Thursday, February 18, 2010

Contract for the American Dream: A nightmarish proposal

Once again my favorite congressional whipping boy, Jason Chaffetz, has released -- to great fanfare -- something really icky. He calls it the Contract for the American Dream, and I guess it is dreamy, if you're rich, a defense contractor, a climate contrarian, a union buster, or someone who, after careful, measured consideration, has decided he's paying too much in taxes..

Mister Chaffetz, let me tell you about the American Dream. Arguably, the American Dream was at its healthiest back in the 1950s. There's a lot of bad things to be said about the Fifties, but I'm going to talk about the bright spots. As I do so, think about how Republicans today might feel about this America.

In the 1950s, a single man with nothing more than a high school education had a good shot at a union job that paid enough to support a family in a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle. About one in three jobs was a union job.

Between 1950 and 1970, the minimum wage rose from $7/hour (where we are today) to peak at $10/hr. Figures are, of course, adjusted for inflation.

The top marginal tax rate was 91%, and the average CEO earned 30 times the average worker's salary, not 300 times.

Millions of young Americans were going to college on the government's dime. Thanks to the GI Bill -- a government program -- education had never been more accessible. Well, if you were white.

People back then held deep, probably excessive respect for the institutions of government. I mean, they were loath to show the president's face in movies. I still think that's weird, especially given that the government had hijacked the whole economy plus most of the menfolk just a decade before.

Sure, the government was smaller back then, with government spending representing 25% of the economy rather than 40%. But it's hard to argue that 15% is the difference between liberation and servitude. More to the point, the government was doing all the things it's doing now, providing for the health, welfare, defense, education, and comfortable retirement of its citizenry, just on a slightly smaller scale.

The American Dream was never a dream of an America without government, without a social safety net, without worker protections. Jason Chaffetz clearly does not see that, and it shows in his proud, willful lack of decent ideas. Really, Jason and his Republican clones only have one idea: government bad. Everything will get better if we just cut taxes, cut spending, jettison every regulation or government department we can, and... make sure we cut absolutely nothing from our bloated, wasteful, $700B annual Pentagon budget? Republicans want to go line-by-line over your grandma's medical bills, looking for "waste, fraud, and abuse," but god forbid the people building the F-22 get the same scrutiny.

That, in a nutshell, is the Republican American Dream. More on the specific proposals later.*

* If I'm bored.

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