When progressives* express our outrage about Ryan’s (or any politician’s) support of the wealthy over the rights of the rest of us, we’re missing something important.
Conservatives* believe if a person is wealthy, they have done something to deserve it. If a person is wealthy and is reaping the benefits of the power and prestige that wealth brings (tax breaks, influencing policy) that’s because they have earned it.
For progressives to say giving the rich tax breaks is a bad thing doesn’t do anything to convince anyone who isn’t already a progressive.
Conservatives can’t afford to believe that the wealthiest Americans may have achieved financial success through anything other than hard work (and that includes inheritances which, in the eyes of conservatives, are “benefits of hard work”). The American dream, the strict father model of morality, the idea that hard work pays off—despite all life experience to the contrary—must be maintained. Allowing for the fragility, frailty, and inaccuracy of such a model would require a crumbling of entire world views.
If the 1% are portrayed as greedy and gluttonous, we progressives are seen as “just jealous.”
If progressives imply the 1% have almost certainly used dirty tricks, slippery concepts of legality, and un-American activities to get where they are today we lose any possibility of sharing our values with conservative voters. If it’s legal, it’s fair (say the conservatives).
“Taxing the rich” doesn’t sound like an answer to people who believe “the rich” got there because they worked hard for it, because they earned it and deserve it.
Liberals and progressives need to back up a few steps and get to the point that we believe hard work should pay off. We believe working hard at one full-time job should earn a living wage. We believe the American Dream should be possible. We are the Patriots.
Patriotism means caring for our country. Patriotism also means knowing profit isn’t inherently evil. Patriotism means being so grateful for the opportunities we have, so appreciative that we get to live in this country, that we want to be sure all of our neighbors have a fair shot at achieving the American Dream.
Every time I see a meme floating around about how the Romney/Ryan ticket is doomed because they are out to crush the working poor, I cringe. I happen to agree that the Romney/Ryan ticket will be devastating for poor people, working or otherwise. However, focusing on that in terms of how the Romney/Ryan ticket favors the rich only alienates any voter who might otherwise want to stand up for hard working Americans. We must stop focusing on how the “rich should be punished” (which is how our memes and bumperstickers and small speeches sound) and start focusing on how we believe working hard should pay off. Working hard should mean financial stability. Instead of demonizing the people conservatives consider success stories, we need to start communicating with the people whose backs carried the loads of money up to their doors.
*Language is a barrier when discussing politics because of the many nuances and flavors of positions and values. I’m using “progressives” here simply because it’s a term I find most comfortable using (rather than “liberal” which, to me, implies and absence of responsibility). I’m using “conservatives” here to mean those people most in line with the radical right. The radical right are those Karl Rove-esque types who have most successfully dominated all political culture that isn’t liberal or progressive; they have infiltrated most of us, too. (See my post on “climate change.”) “Conservatives” means the Tea Party, the Republican Party, the right-wing Democrats, many Independents or Libertarians, and basically anyone who doesn’t identify themselves as liberal or progressive in any way.