Through the Looking Glass

by Martin Harris 

Martin Harris

Just as Lewis Carroll’s 1865 “down the rabbit hole” allegory in “Alice in Wonderland” finds modern meaning in the “underground economy”, so his “Through the Looking Glass” dual-book follow-up in 1871 comes to mind when recent events appear in opposite-to-expected form. Mirror-image cases in point: the FDR Presidential campaign ending in the 1936 election, and the BHO Presidential campaign which will end in the 2012 election. The former became famous for the victory-press-conference “as Maine goes, so goes Vermont” quip, a somewhat tendentious gloat/ sound-bite by FDR’s press secretary James Farley based on his boss’s sweep of the other 46 States in the nationwide rejection of Kansas Guv Alf Landon’s prez-candidacy. It was a rebuff which went unmatched until the Nixon-McGovern and Reagan-Mondale contests in 1972 and 1984, the former winning only the District of Columbia and his home State of Massachusetts, the latter winning in DC and Wisconsin, but drawing only 41% voter approval. BHO’s approval level, per just-published Gallup poll: 43%. Earlier Prez ratings, at different points in their tenure, have been lower (think Carter at 37% near the end) but none at a comparable year-before-election date. The looking-glass mirror-image aspect of the above sketch lies in (Humble Scribe opinion) VT and ME as historic outliers in 1936 (a couple of conservative states in a nation gone liberal) and their possible outlier reprise in 2012 as liberals in a nation gone conservative. Maine, maybe not: it’s gone somewhat more red-state in recent years; but Vermont, surely yes, as a pair of recent polls indicates. The Wall Street Journal poll (19-20 Nov11) illustrates that, in 11 nationwide demographic categories of age, education, and residency, the BHO job-approval rating is steadily going further under water (a little sub-prime housing lingo, there) in 10. The outlier: his 57% and rising approval by urban voters. Small-town and rural voters give him only 37%, and suburbanites only 39%. Except in Vermont: from a different poll (August, 2011, by PollWatch), the BHO job-performance approval rating is a quite-respectable 53%. So the tendentious quote, this time, won’t be “as Maine goes, so goes Vermont”; it may well be “as DC goes (another urban high-BHO-approval area) so goes Vermont” , losing-side outliers in a 49-State sweep comparable to the 1972 RMN and 1984 RWR political tsunami’s.

Question: what commonality-of-interest could cause a parallax of voter opinion between urban voters in general and Vermont voters in particular? The usual answer is that voters always vote their pocketbooks, a sound-bite traceable to the 1900 McKinley-v-Bryan presidential campaign and then to the 1924 campaign, when famously silent Vermonter Calvin Coolidge (R) verbalized on “pocketbook issues” to defeat Davis (D) and LaFollette (P) and win a second term. If that was so, what economic issues do the voters of, say, Anacostia (one of several low-income residential parts, like SE and SW, of a mostly monumental DC) and East Overshoe (any stereotypical Vermont town) now have in common? One possible answer: transfer payments generating unearned income. Stats are available for both the passive-income retiree/trust-funder category, a rapidly growing sector of the Vermont individual income total, and such valuables as Food Stamps and housing subsidies to low-income householders, even though those aren’t counted in the usual income quintile analyses. They’re not too different, as a percent of totals in both cases. But BHO has self-identified as the re-distributionist President, with a platform of helping the latter at the expense of the former.

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To mis-quote NY Yankee catcher/manager Yogi Berra, it’s tough to predict how people vote , especially about what’s in their future interest. Consider that about 15% of total national personal income is transfer payments from the half of the population which actually pays income taxes, and consider that more of it goes to the upper income quintiles via Social Security (5%) and Medicare (5%) than goes to the lowest quintiles via Food Stamps (.2%) or Family Assistance (.2%) and almost all of those latter transfers go to urban recipients. These are Bureau of Economic Analysis stats. Then consider the income stats (BEA again) for Vermont in 2010 where the amount shown for passive (dividends, interest, and rents, at $4.5 billion) is 17.9% of total (reported—there’s that rabbit hole problem again) personal income of $25.2 billion. Most of that transfer –we don’t have exact stats—goes to non-urban (in the traditional, not the Census, definition) recipients. State economist Jeffrey Carr asserts that Vermont has one of the highest percentages of passive -–pensions, trust-funds, transfers– income in the nation, but offers no stats. Question: is either group’s statistically proven electoral enthusiasm for BHO based on his re-distributionist platform? Probable answer: for the first group (all urban voters) yes; for the second group (Vermont voters) no. Most likely (Humble Scribe opinion) the first group is, indeed, “voting their pocketbooks” along with ideological and emotional allegiances best left undescribed; and the second group, whose pocketbooks would be directly vulnerable to even-more-Progressive taxation of either income or wealth or both in accordance with BHO re-distributionist doctrine, is “voting their ideological and emotional allegiances” entirely. These polls and data make a persuasive argument that Vermont voters, at or near tops in the nation for BHO enthusiasm, right up there with the “urban voter” category, are also at or near tops in the nation for passive-income percentages. The difference is that the retirees and trust-funders derive their passive income mostly from private-sector sources, while the urbanites derive their passive income entirely from governmental transfer payments: unearned income flowing from wealth previously earned versus income of others currently taxed.

But for Vermont voters, their primary ideological and emotional allegiance is the mirror image of their secondary pocket-book tangible interest. “Through the Looking Glass”, anyone?