Kerry: Income Equalization Is “Not What I'm About”
A friend e-mailed me to tell me that he recently heard John F. Kerry on television rejecting the redistribution of income, saying: “that's not what I'm about.” I haven't found this quote on the Internet, but my source is impeccable and the Kerry comment he heard is richly (no pun intended) consistent with Kerry's campaign and background. I've got an April New York Times clipping in which Kerry is quoted announcing that he is “not a redistribution Democrat” This article reported Kerry saying this to super-affluent New York City Democrats “at a $25,000-a-plate breakfast at the 21 Club in Manhattan” last Spring (Jodi Wilgoren, "Kerry Plans Effort to Show He's a Centrist," New York Times, April 16, 2004).
“We've got to reach out,” Kerry told the select 100 audience members at this $2.5 million breakfast. “Reach out,” that is...to Republicans, hopefully drawn to his “bipartisan credentials as a fiscal conservative” (the New York Times) and to his claim that he can “manage” the “war on terror” “as effectively, or more effectively, if possible” (Kerry's words) than Bush II.
The advancement of social equity in the “advanced world's” most unequal and wealth-top-heavy state by far (where the top 1 percent owns more than 40 percent of the wealth and the top 10 percent owns two-thirds) “isn't what [Kerry] is about?” No, it sure isn't. According to the Detroit News last spring, “Senator John F. Kerry and his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry, with assets of about $1 billion, would be among the richest families to ever occupy the White House, eclipsing even President Kennedy and well ahead of many other moneyed chief executives over the last century” (Ralph Vertabedian, “Kerry Wealth Would Eclipse Other Presidents,” Detroit News, June 28, 2004).
Marc Alexander of the right-wing website “The Federalist Record” (no, I'm not about to make the big neocon-Hitchens-esque switch from hard left to hard right, but I do think you occasionally find useful information and turns of phrase on the right and that it's important to see how and why the aristocratic right gets to paint out the somewhat less reactionary Democrats as the party of the elite) gets it right when he notes that “Kerry was a child of wealth and privilege...[he] grew up hobnobbing with the Massachusetts glitterati, [enjoying] a life of leisure including all the accoutrements -- the best schools, the best vacation homes, the best yachts, etc... Today, he is the wealthiest member of Congress (the ‘F’ stands for ‘Forbes,’ after all), but don't expect that be a central theme in his ‘man of the people’ campaign” (Mark Alexander, “The Kerry Record,” The Federalist Patriot).
"I'll Run Empire and Inequality Better Than Bush"
Beneath flowery rhetoric on social justice, hard-working Americans, civil rights, “homeland” protection, and sound foreign policy, the critical theme in Kerry's nomination acceptance speech was that George W. Bush doesn't know to properly run a militaristic (and socially regressive/repressive) empire at home and abroad and John Kerry does. This was the essential message, nicely framed with an opening military salute – “this is John Kerry reporting for duty” -- and his "band of" white imperial patrol-boat “brothers” strategically placed on stage. The swiftboat prop is a transparent attempt, as Alexander says, “to emulate John F. Kennedy's PT-109 heroics.”
On Kerry's hyper-aristocratic and militantly militaristic boyhood hero JFK (Kerry lives to become “JFK II”), see the excellent old New Left political biography of Kennedy by Bruce Miroff: Pragmatic Illusions: The Presidential Politics of John F. Kennedy (Longman, 1979). This meticulous study details the great “liberal” icon and ultra Cold Warrior and master deceiver (barely elected over Nixon largely on the basis of his lying about the existence of a mythical “missile gap” with the Soviet Union) JFK's fierce commitments to the intimately interrelated projects of empire and inequality at home and abroad. And to see how Kerry is being rewarded by the business class for his regressive centrism, see the recent Business Week (August 2, 2004) article “The Amazing Money Machine,” which reports that “Defying doomsayers, the Dems -- by some measures -- are outraising the Republicans.”
Porsches for the Privileged ...
Against this backdrop, finally, check out a recent article by Associated Press labor writer Leigh Strope, reporting among other things that the richest US 20 percent's (the American top “quintile's”) percentage of total U.S. income (less inequitably distributed than wealth, incidentally) rose from 44 percent to 50 percent between 1973 and 2003 and the bottom 20 percent's share fell from 4.2 to 3.5 percent. According to Strope:
Over two decades, the income gap has steadily increased between the richest Americans, who own homes and stocks and got big tax breaks, and those at the middle and bottom of the pay scale, whose paychecks buy less. The growing disparity is even more pronounced in this recovering economy. Wages are stagnant and the middle class is shouldering a larger tax burden. Prices for health care, housing, tuition, gas and food have soared. The U.S. jobs market is soft, sending wages down. Hiring came to a near standstill last month, with companies adding just 32,000 new jobs overall, stunning economists who had expected seven times as many. More than a million jobs have been added back to the 2.6 million lost since Bush took office, but they pay less and offer fewer benefits, such as health insurance. The new jobs are concentrated in health care, food services, and temporary employment firms, all lower-paying industries. Temp agencies alone account for about a fifth of all new jobs. Three in five pay below the national median hourly wage - $13.53, said Sung Won Sohn, chief economist for Wells Fargo....
Things aren't bad for everyone - far from it - as Strope reports:
The income gap is showing up in booming sales of luxury items. Porsche Cars North America Inc. says sales are up 17 percent for the year. Strong sales at Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue overshadow lackluster sales at stores such as Wal-Mart, Sears and Payless Shoes. Real estate agent Lance Anderson, 38, of Overland Park, Kan., expects a record sales year, as homeowners upgrade to more expensive homes and commercial clients expand. He recently took his family to Disney World for a two-week Florida vacation. “My clientele, it seems as a whole, has seen positive growth,” he said. So his family, including three children, now eat out more often and spend more on clothes. They recently bought two new cars and anticipate buying a larger house in the next few years.
...and "the Wolf" at the Working-Class Door
But “‘for those working in the bottom half of the pay scale, they're under an enormous amount of pressure,’ said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Economy.com.” Slope tells the story of Debbie Reames, 49, of Raytown, Mo., “whose bank job of 24 years was sent overseas in February.” “We're just trying to get head,” Reames says, “But it seems like we climb a few rungs and then we fall back again.” “Reames,” Strope notes, “has a new secretarial job, which pays $7,000 a year less than her bank job, and she works catering jobs for extra money. Her husband, Russ, can no longer work after an injury. One son is finishing college and another will start in the fall. So the family budget tightened. That meant fewer cable channels, more meals at home, postponed doctor appointments, missed vacations, delayed credit card payments, all to ‘keep the wolf away from the door,’ she said.” (Strope).
Inequality versus Democracy
I won't go into the full explanation of why this ever more obscene mal-distribution of American income is deepening, though such a discussion should note that that the Clinton-Gingrich welfare “reform” (that is elimination) bill which Kerry prides himself for signing in 1996 (trumpeted as an indication of his courageous willingness to take “unpopular positions”) is at least one of the causes. For now let it suffice to say that (as Thomas Jefferson knew and warned) no democracy worth its name is possible under the conditions of savage socioeconomic inequality that exist in the present-day United States. If the aristocratic Kerry is “not a redistribution Democrat,” he cannot be a real-life democrat at all.
Paul Street is a writer, speaker and researcher in Chicago, Illinois. He is author of Empire and Inequality: Writings on America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2004). He can be reached at: email@example.com.
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