily gives Republicans most of what they want,... and the only reason they don't accept it is because they refuse to accept anything from Obama.

For decades, the right-wing has controlled the rhetoric on economic issues in a way they haven't on social issues, despite the fact that their policies proved to be absolutely disastrous failures during the Bush years. It's not just that Republicans stick to 'trickle-down' economics, deregulation, tax cuts for the rich, and cuts in social (though not military) spending, but Democrats do, too - despite the evidence.

Gun control is kind of in the middle, and I think Reich overlooks the connection there. Overwhelmingly, the American public has moved towards progressive positions - favoring universal background checks and bans on assault weapons, machine pistols, and large magazines - but politicians have not. What's the difference? Money.

Just like wealthy interests control the debate on economic policies by their campaign contributions to politicians, gun and ammo manufacturers use their incredible profits to buy Congressmen, themselves. (Note that it doesn't have to be direct. They can just threaten to run negative ads against a Congressman, to get him to toe the NRA line. Politicians tend to be hopeless cowards.)

Still, his main point is valid. There's no money to be made when it comes to social issues. Wealthy individuals might have their own opinions, and they certainly do spend money to influence these issues, but they don't make a profit from homophobia, so it's not the same to them, not at all. But if you're making money from oil and gas drilling, from refineries, from fossil fuel use in general, you very definitely have an economic incentive to attack the science of global warming, for example.

And, unfortunately, it's very easy to believe what you want to believe. That's just human nature. Did you wonder how tobacco company executives could live with themselves for denying the health effects of smoking for so long? They weren't all sociopaths, I'm sure. They just had a vested interest in believing otherwise (and especially a vested interest in making other people think otherwise).

When you're wealthy yourself, it's easy to believe that tax cuts for the rich are a good thing. That's just the way it is. A few billionaires will overcome that bias, but most won't. More to the point, when you're making boatloads of money from a government policy, you'll almost certainly support that policy. And nothing has become more important than money in our political system.

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