Share the sacrifice

In a piece in last week’s edition of The Nation titled “Why Washington doesn’t care about jobs,” Christopher Hayes points out that D.C. is doing much better than the rest of the country economically, which is a significant contributor to what he terms “social distance” from the Americans the government purports to serve. That distance is disorienting and bizarre to those of us outside the Beltway, and is hugely fueled by the annoying conceit of many in the political media that they personally embody the concerns of average Americans. This misguided assumption would be merely amusing if not for the fact that almost the entire political conversation in the U.S. takes place among this small group of people — and that these alleged champions of the middle class inevitably convey the impression that Americans across the land are obsessed with deficit reduction and low taxes, which require deep cuts to 

Yet out here in the real world, poll after poll shows that, in fact, Americans are far more concerned with unemployment and favor surtaxes on the wealthy to close the deficit. And so, from time to time, these gilded Regular Joes are forced to regretfully admit that sometimes the people are like dotty old relatives who “just don’t get it” or that they just want a “free lunch” — after which they promptly forget those findings and go back to pretending that the American people see things exactly the way they do. 

{mosads}Even worse than that is the common assertion by these millionaire pundits that “we all” must sacrifice for the greater good and allow Social Security to be slashed. This is usually spoken with such a tone of lugubrious forbearance that one imagines they would like us to believe that while they might be forced to become Wal-Mart greeters in their elder years, patriotic duty demands we all pitch in. They seem to have no idea that the median wage in this country in 2009 was $26,261 — sadly, lower than it was in the year 2000. (Even when you average in the billionaires, it was only $39,269.) Clearly, the average political TV host takes home many times that wage, so this idea that “we” are all “sharing” in the proposed sacrifices is a bit much, particularly in light of the recent extension of the Bush tax cuts, hailed in the media as the greatest piece of legislation since the founding of the republic. 

Now, it’s true that these powerful media figures would get a smaller Social Security check and have to kick in more for their Medicare just like the rest of us if these programs are cut. But it’s highly unlikely they will suffer the same financial pinch as the person scraping together a retirement income based on a paltry Social Security benefit and whatever he’s managed to salvage from his wrecked 401(k) and lost housing equity. 

It’s very easy to prescribe “shared sacrifice” when you will not personally sacrifice anything at all.

Americans are busy people, and mastering the arcane details of the budgetary process is difficult. But they almost certainly have no trouble understanding that anyone who makes a living on national television is nowhere near average and that millionaires aren’t “sacrificing” anything real at all when they call for cuts in Social Security. 

If these wealthy celebrities are regular Joes and Janes, then Charlie Sheen must be the boy next door.

Heather Digby Parton writes the Santa Monica-based
liberal political blog Hullabaloo. You can follow the blog 

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