“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” That famous line, delivered by Peter Finch in the 1976 film “Network,” gave voice to millions of Americans who were frustrated with life in America. Economic anxiety existed then and does again now.
More than 14 million Americans are out of work, many for longer than six months, causing Congress to extend unemployment benefits to nearly two years. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as of June 2011, 45.2 million Americans were receiving food stamps, a near record. The Census Bureau reports that 46.2 million Americans (15.1 percent) were living in poverty in 2010, a 17-year high. An independent national poll conducted by Quinnipiac University found that 77 percent of Americans believe we are currently in a recession, which, if true, would qualify as a double-dip recession.
So whom do we blame?
We are seeing a growing movement in the Occupy Wall Street protests. These Americans are mad as hell, and they want to blame corporate America, the wealthy and Wall Street for their problems.
Such class warfare has been cynically utilized by the Obama White House, whose rhetoric originally gave birth to the Occupy movement, which President Obama unbelievably compared to the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.
The Obama campaign clearly sees political benefit in supporting theOccupy movement, and the president has voiced public support. But Democratic pollster Douglas Schoen recently argued in the Wall Street Journal, “President Obama and the Democratic leadership are making a critical error in embracing the Occupy Wall Street movement - and it may cost them the 2012 election.”
Indeed, two Americas do exist: the makers and the takers.
No one should prejudge the patriotism of any American, but your station in life informs your own political views.
Consider today’s economic reality. Last year, 47 percent of Americans paid no federal income tax. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that nearly half (48.5 percent) of all Americans received “some type of government benefit in the first quarter of 2010,” according to census data, making American families “more dependent on government programs than ever.”
Those Americans - call them “takers,” a crude term but one that accurately describes them as receiving more from government than they contribute - do not have a direct personal interest in fiscal responsibility, limited government or reduced spending. In fact, their livelihoods depend on the “gravy train” continuing uninterrupted.
For the Americans whose income levels require them to pay income taxes - call them the “makers” - they have a discrete and clear interest in taxes remaining low and in government being made leaner and more efficient. This dynamic has been described in Patrick J. Buchanan’s new best-selling book, “Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?”
Today, the top 1 percent of all income earners account for 40 percent of the federal taxes. If you confiscated every penny earned by the top 1 percent, you would gain about $1 trillion, wiping out these productive Americans and still not balancing the budget.
Mr. Obama has proposed raising taxes on the wealthy as a “jobs program,” but Congress has summarily rejected it.
Class warfare may make for useful political rhetoric, but one inconvenient fact persists: As Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity has said, “I never got a job from a poor person.”
Over the past month, some of the most desperate Americans have been callously used as props in the Occupy movement, with their deepest fears used for the political benefit of the left. Many have received money for protesting. Many support radical left-wing policies.
What do they want? No one knows.
Mr. Schoen’s polling firm recently surveyed nearly 200 Occupy protesters in New York City and found that only 15 percent were unemployed. He argues that what motivates this group is a commitment to an extreme agenda and an opposition to the capitalist system.
The Tea Party, which was launched organically in April 2009 in response to the Wall Street bailout, had a clear policy agenda: End the bailouts, balance the budget, reduce taxes and adhere to the Constitution.
The Occupy movement has no official list of demands and no apparent interest in achieving a legislative objective. They are just mad as hell, and they don’t want to take it anymore.
However, they are takers.
Until America becomes a place where every citizen is personally invested in not just the benefits, but also the costs, of government, we will remain a divided nation of makers, takers and, for now, occupiers.