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Transcript: Thom Hartmann talks about why the populist left should be reaching out to the populist right 07 Dec '09.
I have been saying for some time that we need to join forces with the teabaggers, the teapartiers, whatever you want to call them. They’re even having debates in their own ranks about what to call them. But that there is a populist movement in the United States that is ultimately trans-partisan. Part of it is suckers, right. Part of it is people who are, you know, 150,000, 200,000 dollar bus shows up with a giant new paint job and they hop on and they think it’s a grass roots movement. But part of, nonetheless, these are kind of the low information voters. They represent a very real slice of America, of Americans who are saying, 'you know, we’ve been kicking around enough, we have been kicked around enough. Enough of this stuff already'.
And there’s, you know, this is happening on the right, in large part because you’ve got Dick Armey with Freedom Works and you’ve got I think it’s Ed Koch, I forget which one of the Koch brothers, David Koch, one of the Koch brothers down there in Texas with Koch Industries, or using his family money or his foundation money or whatever. But one of the Koch brothers funding one of the other right wing think tanks, Americans for Prosperity I think it is. And these groups that allow these very wealthy people to give money to it and get tax deductions for it and then use that money to try to influence legislation that increases the tax deductions and lowers the taxes for these very wealthy people or that advances the interests of their particular industries, be it oil or pharmaceuticals or whatever.
You know, they started this astroturf movement. And they started it in large part, I was gonna say against the healthcare movement but really it goes back to Rick [Santelli], ... the guy from ... the financial news service saying, you know, on the floor, of the trading floor in Wall Street, “We need a tea party movement!” right, this guy, this million dollar, millionaire, trader, trader guy. And, I think, I said at the time this is dress rehearsal for something.
Because we knew that this was not an accident that this guy rolled out the tea party thing and we knew that it was not an accident that within a week of his doing so, Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey and all these people were using the phrase tea party over and over and over again. We knew that something was up. We knew that there was grass roots organizing going on around the country. We knew that it was being funded by PR firms in Washington DC that historically have done the same things for the tobacco industry back 5, 10, 15 years ago, you know, with the smoker’s rights groups. We knew that, none of this stuff was, you know, accidental and none of it was particularly shocking but we didn’t quite know what it was gonna be used for. We thought it was, you know, to support Palin and McCain or something like that, or some weird thing. It turns out that this was building infrastructure.
These guys were building infrastructure. And they’re using that infrastructure right now to try and defeat healthcare or they used it during the summer, and I guarantee you, a month or two from now, you’re gonna have the oil industry who is going to step into the place that right now big pharma and the medical industry is standing in, the health insurance industry is standing in. And they’re gonna be funding these same groups, these same guys in these same ways so that the bus, you know, the name on the bus may change or the logo but it’s gonna be another $250 thousand bus and all this kind of stuff. And they’re gonna be out there. But all these people are showing up and here’s where it gets really interesting.
This new Rasmussen poll, and Rasmussen is a pretty solid poll. This new Rasmussen poll suggests that tea party movements, the tea party movement itself, has beat the Republican party in terms of popularity in a generic congressional contest. Now this is what we saw up in New York, what was it, 23rd district of New York, up in the upstate New York race recently? And, you know, where the, essentially the tea party movement guy pulled enough votes away from the Republican that the Republican dropped out and tried to end up with the tea party guy, and the Democrat won. Well here’s how the thing shakes out. If they were a full-fledged political party, if they had a place on the ballot, and there’s discussion of this happening around the country. The, in a generic race a Democrat would pull 36% of the vote. A tea party candidate would pull 23% of the vote and a Republican would pull 18% of the vote. The tea party has beat out the Republicans.
You know, what’s happening is that Americans are figuring out, both on the left and the right, that to a large extent we don’t have America in America anymore. We don’t have the American Dream in America anymore. That, you know, when that great transition happened in the early 1980s where in the inaugural ball of 1976 Jimmy Carter walked the parade route down Pennsylvania Avenue and invited average people to his Presidential ball versus four years later Ronald Reagan did the whole thing with pomp and circumstance and people had to pay an enormous amount of money and everybody was wearing 10, 20,000 dollar ball gowns and it was like the royalty was back. And it was the end of the celebration of the middle class. We had 50 years in the United States where we celebrated the middle class and we built the middle class. And the main thing that we used to build the middle class was a top marginal tax rate on people like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity who make more than 2 million dollars a year so that they were paying, you know the top tax rate was 74%. They were actually paying 51 ½ %. The average tax paid on somebody making more than 2 million dollars a year in 1980 was 51.6%, more than half.
So as a consequence of this, very wealthy people had an incentive to keep money in their businesses, to grow businesses, to build the infrastructure of America, to have a middle class, to not take enormous amounts of money out of this country and put it in Swiss bank accounts or build factories in China, but build American business. Now Reagan changed all that. And dropped that top tax rate down into the low 30s where it is now. And Clinton kicked it up three or four points for a couple of years and damn near balanced our budget and then Bush dropped it back down again.
But the point is that, the top story over at the Daily Kos. "A Silent Coup d'état Has Already Happened in the U.S.". And they’re talking about, people don’t understand how it’s possible for Obama to appoint scores of Goldman Sachs execs, you know, why are the banksters still in position, why is it that the entire military industrial complex is still running, why are the contractors still taking their money. Well because it’s, according to Luis Mendoza who is the diarist over at Daily Kos. It’s "a relentless, calculated, and well-financed effort to undermine the U.S. Constitution, remove financial regulations that protected against fraud by large institutions, undermine the labor movement, and remove restrictions on media conglomeration and antitrust regulation". This has been, but this is not new. This is something that started with Ronald Reagan. And it has reached it’s fruition.
We are now at that point that the American middle class is in the midst of it’s own destruction and is turning into the American working poor. And the wealthy class have seized control of the levers of government, including the Obama administration. So how do we take this back? I think that, first of all I want to give you just a little bit more information on how the very powerful have achieved their victory in this class war, and it comes around, and then what we can do about it.
See in the early ‘70s, the very wealthy in this country were essentially under attack. There was, or at least they perceived themselves to be. You know, 51.6 percent of their income was being taxed after they started making a couple million dollars a year, this was intolerable, they had to pay a high capital gains tax, corporations in America were paying between 30 and 50% of, not up to 50%, between 30 and 40 some odd percent of the total amount of the federal revenue, the total federal taxes? Today it’s now down to 7%. So the corporate powers, the very wealthy powers in this country, the elite, the fewer than 17,000 families that make more than 2 million dollars a year and the five or six hundred maybe at most a thousand, maybe as few actually as three or four hundred corporations that controlled so much of the economy, that controlled most of the media, they controlled most of retailing, they controlled most of newspaper publishing, radio, television, broadcasting, they controlled most of the food industry. Pick your sector. They controlled the oil and gas industry. In each one of these sectors there was just five or six companies, that controlled 70, 80, 90% of those industries. And you take the top 20 sectors or so and you take the top 5 companies you have maybe 100 companies there. And they felt like they were under attack.
And Lewis Powell in 1971 writes this Memo to the President of the Chamber of Commerce who was his next door neighbor and his dear friend and says you know, we’ve got to take back this country. I mean Franklin Roosevelt in 1934 took it away from us. The very rich had come to power in the 1870s as a result of the great railroad giveaway of Abraham Lincoln back in the 1860s in order to win the civil war and they had pretty much stayed in power through all that time. There was a bit of a hiccup during World War I and Teddy Roosevelt busted up a few of them and had some success in 1907 and World War I, 1917, 1918. But by and large the rich had been in power and they really in 1920, in 1921, dropped the top marginal tax rate, there, the top tax rate had been back up around 75% during World War I, they dropped it back down into the 20s in 1921 and boom, you had the roaring 20s, you know, off to another bubble. And the rich got rich, and you had the emergence of all these dynastic families again. But from that period, from the 1930s until the 1970s, the late 1970s, there was basically one dynastic family that emerged in the United States. Great wealth was not being accumulated. I mean much of it was being kept, but and a lot of people were getting wealthy. A lot of people were becoming millionaires but not billionaires. And the people who really wanted to control, you know, the class war.
Sam Pizzigati over at Dollars & Sense writing about this last week, the headline: “Have the Very Wealthy Achieved Victory in Their Class War?” And he lays it out. He says, "In 1974, the most affluent 1% of Americans averaged, in today’s dollars, $380,000 in income.". That puts you in the top 1%. Today to be in the top 1% you gotta have 1.4 million dollars. So, you know they’re doing really well, in real dollars. In other words it’s gone up, you know, substantially
On the other hand, the other 90% of us, from 1974 to today have seen an average annual increase in our paychecks of $47. This is pretty startling stuff. But if you look at the very rich, the top 400 in America. In 1955 their average income was 12 million dollars a year in todays dollars and they were paying 51.2 percent tax in 1955. That was after exploiting every loop hole they could get. Today, instead of making 12 million dollars, those 400 richest people in America are making an average of 263 million dollars a year. That’s over a million dollars a day, given the number of working days in the year, assuming that they don’t work weekends. Over a million dollars a day in an eight hour day that’s you know well over $100,000 an hour.
What can anybody do that’s worth $100,000 an hour? And their income that they’re paying, their income tax that they’re paying is averaging 17.2 % for the very richest. It’s lower than the income tax paid by the average working person in America. They had, in 2006, they had 84 billion dollars more in their pockets than they did in 1955. I mean these, some, I guess, at a certain point these numbers just, people just kind of numb out. But what the bottom line is is that there’s been this enormous concentration of wealth at the top. And it has come at the loss of wealth in the middle and the bottom. That the American middle class has been, you know, largely wiped out and eviscerated. And the result of that, as Warren Buffet has said, 'yes there’s class war in America and my class is winning' and pointing out that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary does. And there’s something fundamentally wrong about this. And I’m telling ya, the teabaggers get it.
And progressives get it as well and we need to figure out a way, and I think it’s very simple, I think that, we should all sign up for the tea party stuff, get on their mailing lists, show up at their events, and find those areas of agreement, you know. Stand up with a sign that says “stop international trade deals.” “No more NAFTA and CAFTA.” “No more tax breaks for billionaires.” I mean pretty straightforward stuff, right. “America for Americans.” “Bring our jobs home.” “Stop the insane trade deals that help the corporations.” “Buy American.” I mean, you know, we could actually if we got organized, not even do we have to get particularly well organized. We could have a profound effect on this “movement.”
Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.