A lot about politics these days has devolved into partisan discussions that at best are bending the truth and at worst are hyperbolic to an extreme that would make a bell curve blush. We all know it doesn’t accomplish much, except maybe to boost the ratings of the associated extreme news services – Fox and MSNBC being the most obvious. Perhaps instead of asking “what does it accomplish?” we might be better off asking “why does it happen?”

Money.

That’s the most obvious reason. We all feel it. Statistics are showing it. More than ever the US is about the have’s and the have-not’s. I vaguely remember back in the 80’s in grade school learning that the three basic socio-economic divisions in the US were the lower class, the middle class, and the upper class. I learned that the upper class comprised about 5% of the population and consisted of the filthy rich all the way down to folks making maybe $150K or more (it was the ’80’s, after all). The middle class was the biggest chunk of the population, people making anywhere from the high 20Ks to the 150K barrier of the upper class. Probably 60-70% of the country could be described as the middle class. I would guess that the majority of people that will read this article will identify as both growing up and currently being middle class. Everyone else was lower class, yet there was hope – with hard work anyone could achieve the American Dream. Remember that? Everyone’s parent’s told them that, right? “Work hard and you can be anything you want.” Does it feel like it works that way now, in 2011? It doesn’t to me. You have to work hard, plan really well, and be very lucky, it seems like. A “good” college education can easily cost $40,000 a year, and an education with an Ivy League diploma attached is well over $100,000 a year. I’ve blabbed about money all this time, but what’s my point? Not a single one of the US senators or representatives in office today is in the middle class.

That’s right, none of our elected representatives can say they actually represent us in economic terms. Where as they’ve gotten 2.6% cost-of-living pay raises every year, some reports say the average salary has actually gone down in the last 10 years. It’s not like we have financially average people getting elected into office and suddenly becoming rich thanks to the $160K+ a year salary with full medical benefits- and add to that the fact that your average politician can easily make a few hundred thousand a year with speaking fees after they retire. Want to know what profession more congresspeople had than any other, before entering office?

Lawyer.

Yup, that universally reviled job that your average person looks down on more than prostitutes. Ever heard this one? Why does the law society prohibit sex between lawyers and their clients? To prevent clients from being billed twice for essentially the same service. Think about it, there’s a reason jokes like that exist … then realize that over 1/3 of the people running the Federal Government are lawyers. That’s not the most mind-bending issue to me, either. These are people that spend millions of dollars for a job that pays slightly upwards of $160K. Not only that, but a large portion of their job is to sit and listen to people paid 100K a year tell them why their corporation or organization should get a law written that benefits them. Yup, lobbyists average salary is over $100K a year.  It doesn’t help any that lobbyists are very often “retired” politicians or former political workers.

So who speaks for us? The Tea Party? They should really be called the “Me” Party. Google “who leads the Tea Party?” and the names that pop up the most are Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, and Ron Paul. Of those three, only Paul isn’t using every other second in front of the microphone to push social issues from one side of their mouth while saying the government should get out of our lives from the other side. Heck, it’s been reported that one of the major reasons the Tea Party has actually survived this long is because the Billionaire Koch brothers have poured funds into it. The next time you see a Tea Partier claiming they want government out of their lives you might just ponder on the fact that a couple of billionaires who have a lot to gain with less government are funding that movement.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a socialist. I’m also not a pure capitalist. Corporations have proven time and time again that they will put human well being – including human lives – behind making a profit. The idea of capitalism – essentially greed – is good if and only if there is oversight and laws to keep those who don’t have money from getting squashed by the few who do have it.

Think about this final point – oil companies are making record profits the past decade. Billions of dollars, most of it going to a handful of men. Yet they are still getting millions in subsidies and tax breaks from the Federal Government. This past May, along almost strictly party lines, Republicans voted against ending those subsidies. Republican apologists will say that they’re needed to keep the price of gas low, if the subsidies are ended gas would go up. Doesn’t capitalist theory state that the market should be setting the price? Rather than give the money to the oil companies, why not help the poor out with tax breaks on gas paid? The reason is obvious to me: money. Big Oil has hundreds of lobbyists – making more money than most of us will ever make- telling politicians – also making more money than most of us will ever make – to keep those subsidies.

Trickle down? More like trickled on.

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Zarberg is a member of The Political Observers, a sub-group of our writers who are devoted to topics that are political in nature. Zarberg provides a liberal viewpoint in his articles.

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