WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama should stop talking about the middle class because it turns people against rich Americans, who should be embraced as the Michael Jordans of the U.S. economy, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said Monday.
Declaring that the use of the phrase "middle class" is "misguided and wrong and even dangerous," Kyl argued in a Senate floor speech that Obama is "spreading economic resentment [that] weakens American values" and ignoring "the uniquely meritocratic basis of our society."
“We have a president who talks incessantly about class, particularly the middle class,” Kyl said.
"I just think the whole discussion of class is wrong. It's not what we do here in America," said Kyl, the Senate minority whip. He added, "I don't think there's anything called 'middle class values' that are different from the values of other people in this country. Tell me what's different about the values of someone who the president identifies as middle class?"
Democrats have long argued that the nation's tax system favors the wealthy, and with the economic downturn, inequality has reached levels not seen since the roaring '20s.
Over the winter, the Occupy Wall Street movement focused popular attention on the divide between the top 1 percent and the rest of the country, with organizers arguing that it was time to stop rigging the system to favor rich, corporate special interests while the rest suffer. Democrats have embraced that message on the campaign trail, with some success.
But Kyl said he sees the rich very differently -- more like sports heroes along the line of Chicago Bulls great Michael Jordan.
"When Michael Jordan came, after he established how great he would be, he was given an enormous, almost unheard of salary. Did the other players say, 'That's not fair?' No, actually all the other players got big salary increases, too," Kyl said. "The whole franchise did well, the people selling popcorn, the people parking the cars ... made more money than they ever would have had Michael Jordan never came to the team."
Kyl's remarks come in the context of the Senate's debate this week on whether to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for not just people earning under $250,000, but for the wealthiest Americans as well.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.