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Ford: Onward as a country, community

November 4, 2012 

The inconvenient truth came out of Mitt Romney’s mouth during that now-notorious, secretly recorded spiel to campaign donors in Florida.

No, it wasn’t that what Romney said about 47 percent of his fellow Americans – essentially, that they wallow as victims in their dependency on government and enjoy doing it, and therefore will vote for any presidential candidate they think will extend their license to mooch – is true.

What is true is that this quarter-billionaire, feeling comfy among people rich enough to merit his outstretched palm, was willing to trash all those members of the populace who, for one reason or another, aren’t required to pay federal income taxes.

That would include many who work their tails off but don’t earn enough to owe income taxes to the feds. It would include people who have had unusually large medical expenses or who can claim tax credits for higher education. Older folks scrimping along on Social Security. Some who are disabled.

Yes, we have a progressive income tax system in this country. And it’s a good thing we do, considering how the affluent have been able to bulk up both their bank accounts and their political power.

We’ll find out soon enough whether a record-busting torrent of campaign spending unleashed by Romney partisans who can write their checks with lots of zeroes will help propel him across Tuesday’s finish line past President Obama.

This election, more than any since reforms born of Nixonian abuses in the Watergate era, is marked by massive money flows – tied on the Republican side, especially, to people operating from positions of privilege.

Their rhetoric extols the salutary effects of low taxes and minimal regulation – the better to spur business and thus more hiring and more paychecks for people hungry for work. Yes, and to safeguard the hyper-inflated salaries of executives whose own mothers’ jobs would be at risk of outsourcing if that’s what it took.

Self-reliance, that’s another theme – as if every young person in this country really had an equal shot at the kind of education and career path that leads to a seat on the corporate jet.

A Republican dollar-torrent has washed across North Carolina as well, boosting Pat McCrory as he duels Democrat Walter Dalton for the governor’s office and encouraging even more contributors to get in good with the front-runner. It’s McCrory who has spent the last four years trying to prove he’s sufficiently eager to shrink government to satisfy the likes of Art Pope, the Raleigh-based retail tycoon and Republican mega-funder.

Nor should we overlook state Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby’s attempt to keep his seat with the help of loads of money being spent in his behalf by conservative groups counting on him to decide issues the way they want them decided. How’s that for an independent judiciary?

It was the U.S. Supreme Court, with its Citizens United ruling of 2010, that for all practical purposes invited those who could afford to try to buy this year’s elections to have at it.

Along came the free speech bullies, plowing millions into supposedly independent ad campaigns that spewed bilge from the bottom of the distortion barrel. A recent tally by the Center for Responsive Politics and the Center for Public Integrity put the total spent by conservative super PACs and nonprofit groups in their efforts to sway this year’s elections at $577 million – the bulk of it raised in large chunks from people who don’t have to worry about how they’ll make the next mortgage payment.

On the liberal side, the total was $237 million. No wonder Citizens United is dear to conservative hearts.

In a larger sense, the harm risked by this sort of imbalance goes to the nation’s soul. America’s rich steadily improve their standing while people toward the middle and lower rungs of the economic ladder cope with stagnant wages and job insecurity, if they even have jobs. This is not a formula for a healthy society.

Our commitment to the principles of capitalism and free markets, coupled to the ideals of personal initiative and responsibility, has carried us through many a rough patch down the years.

But we need a government that, despite the anti-tax, anti-regulation zealotry that fuels so many of the super PACs and those shadowy nonprofits, can address the real needs of those who Mitt Romney suggested were nothing more than burdens to the people who really matter – the fortunate among us.

Romney and his allies cater to those who, glorifying their own hard work and success, follow notions of self-reliance out the window. There is no country that can long prosper while those who have little are scorned and neglected.

This is not about creating a welfare state that taxes the industrious to coddle the lazy. It is about affirming that America, whatever superstorms it faces, stands as a community where every citizen’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is honored by all.

Editorial page editor Steve Ford can be reached at 919-829-4512 or at steve.ford@newsobserver.com.

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