Thoughts on the VP Debate: “Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy?”

Blue steel? Source: Time.com

Like many of the members of my generation who hope that somewhere deep inside the gloomy shell of the  the candidate from 2008 who promised that “we were the one’s we’d been waiting for” and that his election would change the world remains a President who can accomplish that, I was extremely disappointed in the Presidential debate last week. There was barely a memorable line or moment. Instead, the first debate will likely go down in history as the debate that-mentally-only one man showed up for. It wasn’t Jim Lehrer, and it certainly wasn’t President Obama. Obama’s terrible performance left me questioning whether I can really vote for him again. Why would I bother, when he couldn’t even bother to do the appropriate level of debate prep? Why would I donate to his campaign when he often seems incapable of explaining his vision for America and unable to even defend his own record? President Obama has a lot to make up for in the next two debates.

Last night (or whatever night it was – the time zone thing here really messes with my head), Vice President Biden helped to stop the bleeding, and did an excellent job of reminding America both how ridiculous the Romney platform is, and what – to use a friend’s phrase – a smarmy shit Congressman Ryan is. Most of the discussion about the debate revolves around whether Biden was too rude and too over-the-top in his constant interrupting, laughing, challenging, and grinning at Ryan’s answers. I think that, except for when he got a bit too aggressive during the part about tax policy, it was perfect.

Biden reacted the way that he did because Ryan’s stock lies are absurd and insulting. Even the moderator wouldn’t let him get away with it:

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Reagan raised the rates

The other night a friend of a friend who I hadn’t seen in a while came up to me at a party.  “So,” he said, “what’s it like being one of the five other Republicans on campus?”  I laughed.  “I’m not. Sorry to disappoint you.”

I often come off as relatively conservative on this campus, which is a bit of a challenge when I’m supposedly writing the “liberal” column. My discomfort with the more radical of political and social movements here means that I often find myself more comfortable with friends who are actually Republicans; had I grown up in a different political climate, I probably would have been one myself. At heart, I’m a fairly conservative person. I could never have been a hippie even to the modest extent that my parents were: I don’t think I look good with a beard or with long hair, I don’t like to smoke and I like to wear nice clothing. I believe in balanced budgets, I’m not a fan of the unions that cripple our education system and our economy, and I believe that American power has a legitimate place on the world stage. But although I developed a bit of a man crush on Jon Huntsman throughout the primary process, I could never actually vote for a Republican for a major party office, at least not in today’s climate.

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The Real Class Warfare

I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to yell in frustration and disgust when I read the news on Sunday morning.  President Obama proposed a tax increase on people making above a million dollars, and Republicans across the country were denouncing it as “class warfare,” as if the poor and middle class – or what’s left of the middle class – were rising up to steal the rightfully earned property of their wealthy overlords.  Please.  In an economy where the top 20% of earners control 80% of the wealth, the Republicans have made yet another claim with little basis in the real world.

There is a war between the classes going on in America right now, but it’s not a war of rowdy populists versus those who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps.  It’s a war of the new aristocracy against the middle and working classes of this nation.  And in that war, the wealthy are winning handily.

Over the last half-century, both tax rates and the consensus in taxes as a legitimate method of shrinking the wealth divide have fallen steadily in this country.   We’ve gotten to the point where at one of the more recent Presidential debates, all of the Republican candidates renewed their vows not to increase taxes a single penny on the so-called “job creators of the nation.”  At the same time, and with their characteristic lack of irony, pundits on Fox news and across the blogosphere have begun to decry the fact that – get this – many poor people pay no income tax.  Never mind the fact that the working class pays more than its fair share in payroll, sales, and other regressive taxes.

There is a war between the classes going on in America, and the wealthy are winning. In the name of fiscal “conservatism,” tax rates for the rich and for corporations are slashed, and then slashed again.  Conservatives speak in favor of eliminating the capital gains tax, under which the richest of the rich can earn money off the interest of their investments, while paying a lower tax rate than the men and women who spend their waking hours paving our roads or teaching the next generation.

Could Conservatives really believe that the middle class teacher is somehow less worthy of a comfortable existence than the millionaire stock broker or the heir to some corporate empire?  That kind of thinking leads something like forty percent of MIT engineers to careers in finance – they can make more money building client lists than they can building bridges;  that kind of thinking that will prove catastrophic for the American Economy in the long run.

In a sane world, where the representatives actually represent the interests of the average voter, President Obama’s modest tax proposal would sail through Congress with minimal opposition.  It stems from Warren Buffet’s laudable complaint that he pays a substantially lower tax rate than his own secretary.  More than 75 percent of Americans agree with the President, and with billionaires like Buffet and Bill Gates – raising taxes on the rich is a better solution to the deficit issue than to slash benefits to working families.  A strong America, after all, requires a strong, happy, and well-educated middle class.  Yet the tax increase won’t go anywhere fast, because the House of Representatives is controlled by a group of people who believe that taxes are the 8th deadly sin.

One out of every six people in this country – the richest in the world – now lie under the poverty line, struggling to pay their grocery bills, or to educate their children.  More than 1.5 million kids now are homeless.  While average income has increased over the last decade, median income has fallen, showing that the rich continue to gain wealth while the working classes struggle more and more to make ends meet.  How fair is that?  America has more than enough wealth for all of its citizens, but we are slowly becoming a nation divided between the wealthy “haves” and the impoverished majority.  The recession has only amplified this problem.  It’s time to raise taxes on the top one or two percent so that the same people who teach our children (or younger siblings), who build our roads, and who clean our hallways can live the comfortable lives they’ve worked so hard for.  It’s time to push back against the Conservative war on the working class.