Oh man this “We Are the 53%” movement. It is actually very sad! Basically, conservative pundit Erick Erickson has started a campaign called “We Are the 53%,” to counter the “We Are the 99%” and Occupy Wall Street movements. According to Erickson’s (very simplistic) math, 53% of Americans pay more in federal income taxes than they receive back in deductions or credits, and so 53% of people are subsidizing everyone else. Which is… where to even start? Even people who don’t pay federal income tax still often pay property taxes and payroll taxes; everyone pays sale taxes. And part of the OWS argument is that corporations and many of the highest-earning Americans are paying very little in taxes, due to a series of loopholes and tax breaks.
That aside, Erickson’s site is very very sad. It is full of people who are extremely unlikely to be in the 53% — people who work several jobs to stay afloat, who can’t afford health insurance, whose parents worked themselves to the bone while dying of cancer. Those stories are held up as “the American Dream.” It’s kind of sick, actually. There’s a nice parody blog dedicated to it.
Hippie-punching is fun, I guess, and that seems to be Erickson’s motivation — he’s more interested in telling the Occupy Wall Street folks to “stop whining” than offering any solution other than “poor people are lazy.” And he does it with a web site that includes a lot of poor people all talking about how the system has kind of screwed them, but they’re living the dream and they “did it themselves.”
I realize a lot of people don’t want to feel like victims, and part of the difficulty the left faces is categorizing experiences and exploitations in a way that still allows people to identify with a group — Sady’s post about, among other things, self-identifying as “middle class” hints at this. A lot of people want to be on the A Team, or at least the team of “most folks.” That was, to me, the brilliance of the 99% campaign — it recognized that there’s a lot of diversity of experience within the 99 percent, but it gave people a group identity to latch onto. The problem is, Erickson’s campaign, asinine and divorced-from-reality as it might be, appeals to a lot of folks’ view of themselves as better than the next guy — harder-working, not looking for a hand-out, subsidizing all of Those People who are complaining whiners. In reality, of course, a lot of the people on Erickson’s 53% blog are the ones being “subsidized” (if we adopt Erickson’s terms); they’re people who have received welfare and other social services, they’re people who are definitely not paying federal income tax, and they’re people who need more than they’re getting.
But they’re latching onto Erickson because I suppose it feels better to self-identify as a winner. I’m not sure how, besides the populist 99% message, we can change that dynamic. This comment by Richard Lawson on the Gawker post is interesting to me:
This air of the nobility of the underclass is so sad and, cornily enough, eye-opening for me. It’s quite a feat that the oligarchs (for lack of a less sensational term) really have convinced these people that their poverty is noble and righteous and, in this life or the next, will somehow deliver them. You think about that 16% of African Americans who are living in poverty, or the insanely high number of single women and children living as such across all races and ethnicities, and you realize how fully they’ve taken to heart the persistent message they’ve been fed, in ways both subtle and profoundly grand, that theirs is a necessary suffering, one endured so the country can continue to function in the supposedly just and impartial way that it does. To be teenaged trendy about it, these people have been glamoured by vampires, have bared their necks and welcome the pain as a gift. It’s so deep and so bedrock in national mentality that the only salve seems, honestly, to be some sort of genuine revolution. I kind of feel like a French person in 1788. I wish these people knew they had allies behind them.
And people like Erick Erickson are nasty, willfully blind classist monsters. To prey on people this obviously downtrodden is ghoulishness of the highest order.
It’s worth pointing out, also, that Erickson’s site features mostly white people. It features people who are used to being on the A Team. I don’t think anyone on that site would actually say that they feel an air of nobility for being part of the underclass; I don’t think they believe they’re part of an American underclass at all.
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