Many Americans are living poor and voting rich, especially in Kentucky. They vote for politicians who serve the interests of the very rich, of corporations that ship jobs overseas, employ and exploit illegal immigrants and violate workplace rules to protect workers.
Most of these politicians are Republicans, the party, as former President George W. Bush once boasted, of the "haves and the have mores."
Sure there are Democrats with ties to Wall Street and lobbyists, but no Democrat is more joined at the hip with lobbyists and special interests than likely incoming House Speaker John Boehner. And Wall Street is now giving millions to Republicans.
Why? Because President Barack Obama and the Democrats passed financial regulation and Republicans opposed it and promise more deregulation that caused the economic crash to begin with.
To live poor and vote rich means you do not follow the money. You avoid looking at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the corporations lavishing money on Republicans who voted against taking away tax breaks from companies that ship jobs overseas. You ignore the fact that the millions of jobs lost recently came mostly during late 2008 and the first months of the Obama administration.
You avoid looking at the reactionary billionaire Koch brothers pouring money into California to defeat clean air legislation that might lower profits from their huge oil interests.
Above all, as poor and middle-class voters voting rich you consistently vote to lower the taxes on billionaires like the Kochs —who want to pay no taxes at all — and to insure that you, middle or working class, pay more than your fair share.
You listen to Sen. Mitch McConnell claim that, if the huge Bush tax cuts for the very rich are not kept, then small businesses will be hurt. But to vote rich, you must ignore non-partisan estimates that only 3 percent of small businesses would be affected. You passionately want the rich to pay lower taxes.
To live poor and vote rich, you swallow the Republicans' newfound concern about deficits, absent during the Bush years when a Clinton budget surplus got turned into enormous deficits and Vice President Dick Cheney declared that "deficits don't matter."
Rich-voting ordinary folks obsess about gays and guns but ignore rising inequality that is turning this country into Pakistan, where the opulent rich pay no taxes while the middle class supports inadequate public services. The disparity between the rich and the bottom half in this country has grown far worse than other developed nations. It's too complicated to learn that the share of total income going to the top one percent is about 25 percent — about where it was in 1928 before the Great Depression (forget history!).
And that, in the last three decades, the top one-tenth of that 1 percent acquired more wealth than the bottom 60 percent. So 300,000 super rich got a bigger slice of the pie than 180 million people.
The worst of this, as economists are beginning to recognize, is that this inequality — besides creating an aristocracy of wealth — does not promote economic growth and reduces the quality of life for everyone. But rich-voting poor folk do get to vent their anger — mostly at the wrong targets.
Ron Formisano is a professor of history at the University of Kentucky.