Democrats dine in luxury while families struggle — it's a recipe for electoral Armageddon in '22

Democrats vacation on Nantucket and protect the fortunes of America's dynasties — and wonder why they're losing

Published November 30, 2021 5:45AM (EST)

Gas prices over $3.00 are displayed at an Arco gas station (Getty/Justin Sullivan)
Gas prices over $3.00 are displayed at an Arco gas station (Getty/Justin Sullivan)

This article was originally published by InsiderNJ. Used by permission.

As we hang our holiday lights for a media-programmed return to "normalcy," it appears we've become nonchalant about a pandemic that's still killing 1,000 Americans a day. The corporate news tells us we care less about this once-in-a-century mass death event, and the gross social inequities it has laid bare, than we do about the price per gallon at the pump or the price per pound for turkey.

The way things are now aligned, with inflation firmly established as the only issue voters care about, Democrats are on a glide path to disaster in 2022 with the restoration of Trump-style white minority rule in Congress.

The Democrats' wounds that will make this possible have been largely self-inflicted.

Consider New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy's near-political-death experience and the down-ballot losses that shrank his party's majorities in the state legislature, including the defeat of State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a political titan in the Garden State.

Former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli came close to beating Murphy after the onetime Goldman Sachs partner opted to take his family to their exclusive Italian villa in August, even as the State Department was advising Americans not to travel to that country over concerns about the global pandemic.

Barack Obama's foundation cheerfully accepted a gift of $100 million from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, whose company was charged by the National Labor Relations Board with illegally retaliating against employees it fired after they tried to organize a union.

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Then there's President Biden, who has been portrayed (fairly or otherwise) as being out of touch with the average American family's sticker shock for groceries and fuel.

Where does he go to spend Thanksgiving? To the $30 million Nantucket estate owned by private equity billionaire David Rubenstein, co-founder of the notorious Carlyle Group. According to the Center for Public Integrity, this global colossus pioneered in investing in defense contractors who profit off the proliferation of armed conflict around the world.

Luxury island

As Fox News correctly pointed out, Nantucket was identified as one of four counties in Massachusetts that saw projected food insecurity rates for struggling families increase by more than 70 percent, according to the Nantucket Community Health Needs Assessment. Overall, according to the same report, Massachusetts was projected to see an 81 percent increase in food insecurity statewide.

That assessment is published by the Nantucket Cottage Hospital, the island's vital health care facility. Its "Mind the Meal Gap" 2020 report flagged that one in four of the food-insecure children on the island were living in "homes that are ineligible for public assistance programs" because one or more residents are undocumented.

Perhaps nowhere in the U.S. is the obscene nature of our growing wealth divide reflected more starkly than on Nantucket Island, 30 miles off Cape Cod. Sixty percent of the island's land has been set aside for conservation and the median home price is $2.55 million. Many houses are held as investments or legacies by some of the nation's wealthiest families.

Close to 70 percent of the island's housing stock is usually vacant, while 90 percent of the people who live there year-round, often service workers for the super-wealthy, can't afford to buy a home. Half that population struggles to pay their rent, according to a 2015 analysis.

"Not surprisingly, COVID-19 was a primary health concern for communities and exacerbated underlying inequities and social needs," reported the Nantucket Cottage Hospital in its 40-page health needs analysis. "The pandemic brought to light the capabilities and gaps in the healthcare system, the public health infrastructure, and social service networks."

The hospital's analysis notes the squeeze play so many of Nantucket's year-round families face, citing an Economic Policy Institute family budget calculator that found "a two-parent family with one child would need an annual income of $101,224 — not including savings or discretionary spending. High costs often translate into lower-income families having to balance between rental payments or food purchases or result in residents sacrificing sleep to take on a second or third job to cover housing costs."

Shifting the blame

Beltway Democrats will blame their likely 2022 drubbing on the rise of right-wing racist reactionaries and the Fox News/One America News propaganda calliope. Yet in reality, they will have no one else to blame but themselves. When there was a choice to make about flipping or inverting America's oppressive tax pyramid, which has crushed working families for decades while enabling the creation of vast dynastic wealth, the Democrats instead picked their donors, those who nest atop the pyramid's pinnacle.

That was accomplished when they opted to downsize Biden's $3.5 trillion Build Back Better agenda to the current anemic iteration at less than half that amount. All it took was for the campaign donor class and their Wall Street wealth managers to push back against the White House's initial strategy to raise hundreds of billions in new revenue by taxing the nation's largest fortunes at the moment when they pass from one generation to the next.

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The cover story was that conservative Democrats, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, as well as Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, were concerned that Biden's initial Build Back Better was too ambitious and required too much government spending, which risked accelerating inflation and derailing the alleged economic recovery.

As reported by the Intercept and the Guardian, the Democrats who aligned themselves with this anti-progressive faction were rewarded with millions of dollars in campaign cash from the very interests that want to keep the great American wealth pyramid intact.

It's just as plain as that. Folks who are already in a privileged position, because they were elected by the people, use their position to amass ever greater wealth.

This betrayal of tens of millions of poor or working families, the population the Rev. William J. Barber II refers to as a "sleeping giant," comes as study after study confirms the linkage between pandemic devastation in communities of color and our nation's accelerating wealth inequality and health care disparities.

Perhaps Nantucket Island's gated privilege portends what lies ahead for an entire nation where wealth concentration continues to accelerate unabated, while prominent Democrats continue to do the bidding of their donors.

Budgets tell us what we value

"As Democrats negotiate the Build Back Better bill from $3.5 trillion (over ten years) down to $1.75 trillion over ten years, priorities like paid leave, free community college, and Medicare expansion for affordable prescriptions, dental, and vision care are all on the chopping block," wrote Lindy Koshgarran for the National Priorities Project. "Meanwhile, over the past ten years, the U.S. has handed over $3.4 trillion (or $3.7 trillion in inflation-adjusted terms) to Pentagon contractors without headline-making congressional negotiations. It's part of the larger $7.2 trillion (2021 dollars) that we've handed over to Pentagon contractors almost unquestioned since 9/11."

Koshgarran's analysis continues: "For that money, the U.S. has gotten many copies of a supposedly cutting-edge military plane that has spontaneously caught fire at least three times, has heavily subsidized average CEO pay of $17.7 million at the top military contractors, and allowed corporations to rake in profits even while they failed wildly in the effort to reconstruct Afghanistan."

"The spending on contractors continues today at the same rapid clip, accounting for more than half of average Pentagon spending each year," according to the National Priorities Project blog post. "And with Congress poised to approve a $778 billion one-year spending package (that would be around $7.8 trillion over ten years, even without further increases) for the military, the contractors stand to gain again."

Meanwhile, we will hear from "fiscally conservative Democrats" that we simply can't afford paid family leave policies or free community college.

Bending over backward to protect America's dynastic fortunes will cost us all dearly.

More on the Democrats' struggles ahead of a difficult midterm election:

By Bob Hennelly

Bob Hennelly has written and reported for the Village Voice, Pacifica Radio, WNYC, CBS MoneyWatch and other outlets. His book, "Stuck Nation: Can the United States Change Course on Our History of Choosing Profits Over People?" was published in 2021 by Democracy@Work. He is now a reporter for the Chief-Leader, covering public unions and the civil service in New York City. Follow him on Twitter: @stucknation

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