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Howard Zinn: A Class Society

Published on May 1, 2017 by Paul Ciano

The repeated elections of Republican candidates, Reagan in 1980 and 1984, George Bush in 1988, were treated by the press with words like “landslide” and “overwhelming victory.” They were ignoring four facts: that roughly half the population, though eligible to vote, did not; that those who did vote were limited severely in their choices to the two parties that monopolized the money and the media; that as a result, many of their votes were cast without enthusiasm; and that there was little relationship between voting for a candidate and voting for specific policies.

A survey by the New York Times found that only 11 percent of those who voted for Reagan did so because “he’s a real conservative.” Three times as many said they voted for him because “it is time for a change.”

Because our peculiar voting arrangements allow a small margin of popular votes to become a huge majority of electoral votes, the media can talk about “overwhelming victory,” thus deceiving their readers and disheartening those who don’t look closely at the statistics. Could one say from these figures that “the American people” wanted Reagan, or Bush, as President? One could certainly say that more voters preferred the Republican candidates to their opponents. But even more seemed to want neither candidate. Nevertheless, on the basis of these slim electoral pluralities, Reagan and Bush would claim that “the people” had spoken.

Indeed, when the people did speak about issues, in surveys of public opinion, they expressed beliefs to which neither the Republican nor Democratic parties paid attention.

…there was something amiss with a political system, supposed to be democratic, in which the desires of the voters were repeatedly ignored. They could be ignored with impunity so long as the political system was dominated by two parties, both tied to corporate wealth. An electorate forced to choose between Carter and Reagan, or Reagan and Mondale, or Bush and Dukakis could only despair (or decide not to vote) because neither candidate was capable of dealing with a fundamental economic illness whose roots were deeper than any single presidency.

That illness came from a fact which was almost never talked about: that the United States was a class society, in which 1 percent of the population owned 33 percent of the wealth, with an underclass of 30 to 40 million people living in poverty. The social programs of the sixties - Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps, etc. - did not do much more than maintain the historic American maldistribution of resources.

While the Democrats would give more help to the poor than the Republicans, they were not capable (indeed, not really desirous) of seriously tampering with an economic system in which corporate profit comes before human need.

Paul Ciano

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