Central View: America is drifting apart
January 23, 2014
In 1964, when President Johnson declared the War on Poverty, 14 percent of Americans were considered impoverished. Since 1964, we taxpayers spent $20.7 trillion to fight poverty. Today, the percentage of Americans living in poverty remains at (drum roll) 14 percent. Looks like we have an under class that needed more hand-ups (Capitalism) and fewer hand-outs (Socialism).
But we have also, at the expense of the middle class, developed a super-elite upper class. Dr. Charles Murray, in his new book, "America Coming Apart: The New Cultural Divide," tells us that 11 of the 13 zip codes in the Washington, D.C. area are populated with America's richest and highest-educated. Our nation's Capital is full of over-caffeinated, hair-on-fire, former student-council presidents passing laws or writing regulations to tell you and me how to live our lives.
Go to Georgetown, Chevy Chase, Bethesda or McLean and you will see streets filled with Rolls, Bentley, Jaguar, Mercedes, and Lexus cars. Clearly, your stimulus tax dollars, expended in the wake of the sub-prime mortgage collapse of 2008-2009, were not spent on "shovel ready" projects. The money went to hire more government bureaucrats, more consultants, to bail out union pension funds, to bail out GM, which stills owes us $7.8 billion and is now building Cadillacs in Red China, to bail out Chrysler, which is now building Jeeps in Red China, and was just bought by Italy's Fiat. In other words: "If you want to keep your automobile industry, you can keep your automobile industry. Period."
But this new, super-elite, upper class is split. You have the student-council types telling us how to live. Then, you have what author David Brooks calls: "Bobos." An Amazon.com review of Brooks' Bobos in Paradise, describes Bobos:
"…They sip double-tall, non-fat lattes, chat on cell phones, and listen to NPR while driving their immaculate SUVs to Pottery Barn to shop for $48 titanium spatulas. They tread down specialty cheese aisles in top-of-the-line hiking boots and think nothing of laying down $5 for an olive-wheatgrass muffin. They're the bourgeois bohemians — "Bobos" — an unlikely blend of mainstream culture and 1960s-era counterculture."
But the chilling connection between Dr. Murray's findings and David Brooks' observations is that the student-council types and the Bobos are themselves the off-spring of a previous generation of super-elites. Dr. Murray says, "They reached adulthood never having known anything else, and then rose to positions of enormous influence over the rest of the country without having had an opportunity to experience first-hand how most Americans live and think."
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One is reminded of the famous Frederick Machetanz painting in which a lone Eskimo sits on a small chunk of ice that has broken off from the mainland. The Eskimo knows he is doomed to drift out into the Bering Sea and drown.
Last week, it was revealed that over half of the members of Congress are millionaires. Is that why Congress members of both parties seem so indifferent to the problems of the shrinking middle class? Maybe that lone Eskimo represents America's over-taxed and over-regulated middle class, drifting out to sea on a shrinking patch of ice. Unless something changes in 2014 and 2016, middle America may be lost at sea and never come back.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.