Commentary: Haves and have nots are dividing America
SAN DIEGO -- We really are two Americas. The divide shows up in a recent CNN poll that asked people if they thought the American Dream was now impossible to reach. Fifty-four percent said yes, while 45 percent said no. How depressing. There are A...
SAN DIEGO -- We really are two Americas.
The divide shows up in a recent CNN poll that asked people if they thought the American Dream was now impossible to reach. Fifty-four percent said yes, while 45 percent said no.
There are Americans who believe that this is still a country of unlimited opportunity for those who work hard and sacrifice. And there are others who are convinced that the deck is stacked against working men and women.
There are those who believe that what works against some folks are not the bad breaks, but bad choices such as dropping out of high school or ambling through life without ambition. And there are others who believe that human beings are at the mercy of sinister forces beyond their control.
If you fall into the first category, you're part of my America. If you're in the second, you're part of Lou Dobbs' America.
Having raged against illegal immigration and the outsourcing of American jobs, the television commentator is now fuming over what he considers a "War on the Middle Class," the title of his new book.
As Dobbs sees it, the middle class is under siege by "political, business, and academic elites" who "along with compatriots in the government and the media ... are using their newfound status to keep the interests of the middle class from getting in the way of their own."
This is scary stuff. Not that all this is really happening, mind you, but that Dobbs -- who describes himself as a liberal Republican who believes in free enterprise -- nevertheless has decided to brazenly stoke the flames of class warfare.
What else do you call it when one harps on the fact that "median family income has risen by 18 percent while the income of the top 1 percent -- the very wealthiest families -- has gone up by 200 percent?"
The U.S. Census divides income levels into fifths and puts the top income bracket at families earning more than $150,000 per year. The folks in the bottom 20 percent make up the working poor. The people in between -- families making between $26,000 and $150,000 per year -- loosely comprise the middle class.
The people who gathered in Kansas City last week for a CNN special hosted by Dobbs sure seemed embattled. It resembled one of those Democratic town halls during the run-up to the New Hampshire primary where people spill out their problems and then demand to know what government is going to do.
Dobbs does get some things right. I've argued with him in the past over what I contend is the diminished work ethic of Americans today, especially the young. Now he is coming around. He writes: "There was a time when Americans respected work, no matter how menial."
Say, Lou, I know where you can find people who still respect that kind of work. They're coming across the border, and they're not blaming anyone for their plight. They're just working like mad.
Maybe Dobbs ought to think about whether there isn't a connection between this lost appetite for labor and the economic anxiety that some Americans are feeling. And maybe Americans who are struggling should try making different choices, doing without some comforts, and taking responsibility instead of waiting for others to do it for them.
Or, if they prefer, the folks in that other America can just throw in the towel and keep blaming the well-off, and those who aspire to be well-off, for the fact that others aren't doing as well as they would like.
CORRECTION: In the column published Oct. 18, I wrote that a majority of Democrats in Congress voted in 2002 to give President Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq. While a majority of Senate Democrats voted for the war, most House Democrats did not.
Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is email@example.com .