Jewish World Review Nov. 1, 2004 / 17 Mar-Cheshvan 5765
U.S. election about class, not politics
If you want an insight into the American election, look at the Guardian's decision to halt its assault on a single county Clark County, Ohio. The British newspaper and its supporters had been seeking to score a presidential victory for Sen. John Kerry by writing, e-mailing and otherwise browbeating the county's voters. Ohio demurred, and the Guardian backed down.
But the newspaper's Ohio adventure highlights a larger struggle. This election, many believed, would be a typical struggle of rich against poor. Instead, it has turned out to be one of elites against populists. And not merely the domestic "blue state" against "red state" struggle so much discussed, but also one involving foreign policy.
The Democratic Party is traditionally the workers' party, and Kerry has taken positions that ought to appeal to middle or lower earners. He wants to punish the rich with tax increases. He has sworn his dedication to the working woman.
And he obsesses about job creation. Yet Kerry lags behind in states where personal income per capita is below the average.
Then there is President Bush, champion of tax cuts for the rich, trickle-down economics and some form of privatization of the old safety net for the elderly, Social Security. Yet Bush seems to be losing in important rich states Massachusetts, New York, California. And he is doing fine in poorer states Mississippi, Louisiana, Montana. He is also faring well in states that are net recipients per capita of federal aid, not quite what one might expect for a Republican.
One could posit that those who support Kerry are magnanimous, willing to accept tax increases in order to help the vulnerable. Republicans, by this argument, are the selfish ones, always wanting to pay less in tax and collect more federal aid.
There is, however, another explanation class.
Domestically, Kerry represents the established order. He wants to return to a typical postwar tax structure. He signals that he will protect Social Security in its current form by assiduously avoiding the topic.
These Kerry positions sit well with wealthier Americans, who have such a big stake in sustaining the established order that they will even forgo tax dollars to do so. Overall gross domestic product growth matters less to them because they are already wealthy. The very wealthiest of Kerry's supporters might not mind the fact that Kerry's income tax increases punish the upper-middle class most of all. After all, that means there will be less of a crunch for the super-rich at the top.
And blocking Social Security privatization ensures that lower earners will be denied an important chance to increase their net worth and narrow income gaps overall.
But one can also argue that Kerry succeeds because he represents an international elite of established institutions and traditions the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, peacekeeping forces. Other presidents have made the same appeal Richard Nixon but few so explicitly. Kerry has even supported the current troop deployment in Europe and attacked Bush's plan for change.
Kerry is, in effect, betting that blue state voters like blue helmets. And, with their Ohio campaign, the Guardian's editors were themselves betting that the citizens of Springfield, Ohio, see themselves as citizens of the world as much as Ohioans.
To be sure, the Democrats still tend their reputation as a workers' party, just as older Guardian readers still cherish their working-class credentials. But that does not mean their leaders are not from an elite. Kerry may be worth hundreds of millions of dollars more than Antonia Fraser and John le Carre, to name two British authors who endorsed the Guardian's campaign in Ohio. But all three are members of the Anglo-American nomenklatura.
The elite versus populist paradigm also helps to explain Bush's supporters. Lower earners will back a president who cuts taxes for rentiers because they know that rentiers' fortunes sooner or later create jobs. These voters place more faith in the possibility of economic change than they do in the domestic status quo.
This faith in change at home carries over to matters international. Quite literally so when it came to ousting Saddam Hussein, but also in a more general, cultural way.
(This is why Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary, felt comfortable castigating "old Europe.") And if these voters tend to benefit from military spending that flows to their states in the name of that change New Mexico, for example, with its defense installations well, that is all right with them.
Which brings us back to the battlegrounds. As Roger Kubarych, a Council on Foreign Relations fellow and adviser to HVB, the German bank, points out, by economic measures battleground states are just about average. That is what makes the contests there so tight. Nationally, unemployment is at 5.4 percent. In battleground states unemployment is higher, but only by a tenth of a percentage point. A big recipient of federal aid such as New Mexico boosts Bush's chances. But Florida so important this year is fairly wealthy and receives less aid than all states but three, and therefore might be inclined to support Kerry. Who would have thought that in the U.S. of 2004, the contest would be between classes, not parties?
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington
and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor Amity Shlaes is a columnist for Financial Times
. Her latest book is
The Greedy Hand: How Taxes Drive Americans Crazy and What to Do About It. Send your comments by clicking here.
10/20/04: Reckless and extreme
10/06/04: Under construction: Threat of nuclear proliferation
09/19/04: A no-confidence vote in consumers
09/08/04: Caught in a triangulation traps
09/01/04: Competitive endgame
06/22/04: Oil as a curse
06/16/04: What de Gaulle can teach us about Iraq
05/18/04: Why trade matters in a time of war: Promising steps by U.S. and EU against protectionism
05/12/04: Let's face it, planning your life to reduce your tax bill is a time-honored and legal tradition
04/29/04: Being caught between 2 complicated syndromes: The high cost of living in big cities and the progressive structure of the U.S. tax code
04/20/04: Kerry's Misery Index is just sad
04/15/04: John Kerry's tax the rich mantra won't get the jobs done
04/02/04: Faithful following at the White House
02/25/04: It's back to the Dark Ages on trade
02/20/04: Trust the U.S. or trust Al Qaeda
02/12/04: A Political Year of Yalies: Boola Boola for Meritocracy
02/04/04: Here's what America doesn't need: Another New Deal
01/15/04: Forget Mars, U.S. economy looking like the final frontier
12/30/03: Bob Bartley put morality's place in the market economy
12/18/03: Mission accomplished: 1991's, that is
12/11/03: Shrugging off outdated data: Inside America's economic machine
11/13/03: Leaving a little something for the kids? Good luck
11/05/03: Never, Never will we Desist
09/30/03: Tax, lies and a few supply-side parables
10/09/03: Free markets are the key to rebuilding Iraq
09/25/03: Don't be sentimental, Mr. Bush
08/12/02: Howard Dean, Robin Hood
05/29/02: Berlin Diarist: To believe that by self-improvement and restraint, we can end tyranny
03/27/02: The curse of oil
11/12/02: Political Correctness at the Fed (No joke!)
10/31/02: Local enforcer who has changed national laws
10/12/02: No Mirror for Europe; US is a picture of unity
08/14/02: Keeping your financial eggs at home
07/24/02: New Democrats' unaffordable luxury
06/26/02: The evolution of eminent domain is the story of the lasting power of Supreme Court decisions to alter the American cultural fabric
06/20/02: The distinction between known risk and uncertainty: What was lost in the Martha Stewart flap
06/11/02: Europe, long waiting for a chance to assert itself as independent from the US on the world stage, is clueless to terror's threat
06/04/02: A Cold Warrior's lessons for the Middle East
05/21/02: Geography does matter when it comes to development, but aid must nonetheless be linked to good governance
05/14/02: The increasing number of new claims is hurting innocent companies and making a mockery of the Common Law system
05/09/02: Aid, development and guilt in our times of terror
04/30/02: Wine lovers may at last be able to stray across state borders. The Internet is coming to the aide of free trade
04/23/02: Taxation by way of Madison Avenue
04/17/02: Special relationships and free trade do not mix
04/08/02: Is terror the flip side of globalization?
03/20/02 Bush gives aid but seeks results
03/13/02 The Danger in policy by numbers
02/26/02: States' smokescreen for tax hypocrisy
02/20/02: Echoes of leadership against a global threat
02/13/02: Jackson Vanik May be a Useful Analogy When Thinking About the Middle East
02/07/02: Budgeting for victory: Requiem for a peace dividend
02/05/02: The detectives of 1930s pulp fiction had a nose for clients bearing gifts. Sadly, those consulted by Enron did not
01/22/02: Allow all American children a decent chance
01/15/02: Do not disturb the profit-sharing revolution
01/09/02: It is dangerous to elevate a currency as a political emblem if the need for other economic reforms is obscured
01/03/02: There is only one way for a free thinker to bring up children
12/20/01: Why America's economy always bounces back
12/18/01: When it comes to taxes, Washington lawmakers can learn a thing or two from The Honeymooners
12/13/01: Bush opens a new era
12/12/01: A flamboyant reversal for the Democratic party
12/06/01: Threat of an oil embargo on the U.S. is a bluff
11/29/01: Which is more important--the war or diplomatic comity?
11/20/01: Unbalanced by a wealth of oil and diamonds
10/17/01: Afghanistan Needs a General MacArthur
09/27/01: The US has gained an understanding of the costs of war for which its European allies have hitherto wished in vain
09/13/01: War against terrorism will rise from the ashes
08/15/01: Geography is no excuse for the state's economic stagnation. Its policymakers should take a leaf from Ireland's book
08/07/01: Teamsters may pay a heavy price for winning its batle in Congress
07/25/01: Towards a patent-free nirvana?
07/17/01: History proves the lasting value of tax cuts
07/10/01: Stem cell research has awakened a bitter debate in Washington but voters care more about other electoral issues
07/03/01: America foots the bill for Europe's largesse
06/26/01: America the litigious, land of the lawyer's fee
06/20/01: Five reasons for gloom about global growth
06/18/01: Show pity for Alice in Tax Wonderland
06/13/01: America must take a French lesson in trade
06/11/01: Time to dream the impossible dream for Iraq
06/07/01: Whatever happened to simple?
06/04/01: When the relationship between companies becomes as close as a marriage, the eventual break-up is often very painful
06/01/01: Loving and hating the Bush tax bill
05/30/01: Will Grisham soon be unemployed? In America's courts these days, there's no room left over for legal fiction
05/22/01: Republicans sample the rhetoric of confidence
05/16/01: Boeing has been promised $60m to site its headquarters in Illinois. The deal looks a poor one for taxpayers
05/14/01: Adam Smith in love
05/09/01: Those rotten Russian capitalists
05/07/01: Why tax havens provide shelter for everyone
05/04/01: Middle classes pay for get-the-rich folly
05/01/01: Money can't buy happiness? Think again.
04/26/01: Calling America's rogues and entrepreneurs
04/19/01: High earners right to feel lonely at the top
04/11/01: The right must learn the comfort of strangers
04/04/01: When domestic law arrives by the back door
03/30/01: A Lexus tax cut suits the jalopy driver
03/27/01: The unchallenged dominance of King Dollar
03/20/01: Natural selection of an intellectual aristocracy
03/16/01: The hidden danger of a regulatory recession
03/14/01: Is the American condition that boring? Why so many Oscar nominated movies aren't set in America
03/07/01: Trampling on the theory of path dependence
03/05/01: Fighting the good fight
03/01/01: It is time for Fannie and Freddie to grow up
02/27/01: IT's important
02/22/01: The guilty conscience of America's millionaires
02/14/01: The benefits of helping the 'rich'
02/09/01: The Danger and Promise of the Bush Schools Plan
02/05/01: Crack and Compassion
01/31/01: Debt is good
01/24/01: A gloomy end for a half-hearted undertaking
01/17/01: The challenge of an ally with its own mind
01/15/01: An unexpected American family portrait
01/10/01: A fitting legacy for America's beloved dictator
01/08/01: The trick of tax 'convenience'
01/03/01: Time to stop blaming Greenspan over taxes
12/11/00: So smart they're dumb
12/06/00: How economic bad news came good for Bush
12/04/00: The Boies factor
11/30/00: "The inevitable demands for recounts erupted like acne…"
11/28/00: Fair play and the rules of the electoral game
11/23/00: The shining prospect beyond a cloudy election
11/21/00: Try the Cleveland model
11/16/00: A surprising winner emerges in the US election
11/09/00: Those powerful expats
What's right for America versus what works
11/02/00: Time to turn off big government's autopilot
10/30/00: Canada beating America in financial sensibility
10/26/00: When progressiveness leads to backwardness
10/24/00: The most accurate poll
10/19/00: The Middle East tells us the hawks were right
10/17/00: The split personalities of America's super rich
10/10/00: 'Equity Rights' or Wake up and Smell the Starbucks
10/04/00: Trapped in the basement of global capitalism
09/21/00: The final act of a grand presidential tragedy
09/21/00: Europeans strike back at the fuel tax monster. Should Americans follow?
09/18/00: First steps to success
09/13/00: America rejects the human rights transplant
09/07/00: Minimum wage, maximum cost
09/05/00: Prudent Al Gore plans some serious spending
08/31/00: A revolution fails to bring power to the people
08/28/00: A reali$tic poll
08/21/00: "I Goofed"
08/16/00: Part of the union, but not part of the party
08/09/00: Silicon Alley Secrets
08/02/00: Radical Republicans warm up for Philadelphia
07/31/00: I'll Cry if I Want To
07/27/00: Cold warrior of the new world
07/25/00: The Estate Tax will drop dead
07/18/00: Shooting down the anti-missile defence myths
07/14/00: A convenient punchbag for America's leaders
07/07/00: How to destroy the pharmaceutical industry
07/05/00: Patriots and bleeding hearts
06/30/00: Candidates beware: New Washington consensus on robust growth stands the old wisdom on its head
06/28/00: White America's flight to educational quality
06/26/00: How Hillary inspired the feminist infobabes
© 2003, Financial Times