Shortly after Obamacare came into effect in March, a friend commented on Facebook that his premiums had gone up substantially and the program was little more than another attempt to redistribute wealth. My friend is from a privileged background and, judging from his lifestyle, is relatively wealthy. He’s not selfish and he’s not greedy. In fact, he’s thoughtful, funny, and smart. He just rarely sees poverty up close and, to him, families in need are more or less theoretical.
Another friend commented on a blog post and told the story of people using food stamps to purchase cupcakes while driving a new car and smoking high dollar cigars. Judging from the details of his comment, it seems that he’s working class and has worked hard most of his life. Even if he’s had a solid income, he’s probably had few of the advantages my wealthier friend has experienced.
While they’ve had very different life experiences, these two people provide insight into the coalition that has so strongly opposed Obamacare and progressive policies. One group feels entitled to keep their money and resents redistributing the wealth they believe that they have created. The other lives paycheck to paycheck and in close proximity to people on government assistance. When they see someone they consider undeserving getting government money or benefits, they are reminded of the line item in their pay stub that shows the 15% or so that the federal government takes.
The common thread is that both blame the government for taking their money. However, one rails against wealth redistribution as an attempt to make society more equal. The other is angered by undeserving poor people scamming the system with his hard-earned money.
I see it differently. I don’t have a problem with redistributing the wealth. We’ve been doing it for thirty years, just in the wrong direction. The introduction of Reaganomics resulted in the income inequality we see today. For the first 35 years following World War II, all Americans saw their incomes increase equally. Under Reagan, a massive shift in the tax burden from the top earners to the middle class allowed the wealthiest citizens to see their incomes rise while the rest of us have seen our incomes remain flat. Obamacare and last year’s tax increase on the wealthy are steps to rectifying that situation.
I also don’t believe that there is massive fraud among people receiving public assistance. I do believe that there are a lot of people who are struggling to get by who work hard and play by the rules who can’t seem to get ahead. Some of those folks blame the people they see using food stamps or other subsidies for taking their money. Their frustration is misdirected. It’s not the government and poor people taking their money. It’s the corporations and wealthy who have kept more of theirs at the expense of the rest of us.
So the Republican coalition is increasingly made up of those who have benefited most from our economic system and those who can’t seem to get ahead in it. The one side is angry that the government is taking their money to help those less fortunate. The other is angry because they believe the government is keeping them from greater prosperity. One side is right. The other has been duped.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >