Bill Steigerwald Bill Steigerwald, 10/31/2006 [Archive]

Lou Dobbs Is Hopping Mad

Lou Dobbs Is Hopping Mad

Lou Dobbs is not a happy anchor. The namesake of CNN's business report 'Lou Dobbs Tonight' is hopping mad at both political parties, Congress, corporations, lobbyists, banks, the mainstream news media and everyone else he can think of for waging or supporting what he calls "class warfare" on the middle class. All those concerns and more are spelled out in Dobbs' new book,'War on the Middle Class: How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups Are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back (Viking Adult). I talked to him Oct. 24 from his offices in New York City.

Q: What's the 60-second sound-bite description of your book?

A: It's been described as a manifesto on the American Dream and I think that's a pretty serviceable definition. I see the middle class as the foundation of this country and public education as the great equalizer in our society, providing educational opportunity to our young people irrespective of their wealth, their poverty or their circumstance. That has been a tradition in this country and it is one that is under threat from political and business elites who are acting in not only disregard for the interest of middle class working men and women and their families, but as the title of the book states, they are conducting an outright war shipping middle-class jobs to cheap overseas labor markets, importing illegal labor to compete with workers at the lowest wage scales and putting our middle class in direct competition with the cheapest labor in the world.

Q: What is the single most important battle that you think needs to be won in defense of the middle class?

A: The Number One issue that has to be confronted by about 250 million middle class Americans is their lack of representation in Washington, D.C. Nothing is more important than regaining political influence and representation for our middle class. Corporate America dominates our political system, our electoral system, our legislative system. And the middle class has to find a countervailing influence to that overwhelming political power.

Q: Do you see this as something new or something that has grown or something that has just been discovered?

A:I believe that this war has been going on for some time, as American companies have increasingly turned their backs on the communities and the nation which they both created and in which they operate. In so doing they've reduced their investment in education, in health care, in infrastructure in their communities. This has been going on now for about 15 to 20 years, but it has accelerated in the last five with free trade agreements, with outsourcing, with the importation of illegal labor, and the absolute influence over legislation. In terms of their legislative influence, corporate America is spending over $2 billion a year to not only influence Congress but to actually write legislation, as in the example of the 2005 bankruptcy law, in which the credit card companies actually wrote the legislation.

Q: Is it not true, however, that generally the middle class is better off today than it was a generation ago -- more income, bigger homes, better cars, computers, etc.?

A: More Americans own homes but they have the lowest amount of equity in their homes in history. More middle class families are living less in their homes than they are on their homes. By that I mean taking home equity loans to make up for what have been stagnant wages, refinancing their homes, trying to keep up with rapidly escalating health care costs, tuition costs for their children in public universities, for crying out loud. The middle class has, if you will, more toys and trinkets but far less in the way of leisure time and peace of mind.

Q: How do you define your politics and economics?

A: My economics are not faith-based, as are those of both political parties who embracefree trade that leads to 30 consecutive years of trade deficits. I believe in our free-enterprise democracy. I'm a capitalist, but I disdain those who support unfettered capitalism. As for my politics, as I say in the book, I am unaffiliated, independent and I can't take seriously either Republicans or Democrats who take themselves seriously because neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party takes seriously our middle class or their obligation to the common good and the national interest.

Q: A libertarian, like myself, would argue that the cause of many of these problems and the suffering of the middle class are a result of too much big government, too much taxes, too much subsidies, too much corporate welfare, too many government regulations, protection of businesses and special interests -- all that bad, big government, rent-seeking stuff. Does any of that ring true to you?

A: I think certainly some of that is absolutely true, but we come at it from quite different directions. Each of those is an outgrowth of the overwhelming political dominance of corporate America -- and excess. Corporate America is in the same stage of excess that labor unions were in 30 years ago and I believe that as middle-class America asserts itself, its interests and its needs, and insists on representation in Washington, you will see America return to a regard of its people as citizens first and consumers secondarily, and a general view of this country first as a nation rather than a marketplace.

Q: If neither the Republican Party nor the Democrat Party seems to give a damn about the middle class, or both seem happy to abuse it, what's the solution?

A: I believe truly that the first thing that middle class Americans have to do is serve notice on both the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee that they won't be played for fools any longer. I urge every American, whether he or she is going to vote Republican or Democrat, to register as an independent and push away what are really marketing enterprises rather than political parties that are more about branding than they are about governance.

Q: Do you see any hopeful signs that the middle class will be able to start winning some battles in this larger war?

A: I absolutely do. I truly believe that we are on the precipice of a crisis in public education in terms of this economy in which we are seeing a disproportionate amount of the national income go to corporations rather than to individual workers and that we will see redress, because this insult to 200 years of free-enterprise democracy won't stand.

Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Bill at © Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.

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