One of the anecdotes one hears about Ronald Reagan is he famously asked voters if they were better off after he was elected president than before. What he meant by ‘better off’ was whether their incomes had risen. If voters were pleased with having more money in their pockets, they were to vote Republican. It would not be a good idea for George W. Bush to borrow that ploy from the Reagan play book. Because some liberal said so? No, the source of the information is much more formidable than that. The Internal Revenue Service has spoken.
The New York Times has the story.
I.R.S. Says Americans’ Income Shrank for 2 Consecutive Years
. . .The overall income Americans reported to the government shrank for two consecutive years after the Internet stock market bubble burst in 2000, the first time that has effectively happened since the modern tax system was introduced during World War II, newly disclosed information from the Internal Revenue Service shows.
The total adjusted gross income on tax returns fell 5.1 percent, to just over $6 trillion in 2002, the most recent year for which data is available, from $6.35 trillion in 2000. Because of population growth, average incomes declined even more, by 5.7 percent.
Adjusted for inflation, the income of all Americans fell 9.2 percent from 2000 to 2002, according to the new I.R.S. data.
The report credits two factors for the decline in income:
•The fall in the stock market in 2001, and
•The unavailability of enough well-paying jobs since the turn of the century.
But, will the Bush administration take a Reagan-like approach in the last months of the campaign season? The resounding answer to the question of whether one is better off since Bush took office is ‘no,’ for most Americans. That even applies to many who are wealthy, who were unable to recoup their losses through tax breaks. Considering the source of the data, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the Bush administration to discredit it. Perhaps they will ignore it or try to get people to look elsewhere instead.
With public opinion divided over the viability of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, a strong economy would have provided a welcome focus for the GOP. However, with neither the economy nor the war on terrorism going well, the GOP may feel it needs to resort to its old dirty tricks. ‘Social’ issues are likely to be exploited as fully as possible. The process has already begun. Though the federal effort to amend the Constitution to forbid gay marriage failed, it distracted the citizenry from more important matters, including the occupation of Iraq and our economic doldrums. And, expect that message to continue to be sent. It is a time proven tactic that providing people with enemies, internal or external, will distract them from the problems that are really plaguig them. The Christian Right will increase its determined efforts to scapegoat homosexual Americans as the national election, and showdowns over ballot initiatives seeking to ban gay marriage, near. As the campaign season ripens, I expect to see similar messages sent in regard to race, religion and abortion. The ultraconservative Club for Growth began that process with its funding of extreme Right candidates such as Pat Toomey and Jack Ryan. Though it failed to drive moderate Republican Sen. Arlen Specter from office, that race was extremely close. Ryan fell over his own feet, or Illinois would be considering a candidate for the Senate who opposes just about every progressive aspect of contemporary society. However, other candidates favored by the far Right will communicate the divisive messages that are part and parcel of the Southern Strategy and other schemes. In that sense, we are returning to the Reagan years — becoming the divided society that was the srongest characteristic of that era.
•A far Right attack on a Republican senator, Arlen Specter, failed.
•The senatorial campaign pitting Barack Obama against Jack Ryan highlighted the differences between the parties.