A Materialist Interpretation Of The 1994 And 2010 Elections

by Jonathan Chait | November 8, 2010

Earlier today I wrote about the curious proliferation of post-election recriminations that blame President Obama for paying insufficient attention to the needs of political, economic and media elites. After the 1994 election, Michael Kinsley sounded a vaguely similar theme:

The widespread public misperception about spending and—especially—taxes helps to explain the puzzle of President Clinton's unpopularity. No doubt his own personal and political failings play a role, as do the skill and viciousness of the Republican opposition. But if most people are nursing the impression that their taxes have gone up (with no resulting benefit), when in fact they haven't gone up, and have even gone down in many cases, that also must be part of the explanation.
The remaining puzzle, of course, is: What explains the widespread public misperception—or "false consciousness," as Marx liked to call this sort of thing? The crude but unavoidable answer is that the 1.4 million whose taxes went up are a lot more influential in our political system than the 15 million whose taxes went down. The "Clinton tax increase" hit people with family incomes over about $185,000 a year. This may be just a tiny fraction of the general population, but it covers almost everybody in the opinion-forming elite. That group includes not just the upper reaches of Washington journalism. It includes Jay Leno and David Letterman. It includes Rush Limbaugh—who starts every day's radio program with a denunciation of the 1993 budget, which he calls "the raw deal." It includes T.V. anchors and newspaper publishers.

A similar dynamic is occurring once again over taxes. Kinsley's piece is worth re-reading because it does quite a good job of describing the current political landscape as well.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/jonathan-chait/79006/materialist-interpretation-the-1994-and-2010-elections