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Thursday, September 22, 2011

CLARENCE PAGE: "Politics Has Always Been About Class Warfare". YEP!

Politics has always been about class warfare

Class warfare seems to be popping up everywhere these days. It must be campaign season.

Check out this sound bite: “I’m not for tax cuts for the rich. The rich can take care of themselves. I want to get America working again. And so I want to make sure that whatever we do in the tax code, we’re not giving a windfall to the very wealthy.”

No, that was not President Barack Obama, whose latest “fair share” tax and deficit reduction plan has received a predictable pummeling from Republicans charging him with “class warfare.” It is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, speaking last month to voters in Portsmouth, N.H., about his own plans for tax fairness.

A day earlier, Romney’s fellow Republican presidential candidate front-runner, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, said this about corporate giant General Electric’s use of loopholes to reduce their federal taxes last year to zero: “I can’t explain that,” Perry said. “The idea because you have a good relationship with the political world in Washington, D.C., ... is not a good enough reason for you not to pay your fair share of taxes.”

“Fair share?” Whenever Democrats speak of “fair share,” conservatives reflexively hear “class warfare.” Such was the Republican response to the $3.6 trillion “fair share” deficit reduction plan that the president unveiled last week.

Yet, conservatives have long understood a populist reality that Obama has been reluctant to face: Class warfare works, but call it something else - like fairness.

Voters have a keen sense of fairness, especially when they detect somebody is being unfair to them. “The rich get the gold mine and the middle class gets the shaft,” said candidate Bill Clinton to great effect in his successful 1992 presidential campaign. “It’s wrong and it’s going to ruin the country.”

He was picking up on a fairness theme that began to turn the nation’s political tide a year earlier. After a decade of Ronald Reagan-era conservative dominance, Pennsylvania Democrat Harris Wofford won an upset senatorial election victory in 1991 with populist appeals like this: “If every criminal deserves to have a lawyer, why can’t every working person deserve to have a doctor?”

That’s fair. A simple straightforward appeal like that might have saved Obama a lot of headaches in his own health care push. And a continued sell job by the president on behalf of the nation’s uninsured and under-insured might have reassured the public against the relentless drumbeat of the anti-“Obamacare” crowd.

Until now, fighting for his ideas and promoting his presidential achievements have not been high on Obama’s agenda, much to the consternation of his supporters. But with employment, public morale and his approval ratings hitting new lows, No-Drama Obama is starting to talk tough, pushing with new vigor his “balanced approach” that includes ending the Bush-era tax cuts for “millionaires and billionaires.”

In response comes the charge of “class warfare,” as if the fairness of our nation’s progressive tax system - a central element of the Democratic agenda - were some sort of a Marxist clash of the classes against one another.

Yet, neither party lacks class cards or shyness about playing them. Ask Perry, a master of the poverty-snob card in his battle against “elites,” including some of his fellow Republicans.

“As a son of tenant farmers, I can tell you: I wasn’t born with four aces in my hand,” he told Iowa voters, playing off a line that Romney used in their debates. Romney attributed Texas’ economic successes to trends that preceded Perry’s governorship. “If you’re dealt four aces,” said Romney, “that doesn’t make you necessarily a great poker player.”

Perry raised the umbrage and resentment cards. “There’s some folks back in Texas who are real offended by that,” he said in Iowa, despite Romney’s repeated praise for the greatness of the Lone Star State and its people. “We work hard in Texas.” Perry couldn’t resist the implication that his biggest GOP rival is some sort of elitist.

And as Republicans charge Obama’s “fair share” plan with class warfare, they might take note of this Perry appeal for a new business tax in 2005, quoted in the Texas Tribune in 2005 and retrieved by the Atlantic Wire website’s Elspeth Reeve: “The goal is to create greater tax fairness, not a greater tax burden on the people of Texas.”

That’s right. “Tax fairness” isn’t just for Democrats.



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