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Defending the Indefensible: David Brooks on Income Inequality

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The Right's defense of the gigantic increase in income inequality is pushing the boundaries of reasonable argument into the laughable. See David Brooks' contortions in Monday's New York Times. The problem, says he, is not the huge concentration of wealth in a few hands in NY or L.A. (Blue Inequality for Democratic strongholds), it's the gap between the middle-income college grad in Scranton and the non-college grad who is apparently fatter, more hopeless, and less chatty than his college grad neighbor (Red Inequality because Scranton is a Republican stronghold (???)). Brooks writes, "Today, college grads are much less likely to smoke than high school grads, they are less likely to be obese, they are more likely to be active in their communities, they have much more social trust, they speak many more words to their children at home." Pay no attention to the billionaires behind the screen.

Well, there's nothing wrong with bemoaning the status of blue-collar America, and the pain of rust-belt communities is real and awful. But the last time I looked, college-grads in Scranton hadn't organized themselves to dominate the political system by pouring massive amounts of dollars into campaigns to elect people committed to more income inequality and a repeal of the New Deal's social safety-net. It could be the Koch brothers bankrolling the Tea party, or the network of high-roller groups that now dominate the Republican Party (see the New York Times piece over the weekend). Their impact on the rest of us is horrific, a real problem for the nation. Mr. Brooks' attempt to conflate a social conflict within the middle class with the seizing of the reins of power by the extremely wealthy, well, that kind of nonsense should be called out.

Put aside that the forces for which Mr. Brooks is a regular apologist want to further reduce the kind of public support for higher education that allows his Scranton friends to get a college degree. Put aside that the "Red" label he attaches to blue-collar Pennsylvanians is very much up for grabs in 2012. Mr. Brooks is a serious part of the Right's argument and he ought to be taken seriously. We're willing to do that, but he's got to meet a fair level of discourse about Occupy Wall Street and about the consequences of income inequality.

It's as much about power as it is about money. The social and political consequences of the growing gap between them and us endanger the American Idea. Mr. Brooks' attempt to ignore that problem is done in a more refined way than the bald lies of right-wing radio, but it's a part of the same echo chamber.

The genius of OWS is partially in its' refusal to produce a leadership cadre, or a specific list of demands. It stands for a series of broad propositions and values, all about the way we treat each other and the way our institutions treat us. We who are not there everyday reveal ourselves in our description of OWS. Our words illuminate how we feel about OWS and what we want it to be, favorable or unfavorable. The Political Class and Journalists alike remain confounded by OWS, and by the chord it has struck on Park Avenue as well as Scranton. But all of us, Mr. Brooks included, better take what's going on seriously enough to avoid cliché and disingenuousness.

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