Three things have modulated the excesses of unfettered American capitalism since the rise of the Progressive Era in the early 20th century: labor unions, government regulations, and the progressive income tax system. It’s no coincidence that the rise of the American middle class followed.
The power and influence of unions have been dulled by decades-long short-term, ill-guided business practices—aided and abetted at times by shortsighted union practices—that led to a marked decline in America’s industrial base, and by the actions of many states that have enacted laws restricting union activities.
The rise of American unionism reflected an essential tenet uttered by Abraham Lincoln: “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is superior to capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”
Sadly much of the nation has lost sight of this basic tenet. The deregulation wave of the mid-1980s to early 2000s diminished regulatory oversight and control, which the right wing (read Tea Party) of the formerly mainstream Republican Party plans to further diminish.
The recent Great Recession and slow income recovery can find much of their root causes in deregulation. The new Republican Party has also clearly come out against the long-standing progressive income tax philosophy, thus ensuring that the middle class will shrink further.
This election year should be a clarion call for moderates, pragmatic progressives and liberals to support truly moderate and consensus-making candidates. This call should include the denial of support to a political party that would turn its back on a statesman such as Sen. Richard Lugar for someone whose essential political mantra is “my way or the highway.”
To effect real change from the current political gridlock, concerned voters cannot merely look at the presidential ticket. Voters must also focus on candidates running at the state and local level, because those on the down ticket create the framework for the political and policy dialogue that undergirds governance.
As someone who voted in the past more often for the formerly mainstream Republican Party than for the Democratic Party, I hope that wave begins with this election.
James M. Vaughn