Goodies for the Rich, Pennies for the Poor

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Republicans don’t give a rat’s ass about working-class Americans, but they want you to think they do.

During an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today, Wisconsin Congressman Sean Duffy told host Joe Scarborough that Republicans need to change their messaging so they can connect to people “trying to move up the economic ladder.”

“We have to actually take our message to where people are at,” Duffy said. “We have moms that can’t pay the utility bill, dads who can’t pay the mortgage. How does our conservative ideology and philosophy actually help lift them out of the place that they are today and move them up the economic ladder? …We don’t do a good job of presenting that message, and we have to change how we’re doing it.”

This is the core of the problem Republicans face – there is nothing in the Republican Party’s platform that actually helps people move up the economic ladder. The Republican Party’s platform only helps you when you’re already rich, so messaging doesn’t mean anything when your policies are designed to screw working Americans and enrich the billionaires.

The Republican Party’s philosophy really just boils down to two basic ideas: tax cuts for the rich and social safety net cuts for everyone else. None of these ideas do anything to help America’s working class. In fact, they actively make it harder for working people to, as Congressman Duffy put it, “move up the economic ladder.”

Let’s start out with taxes. The idea that cutting taxes for rich somehow helps everyone has become a religion of sorts for many people on the right. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush put cutting taxes for rich people at the center of their agendas, and to this day many people in the conservative movement still believe that cutting taxes for rich people is the only way to grow the economy and build a middle-class. Those conservatives have even repeated this lie so often that a surprising number of everyday Americans believe the same thing about tax breaks for rich people.

But Republican tax breaks for the rich don’t help everyday people – they hurt them.

From the Roosevelt administration up until the Reagan administration, the top marginal income tax rate – the maximum amount paid by the wealthiest Americans – fluctuated between 90 and 70 percent. This same period also saw wages for everyday working people rise and rise and rise. Why did this happen? You guessed it – higher taxes on the rich.

It’s simple: higher taxes on the rich stabilize the economy. Rich people don’t spend their extra cash like regular people do, they gamble with it. Lower taxes on the rich thus encourage wealthy people to throw their extra money into Wall Street. This fuels bubbles, the kind of bubbles that crash the economy and cause prolonged recessions like the one we’re in now.

If tax cuts have any “trickle-down” effect at all it’s this: they screw working people by turning the economy into one big casino.

But Republicans policies don’t just destabilize the economy – Republican policies actually make it harder for people to get by when their tax breaks on rich people inevitably send the economy into a tailspin.

That’s because Republicans also want to slash away at the social safety net that protects average working people. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, food stamps, unemployment insurance – you name it. Never mind the fact that big government programs have, as one recent study found, “helped reduce the percentage of Americans in poverty from 26 percent in 1967 to 16 percent in 2012” – no, what’s important to Republicans is that people suffer through poverty so they can reach some mythical level of self-reliance.

Republicans believe that working people are motivated by the fear of starvation, disease, and homelessness, so they want to threaten working people with those things. But they also believe that what motivates rich people is tax cuts and Swiss bank accounts. Money for the rich, starvation wages for working people – it’s pretty bizarre when you really think about it.

But if you needed any more proof of what Republicans are all about, consider this: right now, a week before Christmas, they are trying to cut billions of dollars from the food stamps program, when most of the people that qualify for food stamps are working at low-wage jobs at places like Walmart or McDonald’s.

And as if that wasn’t enough, they are also trying to prevent Congress from extending federal unemployment benefits which are scheduled to expire at the end of the month. If Congress doesn’t renew them, an estimated 1.3 million unemployed Americans won’t have a way to make ends meet come January.

I’m sure Congressman Sean Duffy wishes that Republicans could find a way to tell those 1.3 million Americans that losing their benefits is a good thing, but let’s be honest, there’s nothing Republicans can say to make their policies sound better.

And even if Republicans did find a way to make tax cuts for the rich and austerity for the rest of us sound like a friendly platform for the working-class, they would still have to explain how massive tax breaks for big oil and free trade deals that send jobs overseas help people here in America. They’d also still have to find a way to explain why refusing to raise the minimum wage helps people move up the economic ladder. The list goes on.

Until Republicans actually adopt progressive policies and make them their own – like Dwight D. Eisenhower did in the 1950s – there’s nothing they can do to make themselves look like they’re the party of everyday working people.

So instead of looking hypocrites, Republicans are probably better off telling people the truth: they want goodies for the rich and pennies for everyone else.