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One of the most important political stories of the last 35 years has been the Republican success at dividing working class voters and convincing many of them to vote for a party that has actively undermined the middle class for the benefit of the very rich. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party tried to find a middle ground of offering populist rhetoric while delivering for their rich campaign contributors. The recent attacks on unions and teachers have exposed the true motivations of the right-wing creating a rare opportunity for a true progressive alternative. We can't miss this opportunity, I don't think there will be many more chances to change the narrative. I wrote this op-ed for the Juneau Paper with that in mind.

When did it become acceptable for politicians to oppose a decent wage and a secure retirement for working Americans? Republicans used to claim that a rising tide would lift all boats. The truth was that only the yachts were lifted and the rest of us were left to drown, but at least politicians felt enough shame to lie to us about it.

Now, the Republican Party is brazenly arguing that teachers and firefighters are overpaid, workers should lose their right to collectively bargain, and people who expect to retire with dignity are being greedy. Even worse, almost all Republican Representatives, including Don Young, voted to privatize Medicare, ending our promise of universal health care for seniors.

They claim that America is just too poor to ensure our elderly get health care, but their plan to privatize Medicare and raise the eligibility age does nothing to cut total health care spending. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, privatization would increase the administrative costs of health care and actually make total health care spending higher than if we did nothing. The Republican plan just shifts those higher costs onto seniors. By 2030, seniors would have to pay 68 percent of the costs themselves, leaving millions of elderly Americans impoverished or without health care. Is our country really that poor?

We always seem to have plenty of money for more tax cuts for the rich, bailouts for Wall Street, or weapons systems we don’t need. After cutting funding for programs that provide opportunity and economic security for the middle class, the Republican budget would lower the income, estate, and capital gains tax rates for the rich and continue giving corporate welfare to health insurance and pharmaceutical companies and defense contractors. At a time when the richest 1% of Americans has amassed more wealth than the lower 90%, Republicans want to concentrate even more wealth with the economic elite.

The hypocrisy of these policies clearly demonstrates the fraud of trickle-down economics. We were told that if we cut taxes on the wealthy, they would create more jobs and everyone would be better off. Not only did those promised jobs never appear, now we are being told that working Americans need to forget their dreams of a fair wage, a decent retirement, and a good education for their children so that billionaires can get tax breaks. Instead of being one step towards creating broad prosperity, making the rich richer has become the sole goal of Republican economic policies.

Sadly, most Democrats are only marginally better. They are too often unwilling to fight for the working class and instead cater to lobbyists and big campaign contributors. Two recent studies by Princeton University researchers Martin Gilens and Larry Bartels make this point very clearly. They compared opinion polls to the policies actually enacted by politicians and found that policies supported by the rich had a high probability of being enacted, but the opinion of the middle class and poor had little or no influence on which policies were enacted. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people and have the right to unlimited campaign spending, the opinions of the economically powerful will dominate even more completely.

So we are stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle. The rich get richer, the rich control politicians, the politicians institute more policies that make the rich even richer…repeat until the U.S. becomes a third world country. As Warren Buffett said, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

The vast majority of Americans support protecting Medicare, collective bargaining rights, raising taxes on the rich, and increasing education funding. We need to wake up, organize, reform our elections, and demand a democracy that represents us so that we can once again have an economy that supports a healthy middle class.

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