Thursday, October 22, 2009

"They're Gullin' You, Mister!"

The titular quote ("gullin'" is slang for "fooling") is from one of my favorite literary characters, John Proctor, in The Crucible. Proctor was a Puritan. Puritans definitely would've been Republicans: Strict, religious, anti-science, yet possessing the occasional proclivity for an adulterous sex scandal. They would've fit in just fine.

As far as modern Republicans go, there are essentially three groups. The first two I totally get. The third puzzles me.

The first group are essentially modern-day Puritans. They're defined by what they don't like. They hate abortion, evolution, religions other than Christianity, gays, immigrants, and, if you catch them after a few beers, most people of color. I totally get why these people vote Republican.

The second group is defined by what they do like: money. They're well-off, and damn everybody else. They disdain taxes and love hedge funds. Inconsistently, they tend to support costly wars and are usually Christians themselves, which contradicts the whole idea of getting rich and screwing the poor. Hypocrisy aside, I get why these people vote Republican.

The third group is the one that frustrates and perplexes me. They are social moderates, often pro-choice and trusting of science instead of a very old book. They're usually middle to lower-middle class. They often benefit from the services government provides far more than they pay into the system. Yet they hear the word "taxes," even if those taxes are aimed far above the bracket they belong to, and they see red. They oppose any impediment to the "free market," such as limiting executive pay and golden parachutes, even as their homes are foreclosed and their cost of living goes up without any pay increases. They despise unions (except the one they happen to belong to). Their patron saint is Joe the Plummer, a man who was convinced that his American Dream was going to be trashed by Obama's tax plan if, in fact, he had WAY more money than he actually did.

They look at statistics that show that CEO compensation has risen from 30-1 in the 1960's to 300-1 in the 2000's and don't blink. It doesn't phase them that every economic statistic that can be measured shows that the top 5% are getting richer, while the middle and lower class either stays the same or goes backward.

Why not? It's because of that great American myth that's been pounded into our heads from the day we were born: All of us can be millionaires. It just takes hard work and a little luck. So they keep voting for politicians who look to help the upper class almost exclusively because they firmly believe that they will be the elite earners someday themselves. It's the equivalent of basing your vote on the assumption that you'll win the lottery eventually.

In the meantime, this demographic ignores a very basic fact: There is only so much wealth, so many resources to go around. I'm no economist, but I can explain this in basic terms. Wealth is like a pie. If the top five percent are taking over 60 percent of the pie (that's approximately the number), there's less of it for the rest of us. So, you say, "I don't begrudge those CEO's making millions; what does it have to do with me?" They're taking huge chunks of the pie, and you're offering them seconds out of your own measly portion. They'll be happy to keep eating as you keep voting for the guys who take their marching orders from them.

I'm not naive enough to believe that the Dems don't take their cues from corporations, also. This is why I usually vote Green. But for middle-class, non-Evangelical citizens to keep helping out the Elephants is contrary to their own interests. Worse, they're being "gulled" by very cynical people who smile and promise future riches even as the they count their supporters' money and feed them peanuts.


Jessica said...


Except I don't despise Unions and I think Joe the Plumber is a moron.

I don't know if I can subscribe to the "wealth is a pie" theory especially since I came of age during the time when the personal computing industry rose to the heights of economic success. Your theory would argue that as Microsoft and Apple and Cisco etc got huge they siphoned money off of some other industry. I just don't see the evidence for that.

There's just no where else for someone like me to go. Socially fairly moderate, fiscally conservative. I don't see why the government should be spending money like a crackwhore on vacation.

I can't spend my way out of debt, neither can the government.

Megan Maguire said...

I think these third type of republicans are confused about which party they should identify with. They sound more like liberal libertarians to me. I generally consider myself a liberal libertarian, although not all of my opinions fall neatly inside that box. I am for gay marriage and vehemently pro choice. I tend to vote against bonds and taxes and things that I think will lead to more bonds and taxes, but mostly for the reason that such things are silly. This is not a blanket policy for me. I voted for Measure D because I don't think education gets enough funding. The UC system for example is getting half as much government funding as it was receiving 20 years ago. I voted against Proposition 2, if I'm remembering the numbers correctly, or the proposition that was for better conditions of animals. That would have created a whole mess of bureaucracy and probably wouldn't have made much of a difference in the animals quality of life. I seriously considered voting for McCain, before he named Palin as his running mate, proving that he had completely sold out. Instead I voted for Bob Barr, because if the libertarians get 5% of the vote, we get to be included in the debates. I dislike corporations because I feel like they disrupt the free market system. I feel that the bailout was a horrible idea. I do not think CEO's salaries should be capped. I have no delusions of ever becoming wealthy. My goal is to become a mathematics professor and do research. They don't pay you much for that. And my general political outlook is shared by about a third of the math and physics majors I know. All of whom are also planning on becoming professors. And of course, we embrace science. We're also in general fairly arrogant, although most of us try to hide it.

Anonymous said...

I really wonder what Megan wants to happen with corporations if she feels like they disrupt the free market system. Libertarian logic would seem to make regulation out of the question. If so, are incomprehensibly powerful transnational corporations just a nasty evil we have to deal with?

It makes the free market look a little less infallible when post-colonial nations have their home industries run into the ground by free trade & tax exemptions for foreign investors.

Megan did say that she doesn't fit perfectly within libertarian philosophy, so I don't know what she feels would be the best course of action in this case. But I do know that I can't handle libertarianism or neoliberalism. And a sizeable amount of math majors championing such ideas doesn't make them practical or humane. They're libertarians who don't care about money, but is that because they're not starving for a lack of it either?