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Sahil Kapur Headshot

Elite Deception and the Rise of Inequality

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For years we've heard conservatives label their liberal rivals "elitist." And who can blame them, considering how politically effective it has been. The electorate wants a president who is down to earth and in touch with their everyday lives -- someone who will fight for their interests. With this in mind, let's take a moment to examine who the real elitists are.

Merriam-Webster defines elite as "the socially superior part of society" and "a group of persons who by virtue of position or education exercise much power or influence." An elitist politician, then, is one who caters to this stratum of society.

Since the Reagan era, Republicans have been the party of the elites, by the elites and for the elites. Their core philosophy of giving tax cuts to the wealthy and deregulating business activity has fleeced the middle class out of a fair shake. In addition, they've led the charge to bust unions, derail consumer protections, oppose universal health care and fight minimum wage increases. Unsurprisingly, the beneficiaries have been the economic elites.

In 1980, the CEO-to-worker pay ratio was 42 to 1; by 2005 it rose to 450 to 1. In 1980, the richest 1 percent earned 8 percent of the nation's income; since 2005 they've made over 20 percent. By 2007, the top 0.1 (yes, zero point one) percent of Americans owned as much wealth as the bottom 150 million.

For decades, there has been a redistribution of wealth from the working class to the ruling elite. Surely we can all agree that wealth is created, but workers (not merely executives) are vital in creating it. While earnings for the rich have exploded, middle class incomes have been declining for decades, despite longer working hours.

Granted, there's nothing wrong with reaping the fruits of one's labor -- it's the American way. But the wealthy elite have a habit of using their swagger to take advantage of regular folks. Government should keep this power in check, not encourage it. Even Adam Smith, the father of free-market capitalism, declared in The Wealth of Nations that "the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion."

The psychological term projection describes a "defense mechanism that involves taking our own unacceptable qualities or feelings and ascribing them to other people." If you think about it, this thoroughly explains why Republicans have cohesively worked to assign the "elitist" label to their Democratic nemeses.

In 2008, John McCain, who married into a $100 million fortune and couldn't remember how many houses he owned, leveled the "elitist" charge against Barack Obama -- the African-American who was raised by a single mother on food stamps. Equally incredible was watching George W. Bush, who received tickets to Yale and Harvard on a silver plate before inheriting a country, cast the same label upon John Kerry in 2004.

The GOP's other challenge, beyond having weak policies, is that modern Democratic leaders are more intellectually accomplished than their Republican counterparts (think Obama, Kerry, Edwards, Gore and Clinton vs McCain, Bush 43, Palin, Quayle and Reagan). To conceal this, strategists have morphed intelligence into snobbery.

So why, then, do Republicans get elected, if their agenda only aligns with the few? Two big reasons: First, they're typically far more organized and better at selling their product, flawed as it may be. Second, they've cleverly shifted their campaign focus toward trifling wedge issues like abortion and flag-burning amendments in an effort to distract working Americans from their waning livelihoods.

By deflecting their elitism onto their rivals, the party of plutocrats has for decades held the trust of millions of Americans while simultaneously swindling them. It's a strategy tactfully designed to obscure inferior policies. Democrats, whose ideals recognize the needs of the working class, have unfortunately let them get away with it.

Social conditioning is a powerful thing. It takes adroit mental gymnastics to believe that Democrats are elitists while Republicans are commoners. Thomas Jefferson famously declared that "if a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." For the good of the country, liberals must step up and educate people on who the real elitists are.

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