We Are the 53%. Or not.

By Jill

Via alex pareene / salon.com

Oh man this “We Are the 53%” movement. It is actually very sad! Basically, conservative pundit Erick Erickson has started a campaign called “We Are the 53%,” to counter the “We Are the 99%” and Occupy Wall Street movements. According to Erickson’s (very simplistic) math, 53% of Americans pay more in federal income taxes than they receive back in deductions or credits, and so 53% of people are subsidizing everyone else. Which is… where to even start? Even people who don’t pay federal income tax still often pay property taxes and payroll taxes; everyone pays sale taxes. And part of the OWS argument is that corporations and many of the highest-earning Americans are paying very little in taxes, due to a series of loopholes and tax breaks.

That aside, Erickson’s site is very very sad. It is full of people who are extremely unlikely to be in the 53% — people who work several jobs to stay afloat, who can’t afford health insurance, whose parents worked themselves to the bone while dying of cancer. Those stories are held up as “the American Dream.” It’s kind of sick, actually. There’s a nice parody blog dedicated to it.

Hippie-punching is fun, I guess, and that seems to be Erickson’s motivation — he’s more interested in telling the Occupy Wall Street folks to “stop whining” than offering any solution other than “poor people are lazy.” And he does it with a web site that includes a lot of poor people all talking about how the system has kind of screwed them, but they’re living the dream and they “did it themselves.”

I realize a lot of people don’t want to feel like victims, and part of the difficulty the left faces is categorizing experiences and exploitations in a way that still allows people to identify with a group — Sady’s post about, among other things, self-identifying as “middle class” hints at this. A lot of people want to be on the A Team, or at least the team of “most folks.” That was, to me, the brilliance of the 99% campaign — it recognized that there’s a lot of diversity of experience within the 99 percent, but it gave people a group identity to latch onto. The problem is, Erickson’s campaign, asinine and divorced-from-reality as it might be, appeals to a lot of folks’ view of themselves as better than the next guy — harder-working, not looking for a hand-out, subsidizing all of Those People who are complaining whiners. In reality, of course, a lot of the people on Erickson’s 53% blog are the ones being “subsidized” (if we adopt Erickson’s terms); they’re people who have received welfare and other social services, they’re people who are definitely not paying federal income tax, and they’re people who need more than they’re getting.

But they’re latching onto Erickson because I suppose it feels better to self-identify as a winner. I’m not sure how, besides the populist 99% message, we can change that dynamic. This comment by Richard Lawson on the Gawker post is interesting to me:

This air of the nobility of the underclass is so sad and, cornily enough, eye-opening for me. It’s quite a feat that the oligarchs (for lack of a less sensational term) really have convinced these people that their poverty is noble and righteous and, in this life or the next, will somehow deliver them. You think about that 16% of African Americans who are living in poverty, or the insanely high number of single women and children living as such across all races and ethnicities, and you re

alize how fully they’ve taken to heart the persistent message they’ve been fed, in ways both subtle and profoundly grand, that theirs is a necessary suffering, one endured so the country can continue to function in the supposedly just and impartial way that it does. To be teenaged trendy about it, these people have been glamoured by vampires, have bared their necks and welcome the pain as a gift. It’s so deep and so bedrock in national mentality that the only salve seems, honestly, to be some sort of genuine revolution. I kind of feel like a French person in 1788. I wish these people knew they had allies behind them.

And people like Erick Erickson are nasty, willfully blind classist monsters. To prey on people this obviously downtrodden is ghoulishness of the highest order.

It’s worth pointing out, also, that Erickson’s site features mostly white people. It features people who are used to being on the A Team. I don’t think anyone on that site would actually say that they feel an air of nobility for being part of the underclass; I don’t think they believe they’re part of an American underclass at all.

Originally published on Feministe. Republished WITH PERMISSION MOTHERF*CKERS.

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  1. 16% of African Americans are unemployed. 27% of African Americans live below the poverty line, which by the way is between $11,000 and $12,000 dollars a year in America.

    • This is a correction to that quote, which says that 16% of African Americans are living in poverty. Just thought I’d make that clear.

  2. seriously no one else thinks the parody blog “actually you’re the 47%” is rude and hatefully antagonistic of people who are simply proud of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. You can argue that they might not see the flaw in the system and are therefor naive but that is no reason to treat them as morons.Many of them are celebrating immigrating here, or surviving a hardship to continue to be able to work, and strive. In a lot of ways that IS the American dream. I especially dislike how they dismiss stay at home moms.

    • You’re being a bit facetious here. They called out ONE stay-at-home mom because, as someone who doesn’t earn a wage, she can’t possibly be paying any income taxes – and therefore, isn’t a part of “the 53%.” And as someone who relies on other people (her spouse, I presume) for her expenses, she’s not really in a position to be lecturing anyone on “taking hand-outs.”

      Calling out one hypocrite is not the same as dissing stay-at-home parents as a group. I imagine the majority of stay-at-home parents know better than to whine about income taxes that they’re not paying.

      • And I want to add that being a stay-at-home parent is a luxury. There are lot of households that can’t afford having one parent not be making any money. Even beyond single-parent households, there are plenty of two-parent households where neither of them make enough money on their own to support a whole family. So even if one parent wants to stay home, they have no choice.

        I do look down on stay-at-home parents who can’t acknowledge that their choice is a luxury that is beyond the reach of a lot of people. But I look down generally on people who can’t understand that some things they take for granted are out of reach of a lot of people.

    • What America do you live in that people dream of having two jobs to make ends meet? What America do you live in where a lack of health insurance is something to be proud of?

      I don’t even understand…

      A good number of the people posting didn’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps, they’re just barely holding their heads above water and are being told that they’re doing GREAT! Well fuck you for thinking it’s OK to let that idea continue because America and the American dream should be better than that.

      • Also any time some one gloats about pulling themselves up by their bootstraps I want to take them out to an inner city and introduce them to the thousands of people who work stupidly hard and don’t make it. The concept of bootstraps and one’s desire and work ethic being the thing that makes a person is so wrong and so insulting.

        Fuck bootstraps.

    • Thank you for that link. What with this and the hideousness that went down in the House today, I was ready to curl up and cry for a few hours. This letter made me feel so much better about humanity.

    • Thanks for sharing this link. I can’t say I’ve supported the Occupy movement in its entirety, but this letter plainly, and intelligently states an initiative.
      I’m more conservative when it comes to fiscal issues, so I’ve felt pretty sucky lately listening to how people group conservatives together and hate all up on them. I’m usually too afraid to speak up, because being young and in a city, most people around me are vocally liberal. I don’t know what to say. But after reading this letter, I feel loads better. I agree with him (mostly). He’s respectful. Individual politics come down to a matter of personal priorities, which he shows. He’s got me rethinking priorities. I can get on board with this letter.

    • I didn’t know there was a survey, so I took it. I wonder if there will be other late repliers like me.

  3. No conservative who is talking in opposition to the Occupy movement will ever mention any other tax than income tax which isn’t even 50% of the federal income.

    It’s like they have no memory of the history of the labor movement. We worked in dangerous factories and mines and mills for hours and hours and hours every day and every day of the week as did our children so that that company owners could get rich while we scrimped by on company store rations. Eventually we realized that wasn’t going to work for the worker and so we have labor laws. The idea of labor laws and minimum wage is that a person should be able to work a 40 hour week and be able to support themselves, if not themselves and their family.

    How does two parents working two jobs to make ends meet and still living in fairly poorly without insurance or any savings sound like an ideal situation? Why is that the fix that people are proposing? Are the rich really the only people who get to enjoy their lives?

    I’m so angry and so sad over all of this.

    • Well, part of the reason so many people have no memory of the labor movement is because they never learned about it. Even if they got a decent history teacher in high school, it’s not an era that is typically covered in detail in textbooks or curricula, unless your textbook is something like Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if a good number of the people who post on The 53% about being “satisfied” with overly long hours, no health insurance, no sick days, etc. have no idea that things used to be worse than they are, and the reasons we HAVE things like child labor laws, product safety laws, minimum wage, unions, etc. is due to the same sort of people they’re so quick to criticize now.

      • I wish we lived in a world where Howard Zinn’s A People’s History was the text book for American history.

        I want to throttle people sometimes. We have a holiday because of this people! :(

  4. I’m disappointed that the 53% blog isn’t satirical, because that’s the only way I can read it without smashing my head against the wall.

  5. I find the 53% blog incredibly depressing for mainly the reasons Jill pointed out and that are in the gawker article. But that reply on dailykos was wonderful.

  6. I’m surprised they posted those, because the same sort of mentality celebrated here tends to REALLY have it out for people who go into the arts or humanities or other supposedly “impractical” (re: fun) fields.

    (Not that people can’t have fun doing other jobs, but the sort of people who enjoy their work are not the sort who think artists should be dealt some punishment by society for their choice of major.)

  7. I do think the parody blog is incredibly rude. No matter if you’re the 99% or “53%” these are all still living breathing people and you are going to downplay their struggles and achievements by making snarky, sarcastic comments? That not really a method proven to win anyone over

  8. the image at the top of this article is obviously a parody. but i can’t help noticing that the logo on the cap is a takeoff of the old winnipeg jets logo from the 90’s. maybe the 53%, or the sarcastic take on them, is a fan of pre-sunbelt expansion NHL hockey?

    now, actually related: maddie, thank you for that link. it’s so easy for us to construct sides. it’s so easy to wonder at the apparent blindness and stupidity of the self-identified 53%, as it is for them to look at the OWS people as leeches. that link, that open letter to the fellow in the photograph, is such a rare thing: dialogue. or an attempt at it.

  9. I completely agree with the sentiment of this post, but I’d like to point out that not “everyone pays sales tax”. There are a number of states with no sales tax, including Oregon, New Hampshire and Texas.

    • There are a few states that are exempt from a statewide sales tax (Texas is NOT one of them), but there is often a local sales tax in these cases.

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