American middle class being hurt by Bush#039;s values

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 10, 2005

Ever since the purveyors of conventional wisdom pronounced that the last election was about moral values, the beltway pundits have been endlessly engaged in trying to divine What It All Means.

After all, President Bush presented himself as the embodiment of compassion and American values, and has told us that the election was his accountability moment - proof positive that the American people support his policy priorities.

The simple truth is, however, that it did not take an election to convince us that the American people are a deeply moral people.

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When we see children pool their pennies to help tsunami victims, or a community unite to pay for a neighbor's transplant operation - that is all the evidence of compassion we need.

With the State of the Union address and the annual budget submission, President Bush will have his opportunity to unveil the most tangible statements of his priorities and values.

These two documents are a distillation of hundreds of choices made and priorities ordered.

It will be interesting to see what he chooses.

Because in the course of making thousands of decisions that impact the real lives of Americans, one decision that the president made has impacted virtually all others, and that was the decision to completely change the structure of our economy by dramatically shifting the tax burden from corporate interests and wealthiest individuals squarely onto the middle class. That decision has put our nation in a financial straightjacket for generations to come.

And now the president suggests that the deficits created by his policies must be reduced by cutting the domestic budget, while his tax policies remain off limits.

But make no mistake - it is the middle class that will feel the impact of George Bush's economic restructuring the most.

While corporations have historically been responsible for over 20 percent of the tax burden, today they are paying just over 7 percent.

Combined with tax breaks for the wealthy, we are left with an economy in which the middle class is shouldering a staggering load of the burden.

Ironically, rather than funding the services most of us rely on, taxes paid by the middle class are going directly into the pockets of the wealthy in the form of tax breaks.

And most working families have much more to contend with than taxes.

Many employers can no longer provide health insurance; our parents can no longer depend on nutritious meals delivered to their homes; Head Start cannot accommodate enough deserving children; and students know that the president's much-touted $100 increase per year in Pell Grants will not put college within their reach.

The president has made his choices, and no matter how drastic the change in circumstance - be it war or recession or his proclaimed "crisis" in Social Security - he refuses to revisit those decisions.

Yet - as need permeates the middle class and not just the destitute - it is hard to believe that the American people favor more corporate handouts and endless tax cuts.

And whether they live in red states or blue states, whether they worship in churches or temples or not at all, Americans do not want to see their neighbors bankrupted by emergency medical care or watch military families barely scrape by on meager salaries augmented by food stamps.

Fairness, after all, is a cornerstone American value.

So over the coming days, all Americans should be watching what the president does, not just what he says.

Will we have more of the same - eloquent words masking a distorted economic system - or will the president at long last put his money where his mouth is?

The stakes couldn't be higher.

Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, is the founder of Democracy for America. Email Dean at