Candidates Ignore Bitter Truth

The root issue at stake in this presidential election is a simple one: How deep a polarization be­tween rich and poor can this na­tion take? The Republicans say the rich can get even richer, even though the top 1 percent have ac­cumulated more wealth than is shared by the bottom 90 percent.

In specifics, this translates into the president of Heinz Inc., for ex­ample, making over $75 million in salary and bonuses last year, while the lower and middle class­es were less able to afford such basics as food, shelter, medical care and education.

Republicans claim that if the rich get even richer, the poor and middle classes will benefit from the “trickle down” effect. The theory goes that with more wealth, the top 1 percent will feel more secure to invest in factories, construction, science research, ex­ploration for natural resources, etc.

The Democrats, on the other hand, ask: How much richer can the already rich be?—$75.1 mil­lion for one executive? (For the sake of abbreviation, I was tempt­ed to leave the .1 off, until I real­ized that it was in itself $100,000.) Does the Heinz CEO need the se­curity of even more income to feel safe investing in America? His pay is $1.5 million a week, or $200,000 a day, including week­ends and holidays.

Besides, the current rich aren’t investing back that much into America; rather the tendency is the opposite: to hoard, to sock their excesses away in Swiss bank accounts, to “invest” in art treas­ures from the past or gold and sil­ver, in political influence, in at­tack dogs and security systems for their many mansions; or even worse, to move their investments to the Third World where they can pay much lower wages, make even greater profits and not wor­ry about such annoyances as col­lective bargaining or consequ­ences to the environment.

The trickle -down theory would have it that some of the Heinz CEO’s earnings, being so exces­sive as to be unspendable by one man or one family, would trickle down to the workers, who could afford homes, cars, clothing, food, etc., which would in turn stimu­late building starts, food and auto­mobile production and sales, etc.

But our wealthy elite don’t take real risks for America. Quite to the contrary, they have convinced themselves that the right thing to do is move industry south of the border into Mexico, because there is little to no regulation of indus­try in Mexico; or overseas to Tai­wan, where a worker can be ex­ploited for a dollar a day and still be happy for the job, the alterna­tive being starvation.

A progressive Democratic Par­ty should now be ready and able to enunciate the truth that (1) the world has limited resources, limit­ed wealth; thus (2) there should be limits put on individual fortunes. Sure, a person should have to work for a living, to shoulder his or her share of the burden—but enough of a guy or gal working 40 hours of drudgery factory work for $10,000 a year while the top executive pulls down an obscenely fat $75.1 million.

Democrats are not making the challenge very clear, however. For one thing, the Democratic leaders are personally too well off to want to see things very dramat­ically changed. They say hang on awhile, we’ll tinker with the prob­lem, trim off the excesses, of the current extremes.

Deep down, perhaps, they know that problems have gotten beyond the tinkering stage. For example, Al Gore’s book, Earth in the Bal­ance, acknowledges that Ameri­ca and the world are in desperate­ly grave condition, and the pre­sent political structure is not even beginning to attend to our grossest and most pressing problems.

But even the best, most sincere Democrats are naturally afraid to level with the people about how bad things are, because, obviously, people don’t like to hear bad news. If their message is honest, the Democratic hopefuls are af­raid that the voters will kill the messengers, or in this case, not elect them to office. If the Demo­crats say hard times are on the way, the people will elect the Re­publicans, who claim that times could be really good, but a Demo­cratic Congress has foiled the GOP vision.

One hopes very much that it matters whether the Bush or Clin­ton ticket wins; but one fears that democracy has become far too much a game of who can say the best what people most want to hear, and thus has run its course.

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