Discussion of this Ebert essay is spreading around the internets because that is what the internets do, and the trope I’m hearing most regularly is the old canard of “well poor people are willing to support policy positions that benefit rich people because they think they might get rich some day.”
This is crap and has been crap for a very long time: it rests on the assumption that poor people are stupid and don’t realize how unlikely they are to become rich. I talk to these sorts of people frequently, and I think poor people who vote for policies that benefit rich people generally know exactly how unlikely they are to become rich. That’s not why these people support [insert policy here that screws them and helps rich people].
Instead, I think it’s generally because the elites who want these policies enacted have very successfully communicated their ideas in terms of basic fairness. “It’s not fair that I worked hard for all this money and when I die I have to pay estate taxes and my children won’t get everything they deserve.” “It’s not fair that my company has to pay more tax than an equivalent company in Somewhere Else.” “It’s not fair that I should pay a higher income tax rate than someone else just because I make more money.” “It’s not fair that you should be forced to buy health insurance if you don’t want to.”
That these positions are frequently disingenuous is besides the point: the point was to make these terribly unfair policies appear fair, because the voters who come out to support them really do value the concept of fairness more often than not, and if you can demonstrate that a policy they support is basically not fair then gradually they will change their minds.1 When liberals natter about how non-rich conservative voters are voting against their interest because of some cynical hope that one day they’ll benefit from it, all they’re doing is engaging in cariacature, mostly because it’s satisfying to portray political opponents as idiots2 but ultimately it just feels like an excuse: if you want to get people to endorse policies that are truly egalitarian rather than ones that only pretend to be that, you have to put in the groundwork.