Thursday, November 20, 2014

The ACA and the white working class | xpostfactoid

"Welfare" is still the issue that drives a wedge between the Democratic party and the white working class. - 
The ACA and the white working class | xpostfactoid:\

Barack Obama (2008):
"Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.  "
More broadly, Democrats have continuously struggled with the tension between the policy imperative to fight poverty and the political imperative (also a policy imperative) to help the middle class. That's why Obama has adhered to his own taboo against raising taxes on the middle class, broadly defined to the point of absurdity (up to a household income of $250k).

Notwithstanding that the ACA does not directly tax individuals in the lower 98%, however, Gardner's stat shot illustrates that there's a sliver of truth in Jonathan Gruber's allegations of stealth in the ACA's construction. Of course there is. There's stealth with regard to the non-headline consequences of every piece of legislation. The law primarily helps the lower 20-25% -- and the middle class to the extent that an awful lot of Americans temporarily cycle into the lower 20% at some period in their lives. (The Aaron/Burtless paper does not attempt to account for the possible effects of the ACA slowing healthcare inflation. The slowdown in healthcare spending growth that we are currently experiencing, for whatever cause, could if sustained free up tremendous resources for public investments of every kind.) 

The ACA is not "Obamacare," it's Democratcare -- a consensus policy of the party as a whole, the most sustained expression of how Democrats forge policy in the post-Reagan political environment.  If its benefits are really that concentrated in the lower 20%, that does constitute a political challenge.

- Andrew Sprung
November 20, 2014

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