Thursday, April 28, 2005

Liberal Principles and Class Warfare

Via Political Animal, what do liberals stand for? Kevin Drum has some ideas he thinks America would find fair and appealing.
[E]qual tax rates for all types of income. After all, it's intuitively appealing that if wage earners pay a certain tax rate (which varies with income), people who get their incomes from capital gains, dividends, or inheritances should pay the same rate. That's something that sounds fair to a lot of people, and once it's accepted as a principle it can act as a backstop for a wide range of detailed tax policies.

On the corporate front, how about a fair shake for the working poor who want to unionize? Stronger unions — especially in the service area — would provide an automatic counterbalance to both a wide array of corporate abuses as well as our growing problem of income inequality, all without liberals being forced into either punitive taxation or ill-considered (and probably unpopular) regulatory schemes. What's more, the case that low-paid workers should be allowed to unionize without threats and abuse from management will strike a lot of people as fair and reasonable.
The thing that strikes me about Kevin's two ideas is that both revolve around work or the lack thereof, which I don't hear Democratic politicians talk about much any more and when they do, it's not convincing. Rather than being for the middle-class, why don't Democrats become the party of the working stiff? Isn't this most of the electorate?

Regarding Kevin's insight over taxes, why shouldn't Democrats and liberal interest groups play up the fact that wealth earned from capital gains, dividends, and inheritance aren't products of work and therefore should be valued less, meaning they should be taxed at the same rate as wages, if not more. Why don't Democrats play up the disparity in wealth within the country every chance they get, targeting CEOs whose salaries increase even as their company's revenues go south? A more equal distribution of wealth within the corporation could have a huge impact on diminishing inequality. Relatedly, why don't Democrats use the bully pulpit to point out wages are stagnant even though worker productivity has increased? And finally, as Kevin makes clear, Democrats and liberals need to stand behind unionizing the service industry. As I've written before, this is probably the single best way to increase worker living standards. The service industry doesn't have to be low-wage and high-turnover. Much like the labor movement did to manufacturing in the early 20th century, organizing the service industry can turn "scraping by" into a comfortable, lower-to-solid middle-class existence. Yet, the Republicans and their cohorts on the National Labor Relations Board will try to do away with "card-check recognition" sometime this year. (Card-check recognition is the easiest and most successful way to unionize firms, you can find out more here.) Will there be much opposition from the Democrats? Doubtful.

Tiredly, conservatives and the GOP will claim liberals and Democrats are waging "class warfare." And they would be correct. For far too long, conservatives and Republicans, aligned with corporate interests, have waged class-warfare on behalf of the elite as they have rolled back the New Deal welfare state and enacted corporate friendly legislation (an example being the recently passed bankruptcy bill). It's time we fought back and showed America that they have a grassroots network and political structure that will defend their interests. If the Democrats and liberals can't or won't do this, they should lose, because they essentially stand for nothing, a la Clintonian triagulation. As Christopher Hitchens once remarked, "Don't tell me your politics, tell me your principles." Americans are on that same page, liberals and the left would be wise to follow it.