All my words will be in bold font for this post.
Recently top executives of Wall Street firms have courted controversy as they have spent much the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) money on exorbitant employee bonuses, expensive business junkets and for personal use. Without the TARP money, these businesses would no longer exist. Many such firms would have been forced to declare bankruptcy such as the case with Lehman Brothers. Conservative talk radio hosts such as Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh have been screaming that the government should not have the right to put restrictions on businesses signing up for TARP funds. Mr. Levin et al. claimed that government control of this type is the first step towards socialism.
Where have we heard that before? Oh, yes from former President Reagan of whom Mr. Levin played a portion of his famous speech decrying Medicare as a form of creeping socialism, which could be played on a record during neighborhood coffee klatches in the 60’s.
“Freedom is always just one generation away from extinction. We don’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream; we have to fight for it and protect it, and then hand it to them so that they shall do the same, or we’re going to find ourselves spending our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children about a time in America, back in the day, when men and women were free.”
“When did he say this? It was on a recording he made for Operation Coffeecup— a campaign organized by the American Medical Association to block the passage of Medicare. Doctors’ wives were supposed to organize coffee klatches for patients, where they would play the Reagan recording, which declared that Medicare would lead us to totalitarianism.”
Or, perhaps from this speech by Ronald Reagan “Given as a stump speech, at speaking engagements, and on television in 1964 in support of Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign. This version is from that broadcast.”
”I am going to talk of controversial things. I make no apology for this.
It’s time we asked ourselves if we still know the freedoms intended for us by the Founding Fathers. James Madison said, “We base all our experiments on the capacity of mankind for self government.”
Reagan went on to say:
“We need true tax reform that will at least make a start toward I restoring for our children the American Dream that wealth is denied to no one, that each individual has the right to fly as high as his strength and ability will take him…. But we can not have such reform while our tax policy is engineered by people who view the tax as a means of achieving changes in our social structure….
Have we the courage and the will to face up to the immorality and discrimination of the progressive tax, and demand a return to traditional proportionate taxation? . . . Today in our country, the tax collector’s share is 37 cents of -very dollar earned. Freedom has never been so fragile, so close to slipping from
Conservatives have been decrying government intervention since the turn of the last century. The speech by Ronald Reagan in 1964 claims “freedom has never been so fragile, so close to slipping from our grasp”. Really! In the past 45 years, has anyone felt as though the economic situation was so perilous that our freedom was at risk?
This is just another example of the ridiculous cry that people, and businesses should be allowed to be free from government interference in the form of higher taxes. Apparently, this is of little hindrance to the truly rich. The Federal Reserve put out a chart detailing that between 1998 and 2004 the number of millionaire households has increased from 5.43 to 9.05 million. The total number of households with incomes of 5 million, 10 million, and 25 million has also doubled. More people are getting rich and earning more. Robert Frank a writer for the Wall Street Journal has labeled this group of people The Richistanis. His 2007 book “Richistan” details the lives of the super rich who conservatives appear most likely to wish to appease.
The Bush administration placed no restrictions on the TARP money and so the Wall Street resumed business as usual. Bonuses are a large part of the Wall Street financial picture. Apparently and there was no reason in the minds of these masters of the universe to change their lifestyle. However, why would Wall Street financiers not understand the economic conditions that exist in our country? Last week on NBC’s Dateline Ben Stein noted the rich are completely isolated from the lives of ordinary Americans. They travel on private jets, live in gated communities and interact only with the rich and famous.
Mr. Frank noted that he became aware of the uniqueness of the culture of “Richistan” when he attended the 46th Annual International Boat Show in Fort Lauderdale in the fall of 2005. In Mr. Franks words:
“Driving from the airport I saw a city crippled by storms. Hurricane Wilma had pounded the region 10 days earlier, and Ft. Lauderdale’s streets were still covered with broken glass, tree limbs and garbage. Most of the area’s homes were still without power. Shops, restaurants, and hotels were boarded up and the only people who seemed to be working were utility crews and Red Cross teams. Wilma received scant attention from the media or government, since it followed just a month after the even greater tragedy of Katrina, Wilma didn’t just inflict physical damage. It also laid bare a vast social underclass.
Thousand of residents in the poorer sections of Ft. Lauderdale (most of them black or Hispanic) were left homeless. Many were herded into school gyms and classrooms because of a lack of affordable rental apartments. A small number of vouchers handed out by the Federal Emergency Management Agency were virtually useless.
Just a few miles away, the yacht show was kicking off its opening-day festivities. The Bahia Mar Marina was packed with gleaming, multi-million dollar boats, their chrome rails, mahogany decks getting a fresh new polish from uniformed crews. Brokers were leading the rich clients through the hushed staterooms and crystal-filled dining areas of the mega-yachts for sale. Many priced at $20 million and up.
Many residents of Ft.Lauderdale were sweating through the tropical heat, without electricity. The yachts and vendor pavilions were perfectly chilled. At lunch-time I walked into an air-conditioned hospitality tent provided by Yacht Magazine, where ultrawealthy buyers could come in from the heat. The guest sipped champagne, ate crab cakes and dipped strawberries into a giant chocolate fountain staffed by two leggy blond waitresses. On the lawn outside a local Rolls-Royce dealer was demonstrating the virtues of the new $340,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom.
Granted a few yacht builders boycotted the show, saying it was inappropriate.
“We felt badly going in there and have this show that celebrates luxury yachting, when residents of South Florida are still without a lot of basic necessities,” said David Ross CEO of Burger Boat Co.
Yet the local mayor and show’s promoter, Kaye Pearson, insisted that the spending by the rich would help lift the towns spirits and economy. They denied that any local resources-police, electrical crews, phone repair men-had been diverted to the show. Still Pearson promised that guests coming to buy a yacht would hardly know there had been a hurricane.
The Rich are so isolated from the American experience that they have no idea the struggles of average Americans. Ditto many of our congressional representatives who should try to live for one week on the median income of Americans before determining if tax policies that put more of a burden on the middle class are reasonable. If cutting social programs designed to help poor and infirm are really the budget tightening prescription for Americans.
Frank notes that as Richistanis have prospered during the past decade the rest of America is being left behind. “Median income for American Households fell in 2005 for the fifth year in a row, and median families are now making $3,000 less then they did in 2000 adjusted for inflation.”
Today conservative claim the tax cuts provided everyone with unprecedented gains in income. Republican claim that only tax cuts can help us out of this current recession. However, we know that the financial tide failed to raise all boats. While the Dow and NASDAQ soared, not all have realized improved lifestyles. Many are paying more for expenses such a medical care, food, and college tuition than ever before. I do not have to remind people that we were paying over $4 for a gallon of Gasoline just 6 months ago. Now we find we are losing more jobs everyday, 600,000 in the last month. With the rich getting so much richer why, were jobs lost? Because of overleveraged businesses, and a ridiculously under-regulated investment banking industry, just what former President Reagan advocated, over 45 years ago.
As conservatives from Levin to Limbaugh to Hanity, and Savage decry a need for someone to step into President Ronald Reagan’s shoes, would it not be better if they leveled with Americans. The policies of the past eight years have only made the rich, much, much richer. Some may say obscenely rich. Nevertheless, Mark Levin et al. would say liberals want to take your freedom away. It is not our freedom that is at stake. It is the American Dream! For most of us, it has become a fantasy. “Can I polish your boat Mister”, has replaced “Mister, can you spare a dime?”