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Edward Wyckoff Williams

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Romney, Santorum and GOP Snobs: The Rise of America's Plutocratic 1%

Posted: 03/12/2012 2:20 pm

Lately, there's been a seismic shift in what passes for common sense in American conservative political thought.

Rick Santorum received a bachelor's degree, Juris Doctorate and MBA, but recently called President Barack Obama a "snob" for wanting every young American to have an opportunity to pursue college education.

Mitt Romney, the Harvard graduate with off-shore bank accounts from Luxembourg to the Cayman Islands, has accused the President of "elitism." The former private equity mogul went so far as to evoke the oft-quoted Marie Antoinette phrase, "let them eat cake." On the primary campaign trail in Mississippi -- among the poorest states in the union -- Romney attacked President Obama's proposal for increased taxes on the wealthy and decries "class warfare," while awkwardly pandering to Southern sensibilities by claiming his newfound affection for "cheesy grits" and the colloquial "ya'll."

Newt Gingrich, who holds a PhD and once bragged about being so "famous" he received "$60,000 per speech," has unapologetically suggested that poor, inner-city children work as janitors. Gingrich now derides an "elite media" at every turn, while mostly using the largest, most-profitable, widely-watched cable network in America, Fox News, to deliver that message. And it's worth noting that both Gingrich and Santorum enjoyed lucrative deals as political contributors to Fox News prior to being suspended last May amidst scrutiny it would result in a conflict of interests as they each announced a run for the White House.

The nation has entered a twilight zone where the words 'elite' and 'elitism' only have subjective meaning. It's an alternate universe in which the leading GOP candidate -- worth as much as $250 million -- can openly admit he's "not concerned about the very poor," and his wife can claim she doesn't consider herself "wealthy." All this during a time of record unemployment, following a financial crisis rivaling the Great Depression.

Their mentality and disconnect from reality reflect a Reagan-Bush era abandonment of tax policies favoring the middle-class, and regulatory policies which have subsequently created an ever-widening gap between rich and poor.

And the gap only gets wider.

The Republican-led Florida legislature is currently considering a bill that would slash the minimum wage of restaurant servers and other tipped employees from $4.65 to $2.13 an hour, resulting in lowered net income for workers, and a greater share of the salary burden being paid by consumers. With the average yearly income of these workers being just over $18K, it's fair to say many already constitute the working-poor, and therefore cannot afford wage cuts.

Conservative supporters of the legislation cite rising healthcare costs for employers, but the National Restaurant Association -- a leading lobbying group of the industry, formerly headed by one-time Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain -- predicted record sales in its 2012 forecast.

One of the corporate supporters of the proposed legislation is OSI Restaurant Partners, the parent company of Outback Steakhouse -- which is partly owned by Bain Capital, the private equity firm responsible for a majority of Mitt Romney's wealth. Undoubtedly, lower wages for workers at places like Outback will result in higher returns on investment for partners at Bain, and corporate executives like them.

And herein lies the rub: there is an inherent disconnect in Romney's argument that he should not be "punished for his success," as it negates the broader reality that too many working-class and middle-income families are already being penalized for their own hard work.

Success is a relative term, but reasonable-minded people can agree that men and women should benefit from their labor. If the pathway to success is eroded by policy decisions benefiting the wealthy over the working-classes, then those on the bottom and in the middle have less chance of climbing the proverbial ladder or achieving the emblematic -- and increasingly elusive -- American Dream.

The result? An American plutocracy emerges which isn't a consequence of unintended circumstances, but the direct result of a strategic, up-down economic policy shift.

Republicans have supported the interests of big business, big oil and corporate cronyism for decades, and Democrats have either acquiesced or not provided substantial opposition, or policy alternatives to create a check and balance.

In the Age of Obama, where a capable Democratic president is attacked for seeking to provide basic universal health coverage to working families, the GOP produces one multi-millionaire aspiring to the White House, completely out-of-touch with the everyday realities of average Americans; and another who despite a blue-collar background and achieving the benefits of higher education, doesn't see the need for the same access to be available to others, and attacks those who do as "snobs."

It is worth noting Arizona is considering similar legislation to that proposed in Florida, while both states remain hotbeds on the topic of Hispanic immigrants -- a group disproportionately represented among service workers. The Republican Party's vocal opposition to illegal immigrants -- especially during this primary race -- has curiously been directed solely at those of Mexican descent -- despite the fact illegal immigrants represent a plethora of countries, including Canada and European nations.

The GOP's unapologetic defense of lower tax rates for the wealthy, and apparent disregard for the working-classes, is not a coincidence: it is a calculated political strategy.

Republicans embraced a Tea Party movement made up largely of older, white, wealthier males, but decries an Occupy Movement representing a younger, diverse, aspiring demographic -- by accusing their participants of class warfare and being proponents of socialism.

Hope remains in reach, but change has already come. Yet thanks to a Republican establishment more concerned with defeating the nation's first African-American president, and protecting the financial interests of the top one-percent at the expense of the ninety-nine, that change is becoming harder to believe in.

 

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