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Betraying the Middle Class BY GEOFFREY RIPS THE POLITICS OF RICH AND POOR: Wealth and the American Electorate in the Reagan Aftermath By Kevin Phillips Random House, New York, 1990 262 pages, $19.95. THERE HAS BEEN a great deal of speculation surrounding Kevin Phillips’s latest works, concerning his apparent desertion from the ranks of the Reagan revolution he helped create. In fact, ever since the early years of the Reagan presidency, there has been a cacophony on the right concerning Phillips’s apostasy, amounting to a restrained form of red-baiting, smearing Phillips as a traitor tp his class. Even prior to the Reagan regnum, William F. Buckley labeled Phillips a “country and western Marxist,” which was his quaint way of singing the old mine worker refrain, “Which side are you on?” \(For his part, Phillips had attacked Buckley for “abandoning Middle America to load up his yacht with Has there been a class war smoldering inside the Grand Olde Party unnoticed for all these years? Would that it were so. The elements are there. In fact, Phillips is a principal architect of the union between the traditional Republican moneyed elite and the socially conservative middle class that was consummated in the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Phillips now seems intent on hastening the divorce. What is this all about? In the late 1960s, a large portion of Middle America was on top of its game, one generation removed from the Depression and enjoying the highest standard of living any mass population had ever known. Democratic policies shaped in the New Deal and the Fair Deal had made it possible for them to live like Republicans. They wanted to keep it that way. Enter Kevin Phillips. Phillips, you may remember, was credited with creating the Southern strategy at the heart of Nixon’s election four short years after the Republican party had been reduced to ashes by LBJ and by Goldwater’s defense of extremism. What Phillips claimed to have done was help the Republicans capitalize on a growing distaste for big government, the Geoff Rips is a former Observer editor. welfare state, and the liberal elites running government for the benefit of the upper and lower classes at the expense of those in between. What, in fact, the Republicans capitalized on was the racism of Southern whites and Northern ethnic minorities who felt threatened by expanded economic and social opportunity and by a world they’d known suddenly gone awry. And while the Southern strategy was able to pick up wagonloads of fourth-and-fifth generation Southern Democrats for Richard Nixon, following in George Wallace’s wake, and tie them to a portion of the blue-collar rank-and-file, it was not just Republican rhetoric that created this electoral realignment. Let us not forget that it was the South and the ethnic minorities who were providing the cannon fodder for LBJ’s war, that it was the ethnic minorities, black, brown and white, in the northern inner cities who were most physically threatened by urban unrest, that it was the sons and daughters of the elite who were turning upside down the universities and colleges that were the goal of many working families, and that it was rural America and the inner cities that were most adversely affected by the transfer of funds away from domestic programs to fuel the war. There were, as one ’60s anthem described it, a whole lot of changes going on. So an answer was crafted by people like Phillips, John Mitchell, and Richard Nixon to capture an electorate angered and bemused by the chaos of the times. The answer was law and order particularly order \(coupled halfIn eight short years,the Republican Party had replaced Henry Cabot Lodge as Nixon’s running mate with Spiro Agnew. That, in a nutshell, was the Kevin Phillips paradigm. Meanwhile, the Democrats, writes Phillips, were enmeshed in “a fatal shift away from meat-and-potatoes economic issues toward a middle-class array of social, anti-war and environmentalist causes.” But where were the Republicans’ meatand-potatoes issues? Nixon squeaked by Hubert Humphrey by milking white middleclass fear and loathing for all it was worth. According to Phillips, Nixon was about “middle-class nationalism,” a rather vague concoction meaning that the interests of the United States middle class, whatever they were determined to be, should be the focal point of national and international policy. That Phillips fails to recognize, at least in print, is that Nixon played upon George Wallace-inspired white indignation and a wariness of the rich to create a “silent” majority constituency for an economic policy that was designed to serve American business elites at the expense of the poor and middle class. With Henry Kissinger’s help, our international and domestic covert and overt military and intelligence apparatus was put at the service of the emerging multinational business structure. The steady advance of civil rights was stopped dead in its tracks. Government programs for expanding economic opportunity at home were drained as the friendly dictators of Iran, the Philippines, Nicaragua and the like were propped up with increasing U.S. aid. China and the Third World became the new frontiers for U.S. business operations and expanded bank lending. Nixon may have imposed wage-and-price controls, but his real legacy was beginning the unraveling of a decently regulated economy that had served to spread the wealth across a wide, even if not wide-enough, segment of our society. In Phillips’s view, what the Reagan era has brought to the Republican party “beyond its emphasis on the politics of national unity, [is] dynamic capitalism, market economics and the concentration of wealth….” But the rolling stone had begun gathering this moss back in the mid-’60s, when Phillips and friends first set it in motion. What they provided, by playing upon social issues, was a blue-collar constituency hoodwinked against its own best interests. So now we have Phillips saying that the middle class has once again been betrayed, this time by the Reagan Republicans, in their “shift from broad middle-class ‘nationalism’ into ‘capitalist overdrive.’ To support his argument, he presents a compendium of data on the damage done both to the American middle class and to the U.S. in the world economy. As a source of information on the redistribution of wealth in this country by Reaganomics, this book is the next best thing to following Jim Hightower around the state recording all his stump speeches. For Phillips, the crux of the matter is that the Republicans have embraced market economics as their supreme authority, rather than the middle class, where Phillips believes the authority should lie. Phillips operates under the rather democratic notion that the market should be controlled to meet the needs of society, rather than the other way around. In this day and age, that is tantamount to THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21