At Stake: The Future Of America’s Middle Class

I have been actively engaged in working in presidential politics since 1984, and one of the most important things I have learned is that people with a lot of secrets they don’t want the world to know should not run for President. Sooner or later,

I have been actively engaged in working in presidential politics since 1984, and one of the most important things I have learned is that people with a lot of secrets they don’t want the world to know should not run for President. Sooner or later, either the secrets come out or the desperate desire to hide them messes you up. Mitt Romney is learning some tough lessons on that score, and it will get worse before it gets better. Even a growing chorus of Republicans want to know what he is hiding, and more importantly why. Because here is the scary thing: given that the 2 years he was willing to release gave us secret bank accounts in Switzerland, the Caymans, and Bermuda; a mysterious IRA worth over 100 million dollars; continued interwoven financial ties with Bain even though he allegedly severed ties with them in 1999; and a variety of other information that has sounded horrible to average voters, what is it that he is hiding in the rest of his returns that is worse than that?

Then there is the when-was-it-I-left-Bain problem. As the sole owner of a business, I can assure you: I am going to be held legally, politically, and reputation-wise responsible for anything that happens in my company, even if I hand over many of the day-to-day duties to other people. Romney was Bain’s sole owner, listed multiple times multiple places as the CEO. He cannot escape responsibility from whatever Bain did in those years, and the longer he tries, the worse he looks.

As someone in Romney’s opposing camp, I am enjoying the spectacle. But this whole mess with Romney and his financial secrets reminds us again of a bigger, deeper truth: the rich - at least people who got rich the way Romney did - really are different than you and I. The story of how Mitt Romney got so wealthy, and then how he hid all that wealth and avoided taxes on it, is also the story of the modern decline of America’s middle class. Right around the time Mitt Romney went into business in the early ‘80s was the moment when, aided directly by Reagan administration policies and the kind of corporate sharks Romney became, the middle class in this country began to decline in size, strength and prosperity. Mitt Romney and his fellow Wall Street sharks became so stunningly wealthy precisely because most of the rest of us got poorer. The working and middle class in this country got laid off, down-sized, out-sourced; their wages went down or flat, their out-of-pocket health care costs went up, and their pensions disappeared; the price of energy and groceries and other necessities went way up; and when the bubble caused by the out of control speculation of Wall Street burst, their one remaining asset - their homes - lost much of its value. Meanwhile, the guys like Romney who were doing the out-sourcing, lay-offing, wage and benefit-slashing, and financial speculating got filthy rich, and then because of our unprogressive tax laws and because they used Cayman Island and Swiss bank accounts to hide their money, they paid a smaller share of their taxes than those hard-pressed folks in the middle class.

That is what is so beautiful about this ad:

That last line that appears at the end, “Mitt Romney’s not the solution. He’s the problem” nails it. Mitt and his class of one percenters have been exactly the problem, and what Mitt did to America while he was at Bain Capital will be mild compared to a Presidency whose entire guiding philosophy would be to make it easier for companies like Bain to do even worse to us than they have been doing. It’s not that he is rich, as there are many rich people who made their money doing honorable things like making and selling good products, or creating wonderful new software. It’s that he got rich by making the rest of America poorer.

It is fascinating watching this secretive Mitt vs the middle class debate play out given my reading material. Over the last few days I have had a chance to read 2 books and one extremely important article. The books are Chris Hayes’ fascinating take-down of meritocracy Twilight of the Elites, and Stan Greenberg and James Carville’s It’s The Middle Class, Stupid. The article is a new piece by Barry Lynn and Lina Khan on The Slow-Motion Collapse of American Entrepreneurship. All of them in their each unique ways document how the American middle class is just being slammed by the long term trends in the American economy. Lynn and Khan present dramatic new research documenting how massive mega-companies are dominating bigger and bigger shares of different industries, and squeezing out millions of small businesses and potential small businesses along the way. Chris does a powerful and compelling job of showing how arrogant and out-of-touch elites are growing further and further away from most Americans both economically and culturally, and how as a result that arrogance creates a culture where they keep screwing up with horrific consequences. And James and Stan do a wonderful takedown of how the middle class has been left feeling betrayed and screwed over by both political parties in the last 30 years, and how we need to turn things around quickly to restore the health and prosperity of the American middle class before it is too late.

Look, I will be honest: I am a thoroughly partisan Democrat, but I know both political parties have contributed to the horrific pounding of America’s middle class in recent years. Both parties share responsibility for the horrific repeal of Glass-Steagall, and for NAFTA and bad trade deals with China. Neither party’s Justice Departments have prosecuted the big banks to the degree they should, or seriously enforced the nation’s anti-trust laws so that small businesses would have a chance against the biggest businesses in industry after industry. I believe that we need in this country is not just a partisan electoral strategy but a non-partisan movement, beholden to no politician or special interest group, that will fight every day to expand and strengthen America’s badly bruised working and middle class. I fully understand that if Barack Obama wins re-election, the poor and working class folks I care about will not be even close to having all its problems solved. But to elect Mitt Romney, a man who is the epitome of the kind of business leader who has become wealthy by making all the rest of us poorer, a man who has endorsed Paul Ryan’s ugly budget which would do more to destroy the America’s middle class than any other piece of legislation in history, as President would be the height of foolishness.

This election is about Mitt vs. the middle class. And after the election, we need to build a movement of, by, and for that middle class so that no politician will ever again so blatantly run on a platform to destroy it.

About Mike Lux

Mike Lux's picture
Author, The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be

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