This weekend, Mitt Romney hit Long Island for a series of fundraisers, including one at the home of right-wing mega-donor David Koch.
For one of these donors, the big danger of 2012 is that people who aren’t as wealthy as her might still be able to have some input on this election. The L.A. Times’ Maeve Reston caught a gem of a quote from this attendee as she drove in.
“I don’t think the common person is getting it,” she said from the passenger seat of a Range Rover stamped with East Hampton beach permits. “Nobody understands why Obama is hurting them.
“We’ve got the message,” she added. “But my college kid, the baby sitters, the nails ladies — everybody who’s got the right to vote — they don’t understand what’s going on. I just think if you’re lower income — one, you’re not as educated, two, they don’t understand how it works, they don’t understand how the systems work, they don’t understand the impact.”
(Just allow that “everybody who’s got the right to vote” sink in for a minute there.)
This is just one quote from one woman, but it speaks to a growing gap between the way the “sore winners” see the economy and our political system and reality.
To look at it from another angle, we turn to Sunday’s New York Times, where Thomas Edsall took note of “the hollowing out” of middle class jobs. Measured in some respects, the economy is recovering: GDP is above its pre-recession highs, the Dow Jones average is nearly twice as high as its early-2009 low during the recession, and corporate profits are at all-time highs. But measured from the point of view of working people, the economy remains stubbornly poor, with high rates of unemployment and wages falling to a new low as a share of the economy. You’re even seeing some analysts speak of a “post-employee economy” in which you see “corporations gaining ground at the expense of labor,” breaking the link that used to exist between productivity and wages.
So this raises an important question: how are “the systems” supposed to work, anyway? What that Range Rover driver might not get is that the answer might be different for her than it is for college kids staring down a mountain of debt—or the women who do her nails.
Our organizers talk to thousands of people every week in their neighborhoods—“common” people, as the donor might put it. And they do “understand how it works.” They understand that the bargain has been broken, and that they’re having a hard time getting by even as a few fortunate people seem to be getting richer and richer.
Indeed, a lot of the growth in the economy has gone to a small segment of the financial industry—the people who looked at mortgages not as a long-term investment, but as a fancy kind of casino chip. The results of the subprime mortgage boom-and-bust have devastated a lot of working families, but there seem to have been no consequences for the people who exploited them and made millions.
Unfortunately, the pressures of fundraising in our political system mean that the “sore winners” have a lot more influence on elected officials than the “common person” who has nothing but their right to vote. The reason that mass unemployment, wage stagnation and the housing collapse aren’t at the center of our political discussion is that, in the “post-employee economy,” they don’t matter much to the very wealthiest among us. If you think “the economy” is just corporate profits and the Dow Jones, then you have a totally different perspective on our political challenges than somebody who’s at risk of losing their job, their home, their health care.
The people we talk to might not be able to rattle off the statistics, but they don’t need to. They’re living the reality, and they want to be able to do something about it.
That’s what’s at issue here—it’s not the outcome of the next election, and it’s not what number a line is hitting on a chart. It’s a question of whether everyone has the chance to work for a living and actually make enough to live on. It’s a question of what we mean when we say the economy is “working.”