SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

October 15, 2013

Blue-collar candidates essential to real representation

Several days ago, a small group of extravagantly wealthy Americans shut down our federal government. They weren’t lobbyists. They weren’t big campaign donors. The millionaires who shuttered our civil institutions didn’t have to buy influence from our politicians. The millionaires who shut down Washington are our politicians.

On both sides of the aisle, the vast majority of our lawmakers come from the most privileged slice of American society. If Barack Obama, John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell sat down to talk about how to solve the budget impasse, no one at the table would have a net worth under $1.7 million.

And they aren’t alone. Working-class jobs -- manual labor and service-industry positions -- make up a majority of our labor force, but people from those kinds of jobs make up less than 2 percent of Congress. Meanwhile, millionaires — who make up less than 5 percent of the country — control all three branches of the federal government: They have a majority in the House, a filibuster-proof supermajority in the Senate, a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court and a man in the White House.

We’re letting people who have always had health insurance decide whether to help people without it. We’re letting people with personal fortunes that insulate them from the rest of society decide how much to spend on the schools and hospitals and other public goods that everyone else depends on.

And now they can’t agree on a plan to fund any of it. The class of people who can easily weather a government shutdown just shut the government down.

It’s impossible to know how our lawmakers would have behaved if more of them had come from the classes of Americans who are being hit hardest by the shutdown. And some members of Congress were taking steps to share their constituents’ pain -- some were even refusing their congressional salaries.

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