Two Americas? Try Five.

David Frum notes the absurdity of John Kerry, of all people, pushing a populist message and assails the “Two Americas” schtick of his running mate, John Edwards.

One America that does the work, another America that reaps the reward. One America that pays the taxes, another America that gets the tax breaks. One America that will do anything to leave its children a better life, another America that never has to do a thing because its children are already set for life. One America–middle-class America–whose needs Washington has long forgotten, another America–narrow-interest America–whose every wish is Washington’s command. One America that is struggling to get by, another America that can buy anything it wants, even a Congress and a president.

By my count, that’s actually five different pairs of Americas, and no two pairs overlap.

Pair 1: Those who work and those who collect rewards without working. About 60 percent of Americans work; the other 40 percent are in school, retired, unemployed, at home with small children, and so on. It’s not very nice of Kerry and Edwards to try to foment divisions between working Americans and their children and retired parents–and it does not seem like very smart politics either.

Pair 2: Those who pay the taxes and those who get the tax breaks. About 65 percent of federal income-tax revenue is contributed by the top 10 percent of taxpayers. Again, you have to worry how wise it is of Kerry and Edwards to suggest that some nine-tenths of their fellow citizens are mooching off wealthy people like themselves.

Pair 3: Those who will do anything for their kids and those who never have to “do a thing” for them. It is unfortunately true that there are a lot of rotten parents out there. Edwards seems to be suggesting they are all Republicans.

Pair 4: Middle-class vs. narrow-interest America. What exactly do Edwards and Kerry offer middle-class America? Astoundingly little, really. In 1992 Bill Clinton offered middle-class tax cuts and universal government-guaranteed health insurance. True, Clinton reneged on the first promise and failed to deliver on the second–but that was after the election. Kerry and Edwards offer neither. In fact, most of their campaign promises are carefully targeted to–you guessed it–“narrow interests.”

Pair 5: Those who are struggling to get by and those who can buy anything they want. Political pros sometimes talk about 70-30 issues, meaning issues on which one side outnumbers the other by better than a two-to-one margin. Edwards is going here for a 99.9-to-0.1 issue. Who in America can buy anything he wants? Not me, and probably not you either, and possibly not even John Edwards himself. His running mate sure can, however–but does Edwards really mean to condemn him?


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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.