Believe it or not, there is good news when it comes to income inequality. It turns out Republicans finally believe that the gap between rich and poor has become a problem. The bad news is, according to a new poll, is that Republicans think the best solution is cutting the taxes for the wealthy and big corporations so money and opportunity can rain down on the poor. Addressing poverty by ensuring that cash does not become lonely in the wallets of the wealthy is what passes for a Republican governing philosophy these days, and it is exactly why Barack Obama has decided to go it alone on income inequality.
The issue isn’t that income inequality exists but that the wealthiest 1% has achieved the financial equivalent of escape velocity, leaving us poor folk back here on Planet Broke. In 1982, the top 1% highest-earning families took home one out of every $10. Now they get more than twice that, leaving the other 99% of us to make do on less. The last time it was this bad was the Gilded Age, and majorities of Republicans, Democrats and Independents agree it’s time to do something about it.
As was made clear in his State of the Union address, the problem Obama faces is that his potential governing partners believe in an economic ideology roughly equivalent to fairy dust but stand resolutely opposed to thinking happy thoughts. Herein lies the Hell that Republicans envision for the poor: Most Republicans (51%) believe that the poor are poor due to a “lack of effort”,” that our economy is “generally fair to most Americans” (53%), and that “most people who want to get ahead can make it if they’re willing to work hard” (76%). In other words, Republicans believe that income inequality is that fault of lazy poor people, which is why they want to put more money into the hands of rich people who are doing all the work.
Demographically, the Republican Party—dominated and dependent upon aging white men—is literally dying, but the sunset must cast a bewitching light. Only in the hazy glow of magical thinking could it make sense that Mitt Romney’s effective tax rate of 13.9% takes too much. Most Republicans (59%) agree that “lowering taxes on the wealthy and corporations to encourage investment and economic growth” is the solution to income inequality.
The notion that the only way to help the poor is for government to encourage the rich to become even richer is gospel among Republicans, most of whom (65%) believe that “government aid to the poor does more harm than good by making people too dependent on government.” It seems not to occur to our self-satisfied ruling oligarchy that if the wealthy require incentives to create jobs, then it ain’t the poor who are dependent upon government.
In a state where almost two-thirds of 4th graders qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches, Reaganomics has become indefensible economically, politically, and morally. Any economic theory that assumes a majority of one’s voters are lazy good-for-nothings should preclude ever getting a majority of votes, but c’est la Tejas.
In Texas, it doesn’t make headlines when every single Republican running for lieutenant governor defends forcing an unwilling family to use a corpse as an incubator of a deformed fetus. When Republicans in Missouri and Indiana oppose abortion exceptions for rape and incest, it ignites a “War on Women.” When this happens in Texas, it’s just another Monday night on public television.
Here the radical idea is that the wealthy should pay their fair share of taxes and a worker should get a fair wage. No other state would benefit as much from raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and expanding Medicaid to cover the working poor. Extending unemployment benefits would help 285,200 Texans in 2014. Instead, Republican dogma would have the long-term unemployed accept not only a minimum-wage job but also the blame for the poverty that came with each paycheck as their due for being lazy.
Agreeing that income inequality is bad does not count in the Republicans’ favor if they blame it on the poor. As long as it easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is to get a minimum wage increase and an extension of unemployment benefits through Congress, Obama will have to go it alone if he wants to get anything done.