Spreading the Wealth Around

The Right-wing media and bloggers are high-fiving over Barack Obama’s “spread the wealth around” comment. “Did Barack ‘Spread the Wealth’ Obama Just Blow the Election?” says one. “Can you say Karl Marx?” says another. The GOP claims the phrase reveals Obama’s “socialist agenda.”

My favorite is “The Left’s Evolution into Totalitarians Completed.” See, the reason the Left is crucifying Joe the Plumber is to distract people from Obama’s “spread the wealth” remark.

During the debate every time McCain repeated the remark, with a “gotcha” smirk on his face, I think most viewers must have wondered what planet he was from. I realize just about any use of the word “wealth” by a liberal sets of alarm bells on the ideological Right. But most working people are getting tired of a system that keeps them shut out of “the wealth,” even though their labor is creating it.

Most of us are fine with capitalism as long as it is kept fair. And, frankly, a capitalist system in which wealth is “spread around” — where workers are paid well and can buy stuff, so that wealth is kept in broad circulation instead of being hoarded by a minority — is a healthy capitalist system that benefits everyone, including the very wealthy.

But the wages and standard of living of working people have been flat for some time. Indeed, most working class folks are worse off than they were eight years ago. And the rot has reached the middle class as well.

Yet, until very recently, we were assured America’s wealth is going up and up and up.

I don’t know if John McCain understands the unfairness that increasing numbers of Americans are feeling. If you think about it, aside from his POW experience (which I do not belittle) he has led a relatively sheltered life, and a life very far apart from most working and middle-class people. As far as I can tell he has no personal experience of how working people in America actually live. Possibly he has no clue how he is coming across when he makes fun of “spread the wealth around.”

John McCain often expresses admiration for Theodore Roosevelt. Like nearly all dead white guys, TR was a mixed bag. He had many of the standard white guy views of his time that are repugnant to us now — “white man’s burden” stuff. But he got one thing right — Americans need a square deal.

So what did TR say about spreading wealth around?

“The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows.”

“At many stages in the advance of humanity, this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress.”

“The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. The prime need is to change the conditions which enable these men to accumulate power which is not for the general welfare that they should hold or exercise. We grudge no man a fortune which represents his own power and sagacity, when exercised with entire regard to the welfare of his fellows. … We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community. This, I know, implies a policy of a far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country than we have yet had, but I think we have got to face the fact that such an increase in governmental control is now necessary.”

“The right to regulate the use of wealth in the public interest is universally admitted.”

— Theordore Roosevelt, “The New Nationalism,” 1910

“Here in this city of the State of Lincoln I can set forth the principles for which we stand to-day in the words which Lincoln used fifty-four years ago, when in speaking of the then phase of the eternal struggles between privilege and justice, between the rights of the many and the special interest of the few, he said:

“That is the real issue. That is the issue which will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between two principles-right and wrong-throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time. The one is the common right of humanity, the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says: ‘You toil and work and earn bread, and I will eat it.’ No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who bestrides the people of his own nation and lives from the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.”

“Were Lincoln alive to-day he would add that it is also the same principle which is now at stake when we fight on behalf of the many against the oppressor in modern industry whether the abuse of special privilege be by a man whose wealth is great or is little, whether by the multimillionaire owner of railways and mines and factories who forgets his duties to those who earn his bread while earning their own, or by the owner of the foul little sweat-shop who coins dollars from the excessive and underpaid labor of haggard women. We who stand for the cause of progress are fighting to make this country a better place to live in for those who have been harshly treated by fate; and if we succeed it will also really be a better place for those who are already well off. None of us can really prosper permanently if masses of our fellows are debased and degraded, if they are ground down and forced to live starved and sordid lives, so that their souls are crippled like their bodies and the fine edge of their every feeling blunted. We ask that those of our people to whom fate has been kind shall remember that each is his brother’s keeper, and that all of us whose veins thrill with abounding vigor shall feel our obligation to the less fortunate who work wearily beside us in the strain and stress of our eager modern life.”

— Theodore Roosevelt, “The Case Against the Reactionaries,” 1912

Interesting guy, TR.

20 thoughts on “Spreading the Wealth Around

  1. Early voting began in West Virginia on Wednesday, so today is the third day it has been going on.

    I drove over to Charles Town Courthouse, our County’s early voting site. This is a historic location… it was the site of the trial of John Brown for his attack on Harper’s Ferry just prior to the start of the Civil War (It’s also about four blocks from where John Brown was hung as well.) It was about 11:15 in the morning when I got there and there were no visible crowds outside, but the line inside the Courthouse was fairly long and I was told by one of the volunteers that it had been pretty steady all morning. I wanted to take a picture of the line, but they didn’t allow the use of cameras in the Courthouse.

    This was an older crowd (younger folks were probably at work or in school.) I was told that it would get even heavier during lunch hour when the local Charles Town working population came by, and another rush would happen later in the day. On October 25th they are starting Saturday hours as well. I guess early voting is a popular advantage.

    I wasn’t sure which candidates were drawing the line… you weren’t allowed to enter the voting area wearing buttons or T-shirts promoting one candidate or the other. My guess though, this being Jefferson County’s northern edge, this was a mostly Democratic crowd.

    After filling in my ballot and having it sucked into the machine that reads and tallies it, I got my “I voted” sticker, which I slapped on my shirt, and headed back home to Shepherdstown.

    Mission Accomplished.

    Under The LobsterScope

  2. I wondered during the debate whether this notion of “spreading the wealth’ was going to go over quite as negatively with average Americans as McCain thought it would. Right now, ‘spreading the wealth’ is sounding pretty good to me, especially after weeks of stories about trillion dollar Wall Street bailouts, billions in bonuses and golden parachutes for CEOs, while we all watch whatever little pittances we’ve saved up in our 401ks vanish into thin air.

    Nothing more clearly demonstrated that McCain has absolutely no sense whatsoever how average Americans live. He has been a ‘kept man’ (first courtesy of the US government and secondly by his multi millionaire wife) his entire life.

  3. I did a spreadsheet with info from 2005 (latest I could find) on how much each state gets back from the fed for each dollar they send in, and combined that with the current spread by state between Obama and McCain from pollster.

    The states which are in McCain’s column get an average of $1.39 for each $1.00 in taxes they pay. The state’s in Obama’s column get an average of $0.96 back for each $1.00 they pay. The only state which pays more than they get yet is in McCain’s column is Texas.

    How’s that for redistributing the wealth!

  4. “…a capitalist system in which wealth is “spread around” — where workers are paid well and can buy stuff, so that wealth is kept in broad circulation instead of being hoarded by a minority — is a healthy capitalist system that benefits everyone, including the very wealthy.”

    This is Economics 101 and McCain, by his own admission, doesn’t understand this at all. Wealth invested is good and all, but in my experience, stock prices rise and fall on revenue (not profit), revenues generally require sales of some kind, and sales (at least at the retail level) require sprending money “in broad circulation.” If the middle class has no spending money, the economy is toast.

    You’d think this should be taught in business school or something. It’s awfully basic.

  5. Dave – I’m sure rightie business schools do the same for business that Regent Law does for law.

  6. Barbara, I’m so glad we found each other. In a ya, me too sense of course. I’ve been sending as many people as I can find to ” A New Nationalism” for some time now. It’s this stuff that has made me a huge fan of TR. Sure there’s some bad in the guy but his kind of populism is what we need and ‘they’ dread right now. I wrote a post on this same topic recently. As you say…sort of…when 85% of the wealth is held by 20% of the people then it’s time to lower the wages of the top and increase those at the bottom. If more people have more of the money it IS us spreading it out. That is the sensible way to make it work. Any one who thinks they are more than 50 more valuable to their business than…anybody else…is either a narcissist or wildly greedy. It wouldn’t stop people from getting rich it would make it possible for more. They always talk about hand outs but I’m not even talking about that. I’m saying reward work in all areas and not just a few. They could hand out 2 million dollars to each of the 300 million citizens to stimulate the economy and ease the housing crisis and saved 249,400,000 over what they are doing. I’m sure somebody can give you a reason that it wouldn’t work. Likely their complication is an element of the problem. Yep, you’re right, robbing the bank and don’t even need a gun. If that’s a socialist view then I’m a socialist.

  7. I have to think that I’m not the only one in America who has thought, when hearing about multi-million dollar CEO bonuses, and certainly after hearing about that recent AIG shindig, that there is quite a bit of wealth that could use some “spreadin’ around.”

    Thanks for the words from TR.

  8. Wingnuts don’t realize that the wealth is already being spread around, in this case upward, via the tax code and various other laws. It parallels the right wing canard about “class warfare” – they holler about it when the left tries to make things more just, when in fact the right has been doing class warfare all along.

  9. Barbara, can you define “A New Nationalism” for some of us bloggers not quite accustomed to your slant.

    Although TR had some bulish features, as the trustbuster he nevertheless played to the demogogery in pitting one economic class, the poor, against the wealthy, the Trusts.

    Surely there’s some room for negativism in any campaign.

  10. Another mixed bag kind of guy who enjoyed a fair amount of popularity in his day:



    The increasing fury with which I have been and am to be, assailed by reason of the fight and growth of support for limiting the size of fortunes can only be explained by the madness which human nature attaches to the holders of accumulated wealth.

    — The opening of the “Share Our Wealth” plan from Every Man a KIng by Sen. Huey Long

  11. The republicans have been great at “SPREADING THE DEBT AROUND”. Giving money to the rich, only to have the national debt increase, thus raising the debt of each citizen. Come to think of it, isn’t that spreading the wealth around?

  12. Makes you wonder if Mt Rushmore were to be carved today, who would be on it. Washington and Jefferson, sure, but Lincoln? Who freed all those brown people? TR, the Progressive?

    FDR who took us out of the Great/Republican Depression?

    Reagan who convinced half of America that record deficits are part and parcel of fiscal responsibility?

  13. But that there was a way to find fairness. It seems the catcalls for fairness, inevitably call for unfairness on others. Was Joe being unfair wanting to buy a business, employ others, become successful, and enjoy the promises of America. I think not, yet the cry for fairness has dampened Joe’s dreams.

    There is excess at the very top and the golden parachutes and money grubbing of CEO’s from Fannie and Freddie to Lehman Bros. and AIG lead to unfairness and are what TR was referring to. There is no excess or unfairness in Joe’s aspirations to own his own business and be “his own man”.

    Obama’s tax policies will only lead to unfairness in the opposite direction. TR’s phrase, “…which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows.”, is a double edged sword and cuts both the rich and the poor.

  14. Repubs actually love spreading the wealth around/redistributing it to be exact. Between 1970 and 1998 the total income share of the top 1 percent increased fivefold, jumping from 0.7 percent to over 3 percent, a mind-blowing ratio.

    Repubs are a self-contradictory bunch. They scream that top income earners pay a large part of federal income tax – if they pay it at all – but neglect to mention that in large part that income is by way of inheritance not merit. Often in the next breath the same Repubs are screaming invectives like ‘welfare queens’ and yelling “get a job” at protesters – apparently only applicable to the lower and lower-middle classes.

  15. Those right wing nuts don’t realize or care that spreading the weath is something they do every day.

    And they all did it 2 weeks ago in a very big way.

    The wall street bail out was spreading the wealth, our money,going to those, who, by greed, destroyed a system that needs repair.
    The money was taken, like taxes and given to companies.
    How is this different then taxes going to others or for programs?

    Oh, I get it. It’s going to “those kinds of people who don’t deserve it”.
    Give my money to the poor over Wall Street anyday!!!!!!

  16. To Ron @ #6

    “They could hand out 2 million dollars to each of the 300 million citizens to stimulate the economy and ease the housing crisis and saved 249,400,000 over what they are doing. I’m sure somebody can give you a reason that it wouldn’t work.”

    Noble idea but I am sorry to say, it would not work. First of all, if the y gave every person $2 million dollars, it would equal $600 trillion dollars not $600 billion dollars that we are talking about and second, if someone gave you $2 million dollars, would you show up to work tomorrow at McDonald’s? A Big Mac would instantly go up to $5,000 dollars a piece (or some ungodly sum). It would have to because how much would you have to pay someone to show up to work? The value of the dollar would plummet to .01 cents/ dollar instantly. Now, it would instantly negate the price of homes because all houses bought before the practically infinite inflation would still be in pre-inflation dollars so it would be as if they were suddenly free but the economy would also be completely destroyed, all companies would collapse from the inability to get workers or materials (for the same reason) and their now worthless products (because what good is it to buy a car for twenty thousand dollars if the sum would no longer pay to get you lawn mowed and where would a person buy gas and from whom?

    A more economical use of the money would be to provide every person who owns a home (for the primary home only) up to 10% of its value to be applied only to their mortgage (max $20,000) requiring the bank to drop all interest rates to 5% fixed for the remainder of the term.as a stimulation plan with the condition that they cannot refinance their loan for one year. Also offer current renters the opportunity to provide them with a 10% down payment with them same restrictions if they agree to live in the house for one year. This would stimulate the economy buy eliminating the majority of bad debt, encourage the buying and building of houses and stimulate both jobs and a sense of security freeing up income for spending. This in conjunction with renegotiating free trade agreements to incorporate minimum work standards and fair trade balance, eliminating the cap on soc. sec., and raising the capital gains tax to 36% would solve the problem within ten years.

  17. “Most of us are fine with capitalism as long as it is kept fair.” This statement hits the nail on the head. Did anyone hear Roy Blunt on CNN this morning, toeing the Republican line about how Obama’s tax plan will burden those poor, suffering small- and medium-sized business owners through “redistribution of wealth”?

    How many of us already work for those small- and medium-sized business owners, who have been redistributing OUR wealth — the wealth of our labor and our skills — by paying us below-market wages that have been flat for 10 years, while we see the suffering business owners drive to work in their Range Rovers from their million-dollar golf-community homes?

    When business owners abdicate self-governed conscience and fairness to pay a decent wage, when they no longer respect their employee’s work by paying wages that provide the same opportunity for a better life that the business owner is enjoying, then something has to change.

    Bottom line: tax and wage inequities ARE redistribution of wealth as practiced by employers and supported by governments. Hard-working Americans — not the Republican fatcats — should themselves be outraged over and taking up the argument of redistribution of wealth. Why is no one speaking for the working class and making this argument on their behalf on any of the cable news shows, especially the liberal news programs?

  18. I am not sure I am allowed on this blog, but Obama has done a great job of talking about giving a tax cut to 95% of the people and rasing taxes on the very rich. I work for a family owned business who does make more than $250,000. Obama’s plan will raise their income taxes by 20% or more. What does this mean for the employees of the company. It means smaller bonuses which goes to all the middle class employees who share in the profits of the compay. Then beyond that our company along with all other companies who are going to see their taxes rise, will begin to raise prices in order to maintain their after tax profit levels. Who in the end does this benefit, no one

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