The prevailing notion of what poor people are like goes like this: They make bad life choices; can’t control their urges; are shiftless and most likely druggies; and often reliant on others to give meaning to their lives. Funny thing. The same can be said about a lot of rich people. Plenty of celebrities, Wall Street wolves and trust fund slackers come to mind. Just as parental wealth, motivation and expectations, the right connections, exclusive schooling and the inevitable awesome first job give rich kids — what billionaire investor Warren Buffett calls the “lucky sperm club” — a leg up on life from the start, so do entrenched poverty, broken families, crumby neighborhoods and schools, lack of food and shelter security and expectations of failure and even criminality kick poor kids in the teeth right from birth. It’s as difficult to escape the cruelties of poverty as it is to blunder out of the benefits of affluence. One big difference — rich kids have to screw up a lot worse than poor kids to get into real trouble. I mention this because in any conversation with conservatives, variations of the phrase “welfare slackers destroying the country” is bound to come up within the first few sentences. Oh yeah, and “unions.” Never do I hear mention of the rapaciousness, sordid dealings, collusion and government cronyism that allow the owner class to shred the fabric of the country.
There are only two ways the ultra-minority, ultra-rich can retain their ill-gained and enormously disproportionate influence and power in a democracy: Share their wealth by providing living wages and supporting progressive taxation while eschewing conspicuous consumption. Ahhh! Wrong answer. Or sidle up to lobbyists and politicians to shield their assets while dangling red meat social issues before some right-wing claque to gain crucial clout in the voting booth. In the 1980s and 1990s it was the Evangelicals, now it’s the tea party deflecting attention from their voraciousness and culpability in the country’s demise. It constantly befuddles me why seemingly decent, thoughtful people stuck squarely in the middle or even lower quintiles would cast their economic lot with the 10 percenters instead of the 90 percenters. Can they not see what the rapacity of so few has cost so many? The message to the masses: support those who promise you can be like them ... but of course never will be. I’d be a lot more impressed with the tea party’s claims of populism if members were just as passionate about breaking up the megabanks that crashed the economy as they are about repealing Obamacare. That they showed as much support for the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as they do for the Keystone XL Pipeline. That they were as outraged by the 22,000 multimillionaires stashing billions offshore in Credit Suisse to escape taxes as they are about giving food stamps to poor people. Now that would be some real populism — instead of their grandstanding and obstructionism whenever their wealthy patrons like the Koch brothers yank their chain. Marty Moore is a freelance writer living in Port Richey.