Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class
God willing and the creek don't rise, Thom Hartmann's call to arms against the last quarter-century of neo-conservative greed and corruption will be rendered slightly less urgent by the recent shift in political power. In the meantime, its basic message bears careful consideration. The Air America host writes a compelling if somewhat reductive description of the hijacking of the American dream by Reaganite neocons and the current administration, backed by dispiriting statistics and informed by a firm grasp on American history.
Released a couple months before the midterm elections, Screwed suffers slightly from a rushed, loosely edited feeling. Hartmann tends to belabor his points somewhat, and his repetition of phrases such as "We the People" lends the book a hectoring tone that detracts from its sobering study of the facts. But those facts--the decline of middle-class salaries, the gutting of proven social programs, the percentage of Americans without health insurance--are well and simply presented, and Hartmann makes some excellent points. The word "tax" has taken on such a bogeyman weight in recent years that his simple argument in favor of taxation feels refreshing and almost a little transgressive. Taxes, he writes, are a payment for the citizen's use of the commons. It's not "your money," as conservatives like to frame it. It's part of the social contract for living in this country--not a popular view, that. But Hartmann argues convincingly that a fully "free-market" economy and its attendant reduction on what's considered the "commons," leads to polarization between rich and poor, concentration of power in the hands of a wealthy elite, and the collapse of the middle classes.
Screwed is unlikely to convert the classic conservative mindset--if your fundamental view of government is that it's a necessary evil to be kept as small as possible, this is not the book that's going to change your mind. It does, however, provide enough damning evidence that the Bush administration is making a mockery of conservative values--bloating the national debt, favoring its cronies' businesses with highly lucrative contracts in Iraq, etc.--to convince anyone that whatever this administration is, it ain't Republican. When Hartmann suggests that a more apt nomenclature might be "Fascist," it does not seem entirely off-base. His skill as a polemicist might be in question, but the facts he presents are solid. The issues raised should be of concern to every citizen, regardless of political inclination.