By Ted Braun
The outcome of the 2012 election was already foreshadowed in the two political conventions. The delegates who gathered on the floor of the Republican convention in Tampa were overwhelmingly white, and it was later estimated that 88 percent of the voters supporting Romney were white. The delegates on the floor of the Democratic convention in Charlotte, in contrast, came from a large variety of backgrounds, including African-American and Hispanic-American.
The surprise showed up on election evening. It brought to light a new American majority: not only rainbow-colored but also younger, more tolerant, and more sensitive to gender concerns. Voters were able to trump the appalling ignorance of a number of older white male candidates who wanted to continue colonizing women and controlling their uterus. They also passed several proposals on behalf of marriage equality. The election revealed in a number of interesting ways our nation's shifting political and social landscape.
The most important post-election problem confronting Democrats and Republicans now, however, is our broken economic system and our growing class divide. This will be the big challenge about whether the Democrats and Republicans can work together for our nation's common welfare. As columnist Bob Herbert has commented, "I think the Republican Party is defined, and I think accurately defined, as a party that looks out for the interests of the very wealthy. The Democratic Party less so, but I think they look out for the interests of the wealthy, too, before they look out for the interests of working Americans."
This issue will become especially important as Congress discusses the budget implications of the impending "fiscal cliff." According to Senator Bernie Sanders, last month the top eighty U.S. CEOs issued a statement to Congress pleading for a deficit reduction plan that would include cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and a decrease in taxes "for the top 2 percent." Many of these CEOs have evaded at least $34.5 billion in taxes through more than 600 subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens since 2008. Roughly a dozen of their companies did not pay federal income taxes at all in recent years, and some even received an additional $6.4 billion in tax refunds from the IRS since 2008.
The question of taxes is one of the major justice issues before our nation today. The 16th Amendment to our Constitution that gives Congress the power to collect taxes on incomes was designed not only to raise revenue but to target excessively concentrated wealth. Theodore Roosevelt argued that American civilization must not be "the civilization of a mere plutocracy, a banking-house, Wall-Street-syndicate civilization." He attacked the "malefactors of great wealth" who imperiled the Republic through their huge economic and political influence.
One way to deal with this problem would be to reverse what a succession of Republican administrations has done to lower the marginal tax rate on the wealthiest Americans: from 90 percent under President Eisenhower to 70 percent under President Nixon, to 50 percent under President Reagan, to 35 percent under President George W. Bush. The Congressional Research Service, in a report issued in September, found that tax cuts for the rich spurred income inequality but not economic or job growth. The Republicans will be especially challenged in this area because most of them have taken the Grover Norquist pledge not to increase taxes for the rich.
Hopefully November will bring us another beneficial surprise.