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Whither the White Working Class Occupy: History Repeats as Reality Show

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Liberals and "Austerity"

by Christopher Chantrill
December 26, 2011 at 10:59 pm


WHEN I WAS a lad in 1950s Britain, the adults used to talk about “austerity.” This, I learned, was the period right after World War II. But what did it mean? I could never quite grasp what was so austere about those years. There was food rationing, of course, and that meant that my parents kept chickens in the back garden. It meant that we were careful to spread the butter on bread very thinly. Then there was the Winter of 1947. It was cold enough to get its own Wikipedia entry.

Now I finally understand. “Austerity” means that the technocratic statists have goofed and that some government benefits may possibly dip in the near future.

That must be what “austerity” means because we have liberals like Robert Reich warning urgently against copying the European austerity here in the United States. It is one thing, apparently, to copy European social democratic programs in good times, but another thing altogether to copy the Euro chappies when sovereign debt default is just around the corner.

But “austerity” is still pretty confusing. The victorious Popular Party in Spain is said to have a “strong mandate to push through further austerity measures” and avoid being “engulfed by the sovereign debt crisis.” But apparently the reason the Spanish voters are chucking out the Socialists is that “many are angry with the Socialists for allowing the economy to deteriorate and then for introducing tough austerity measures.” The voters are retired the austerity Socialists to give the Popular Party a mandate for austerity?

As the US rumbles around the bend heading for its own Rendezvous with Default Destiny, sometimes I wonder about the Democrats like Robert Reich, who seem to think that the whole thing can be solved if only the rich contribute a little more. But then I remember that there is a method to their madness.

The dirty little secret is that any “austerity” is going to disproportionately affect Democrats. All those lovely social programs, those crony capitalist subsidies? They benefit Democrats.

Look at the Tea Party Budget, which cuts a manly $9.7 trillion from the federal budget in 10 years, from 24 percent of GDP to 16 percent.

The Tea Party cuts hit nothing but Democratic sacred cows. Eliminate the Departments of Education and Energy. Cut EPA by 50 percent. Eliminate HUD. Eliminate ethanol and “unproven energy technology subsidies.” Oh, and eliminate “business and economic development subsidies.” That’ll really hit those famous Republican fat-cat CEOs!

Of course Democrats are raging against “austerity.” If we cut health care, the middle class will just suck it in a bit. If we cut education, the middle class will just shrug and pay a little more. But Democrats are all traditionally marginalized folks who are living on fixed incomes. Why if we cut spending on the backs of Democrats we will... Well, we will increase inequality.

Yes, Democrats apparently think they have changed the conversation since President Obama went all class-warfare on us. Says a Democratic aide via Hugh Hewitt:

The worm has turned a little bit. The national conversation now is about income inequality and about jobs, and it’s not really about cutting the size of government anymore or cutting spending.

There it is, that famous “national conversation” again. Last time I checked my political dictionary “national conversation” meant the latest talking point that Democrats are trying to ram down our throats.

Here’s what’s really happening. The Democrats can’t win by doing a pragmatic deal on spending or a down payment on entitlements on the Supercommittee, something that would really help their supporters, long term. They can’t do it because any deal will gore Democratic oxen in the here and now and demoralize or even inflame the base. Bang goes the election in 2012.

So instead they are doing another Bob Schrum special, “fighting for the People against the Powerful” and writing solemn articles about inequality. Here’s Ezra Klein’s effort: “Ryan’s Inequality Plan Means Inequality.”

The whole idea of the welfare state is to provide the little people with a little protection, a safety net, against the major austerities of life, old age, health care, educating the kids. You’d think a party that cared about the little guy would be saying: Wow, things are going to be really tough for the next few years. We’ve got to do what we can to make sure that the little guy is protected. We should ease up on the nice-to-haves like really fast trains and green energy. Why, we could even let the odd oil pipeline get built and turn a blind eye to the occasional horizontal fracking between consenting adults. Instead the Dems have hit the nitro on the Class Warfare Special.

My guess is that we are just weeks from the moment when every tyro realizes what the best strategic minds already know: that Obama’s class warfare strategy is going to make things worse -- for Democrats.

In the aftermath they won’t be whining about “austerity.”

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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presented by Christopher Chantrill

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