Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Divided means conquered

The old game of divide and conquer is being played out in the politics surrounding Social Security. If successful, the strategy practically guarantees an easy victory for opponents of the program because people will spend time fighting each other instead of the real opponent.

By definition, most American voters are solidly middle class. They share similar economic interests, social values, problems and aspirations. So why do they end up in pitched battles with one another? Divide and conquer.

United, the middle class is a powerful political force. Divided, its members are easy pickings. That's the tactic playing out in disputes over many government policies and practices that have marked our social contract since the early decades of the 20th century.

The right wing has long wanted to abolish Social Security, but it faced a seemingly insurmountable problem. People like Social Security and virtually everyone in the country counts on it as the basis for retirement. Proposals to end Social Security have resulted only in decades of defeated bills. But the right seems on the verge of changing those results.

A current proposal to continue Social Security as is for those over age 50 but cut it deeply for those under 50 is the classic divide-and-conquer ploy. If generations are divided, Social Security will have less political support and be easier to abolish.

The same is being proposed for Medicare. People over 50 would get guaranteed access to quality care. People under 50 would be on their own with a small subsidy. The widespread public support for Medicare will go away if only some people receive the benefit. Eventually, Medicare itself would go away. Divide and conquer.

More and more voters are being convinced that their interests align with those who have no worries about retirement or health insurance or college for their kids. They're being convinced to vote against those who, like them, have to worry.

If the middle class continues to ignore shared interests while fighting it out with one another, the America that results will look very different than it does now. A smaller and smaller part of the citizenry will control a greater percentage of its wealth while middle-class families will have increasingly less. The smaller group on the top will use its wealth to control the political process and to suggest that people of a different color, a different age or different religion are the real enemy.

Buy into that divide and middle-class Americans will have lost everything before the game begins.

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