Maryann Tobin

Presidential politics in 2012 has drawn a thick line between conservatives and progressives when it comes to the role the government should play in evening out the playing field in a capitalist society.

Conservatives claim that the rich should have more money and less regulation. They argue that such policy will cause an overflow of wealth that will ‘trickle-down' to the rest of the population.

Progressives claim that if the government does not take on the role of referee between big business and the public, the economy and the nation as a whole will suffer an unsustainable imbalance.

There really is no such thing as totally free markets no matter how you look at it. Businesses are regulated because there have to be rules to play any game. Different governments have different rules, but they are still present.

When the rules of capitalism are weak the system implodes, as it did in 2008 when mortgage securities fraud caused the U.S. financial system to collapse.

But there is more to the flaws of capitalism than just the need to regulate greed. If the system is designed for imbalance and without government intervention, the natural tilt can easily lead to a two-class society. We are seeing signs of that in America today. As wealth is concentrated in the hands of fewer people, the number of those living in poverty has increased.

Interestingly, the increase in the U.S. poverty data coincides with the Republican war on "welfare" that began decades ago with Ronald Reagan's budget cuts to programs like food stamps, Medicaid, cash assistance and low income housing assistance programs. The trend continued through the G. W. Bush era and has been revived by the conservative governors and congressional representatives that took office after the 2010 elections.

2012 GOP frontrunner candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have both brought forth plans to change the economic balance in America should they become president. Both exacerbate the deficit problem and increase the widening gap between America's rich and poor.

Trickle-down economics has little to no data to support claims that it increases job growth or wages. In reality, as the U.S. tax code has favored the wealthy, the deficit has gotten worse and fewer high wage jobs have been created in the US.

Santorum's "Made in America" tax plan includes numerous tax cuts which decrease government revenue, thus adding to the deficit. Santorum will pay for his tax breaks with cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency to the point where it has little to no power to protect the public from corporate polluters. Santorum would also cut Social Security and Medicare to pay for his tax cuts.

Mitt Romney calls his presidential economic plan Believe in America. Like Santorum's plan, there are great benefits for those who are already wealthy, and deep cuts in programs that help the poor, elderly, disabled and middle class.

In January 2010, I wrote, "It has been said that absolute power corrupts absolutely. This has become more evident as we watch America's economy sink under the weight of lobbyists and Wall Street bookies. We are no longer a country that gives its greatest rewards to those who work the hardest. We have become a nation that financially rewards those who scheme the best."

The obvious question here is which political ideology is truly best for America in 2012? Will one or the other simply reward those who "scheme the best?"

Are Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum really interested in guiding America toward a future where hunger, poverty and lack of healthcare are problems of the past? Will their economic plans bring prosperity to the entire country, or just a select few? The answer lies in the ultimate goals of their ideology.

Few would deny that progressives are historically more in tune with the needs of the working class than conservatives, and that is because the two ideologies do not share the same goals.

Historically, "the goals of the conservative leaders were to preserve the old order......They supported a social hierarchy in which lower classes were expected to respect and obey their social superiors. They urged monarchs to oppose freedom of the press, crush protests in their own countries, and send troops to douse the flames of rebellion in neighboring lands."

The Center for Progressive Leadership states its goals "envision our nation's political leadership reflecting the full diversity of everyone living in the United States" with "lasting policy change that advances equality and social justice."

Both conservatives and progressives share a desire to promote a capitalist society, with the primary debate remaining in the role of government in the process.

However, if you delve into the goals of conservatism you see that it uses government to take capitalism further away from democracy and closer to oligarchy.

The 2012 presidential elections may have a far more lasting effect on capitalism than any election in recent history. America now sits on a precipice of the essence of democracy.

A Republican president in 2012 may lead to more hardship for those who are already struggling because conservatives advocate a diminished government role in economic, environmental policy, and social programs. As a Democrat, President Obama would likely continue to fight for maintaining policies that support reducing inequality in the gap between America's elite and working classes.

The choice in the 2012 elections from a standpoint of preserving democracy could not be more stark.