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Morning Feature: False Equality, Part III – Fred Whispering (Non-Cynical Saturday)

September 25, 2010

Morning Feature

Morning Feature: False Equality, Part III – Fred Whispering (Non-Cynical Saturday)

As DailyKos’ Jed Lewison noted, Newt Gingrich spewed again:

[Anti-colonialism] means you start out every morning with a belief that the West somehow exploited the rest of the world and therefore the West is not worthy of equal treatment.

It’s more False Equality. But Fred disagrees … when he hears about it. (More)

False Equality, Part III – Fred Whispering

This week Morning Feature unpacked the core of conservative ideology: more wealth and privilege for the wealthy and privileged. I say “unpack” because they hide that ideology beneath a rhetoric of False Equality, the idea that government should be ‘neutral.’ Thursday we discussed wealth, and yesterday other forms of privilege. Today we conclude with ways to talk to Fred, our archetypal median voter, about wealth and privilege.

The premise of False Equality.

I’ve led with Newt Gingrich quotes each day this week to show that the radical rhetoric of Tea Party Republicans is not limited to upstart candidates. A former Speaker of the House, Gingrich has long been a TGOP leader. He was the most frequent guest on NBC’s Meet the Press in 2009, and has all but announced his bid for the presidency in 2012. There is no “right-wing fringe” in 2010; the fringe is the center for Tea Party Republicans.

Gingrich and others promote their radical agenda through False Equality: the idea that government should be ‘neutral’ and treat everyone ‘equally.’ Consider West Virginia Senate candidate John Raese, who said this week:

I made my money the old-fashioned way, I inherited it. I think that’s a great thing to do. I hope more people in this country have that opportunity as soon as we abolish inheritance tax in this country, which is a key part of my program.

Whether Raese makes sense depends on what you believe about the distribution of wealth in our society. If you believe wealth is distributed roughly equally, abolishing the inheritance tax seems ‘neutral’ and more of us would benefit if government treated inheritance ‘equally’ … with no tax for anyone. In that Raese’s fictional world, your financial problems exist because government took too much of your parents’ (or their parents’) money when they died.

Like Gingrich’s subtle denial that Western colonialism exploited the rest of the world – or conservative claims that non-whites, women, and other minorities already have the same opportunities and just “make bad choices” – the TGOP’s appeal to ‘equality’ is based on a false presumption of how wealth and privilege are distributed. Government should treat everyone equally, they say, because we all start out equal.

But we don’t, and when Fred recognizes that, they lose. Because Fred wants….

A Truer Equality.

While conservatives say Americans prefer liberty to equality, a study by Michael Norton and Dan Ariely showed a very different consensus. They surveyed over a million Americans and randomly selected a sample of 5,522 whose ratios for sex, age, household income, and voting matched the general population.

Norton and Ariely first explained the distinction between income and wealth, then asked people to choose a preferred wealth distribution from among three unlabeled pie charts. The pie charts showed wealth distribution by quintile, with the top 20% in the lightest shade of gray down to the bottom 20% in the darkest shade of gray. What did American’s choose?


That’s right. Americans’ top preference was the wealth distribution in Sweden. The second preference was for true equality: 20% of wealth held by each quintile. And the least popular choice – favored by only 10% – was what we have in America now.

Don’t assume the 10% who chose the wealth distribution we have today were all wealthy. Norton and Ariely’s findings were consistent across household income. And while Americans realize that wealth is unequally distributed, Norton and Ariely found that most Americans don’t realize how unequal the distribution has become:


That middle bars show how Americans believe wealth is distributed. The top bars show the true story. But look at that bottom bar. That was Americans’ consensus for an ‘ideal’ wealth distribution … a Truer Equality.

When we talk with Fred, we should quote Paolo Friere:

Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.

Fred knows it’s not ‘neutral’ for government to “just call it even” when the powerful beat up the powerless. That’s why there’s so much anger simmering against Wall Street. And as Norton and Ariely found, Fred already has progressive values, even if conservatives would like us to think otherwise.

But Fred may not realize how unequal our society is. Waiting for the media to explain it is a fool’s errand. It’s up to us grassroots progressives to get out there and let Fred – and disappointed Democrats – know what’s really at stake in 2010. We can continue to take agonizingly small steps toward a Truer Equality … or face Tea Party Republicans’ False Equality: more wealth and privilege for the wealthy and privileged.

We have 37 days to make a difference.


Happy Saturday!

  • JanF

    Gingrich is scary

    There is no “right-wing fringe” in 2010; the fringe is the center for Tea Party Republicans.

    When they wrap the cloak of “respectable mainstream republican” around the bat-guano-crazy, it makes it harder to spot the crazy.

    For as much as we mock serial-adulterer-cheat-on-spouse-lying-in-hospital-bed Newt Gingrich, he knows how to pull the levers of government and how to tap into the money. He just had to link into the coded (no longer very subtley coded) words of the Tea Partiers.

    • NCrissieB

      So true, Jan. Too often the media, desperately clinging to a mythical past, portray TGOP leaders like Newt Gingrich as “mainstream.” He’s not. He – like Christine O’Donnell, Rand Paul, Sharron Angle, and the rest of his party – is at the far right fringe. That fringe is the center of the TGOP, and we have 39 days to make sure Fred (and complacent Democrats) realize that.

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

  • winterbanyan

    This was a very important series, Crissie. “Unpacking” indeed. They’ve found the right motivational word to conceal their true agenda. That’s scary indeed, and more people need to hear about this.

    It’s been a long time since we’ve seen this degree of inequality in this country. In the past we were lucky that men like Teddy Roosevelt showed up, men who however wealthy were able to see the dangers of this kind of inequality to the very fabric of the country.

    Now we can’t count on the wealthy for anything, so the rest of us had been put our shoulders to the wheel.

    • NCrissieB

      Yes, winterbanyan, this is a matter of “unpacking,” because they do hide their ideology of more wealth and privilege for the wealthy and privileged behind a cloak of False Equality. Probably because they know what Norton and Ariely found: most Americans don’t want to buy what the TGOP are selling.

      We have to make clear what they’re selling. And we have 39 days to do it.

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

    • Heart of the Rockies

      He’s an opportunist par excellence. I don’t think opportunists have are real political position other than promoting their own interests. The political spectrum, as we’ve come to use it, doesn’t fit them at all. Words like oligarchy and aristocracy do better.

      • Heart of the Rockies

        I meant this as a reply to Crissie’s comment on Gingrich.

      • NCrissieB

        Welcome to BPI, HotR. 🙂

        That’s a pretty good description, actually. The TGOP have fallen off the spectrum into outright plutocracy. They’re little more than paid shills for corporate behemoths like the Koch family now.

        Good afternoon! ::hugggggs::