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!