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An Open Discussion of Class Warfare -- "Of Course You Realize This Has Meant War"

05/18/2006 09:11 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I have no idea where the original quote, with which I so playfully kibbitz, comes from. "Of course you realize this means war" -- I associate it with a Bugs Bunny cartoon, by which I probably mean, a Daffy Duck cartoon, since I was a Daffy Duck man, albeit in the form of a small child. But it had the twang and snap of a line that must have been famous out in the real, non-cartoon world, that the writers had wittily (or lazily) appropriated. It felt like it was probably funny, but I had no idea where it came from or what it meant.

(There's also this scene, engraved on the brain of my mind in images of [black and white] fire: Small Child Standing at Shut Double-Doors of Saloon Entrance: "Is my father in there?" Gruff Voice from Inside Dark Saloon: "Get away from those swinging doors!" I saw this scene in enough cartoons to sense that it was a reference to something, but what? I still don't know. But now that the Internet provides access to all possible human knowledge, I'm sure someone will write in and tell me.)

Arianna's recent comment about class warfare reminded me that it's a term that drives me crazy and that I can't stop thinking about for a single second. Read what she wrote HERE: (No, it's not a link. It's an announcement that I'm about to cut and paste a quote from her "here".) Okay, not there. HERE:

The GOP attack machine will predictably trot out their by now tattered and yellowing talking points about "class warfare." Democrats should simply ignore them and start talking in a coherent way about outsourcing and trade in a way they will be unable to while they remain in the thrall of corporate contributions.

Two things: First (and uncharacteristically for A.H.), that second sentence needs some help -- the "they" refers to Republicans but seems to refer to Dems, and sends one into a petit-mal seizure of mental confusion, but in a bad way.

But never mind that. Here's the other thing:

Yes, when someone addresses inequities (which is the polite word for "theft") in the tax code or denounces the suppression of the minimum wage, Republicans cry "class warfare." They invoke it as though a) they know what it means, b) the people they're debating know what it means, and c) the listening or viewing public knows what it means.

May I loftily suggest that none of those situations "obtains"? Rather, "class warfare" by now has just as much meaning and impact as the above-referenced cartoon quotes, and the listening-viewing public are as children, somehow sensing that it means something, but not sure what, and not sure why it's bad.

Let's stipulate that it means "the conscious struggle of each socio-economic class to maximize its wealth and power at the expense of all others." I made that up, and I must say I find it rather persuasive.

The question then becomes: So big fat what? Yes, they invoke at as though "engaging in class warfare" is the most unthinkable and anti-American of mortal sins. They deliver it in the same tones of moral horror and wised-up, sophisticated disapproval the rest of us have used when, at one time or another, we have been compelled to say about a certain objectionable mode of conduct, "But...but you're talking about cannibalism."

But that's their ploy, don't you know. The unthinkability they impute to class warfare is a bogus add-on, borne of their desire not to have to think about it while nonetheless engaging in it. Because seriously: What is so shocking, or terrible, or bad, about class warfare, that isn't already a familiar aspect of our daily political and economic lives? What, as the young hepcats say, is the big deal?

First, "class" in America is notoriously hard to define; an entire acre on the subject has just been published by Andrew Hacker in the N.Y. Review of Books, and while I haven't finished it yet, I have every intention of doing so, and my sense is that he doesn't know how to define class either.

Second, never mind first. Here is the salient nub of the gist: Of course there is class warfare. Republicans know it, because they wage it all day, every day. What are the Preznidential tax cuts, if not a D-Day assault in their unending campaign to take from the middle class and give to themselves? What is their relentless drive to privatize, if not an effort to impoverish the public sphere (where the middle class lives) and enrich the private? (Cf., in this regard, my next post of Huff, in which -- you'll love this -- I announce that I am privatizing myself.)

Here is what Democrats should do: First, they should goad and bait and encourage Republicans to accuse them of waging class warfare. And here is what they should then reply, conveniently separated into its own paragraph for easy cutting and pasting into DNC talking points memos:

"YOU'RE DAMN RIGHT IT'S CLASS WARFARE. IT'S A WAR THAT YOU DECLARED AND STARTED, SIR (or SENATOR or MADAME or MR. PREZNIT or ASSHOLE). YOUR PARTY DECLARED WAR ON THE MIDDLE AND LOWER CLASS IN THE NINETEEN EIGHTIES AND YOU'VE BEEN WAGING IT EVER SINCE. AND NOW WE'RE FIGHTING BACK."

Then, when the bloviating Repub counters with -- well, with what? With "we're all in this together"? With "Republicans are trying to unite America while Democrats are trying to divide it"? With "Get away from those swinging doors"? Who cares?

It will all be the usual lies and ad hominem slurs and misdirection anyway. Democrats should then say, "My god, sir (or madame, asshole, etc.). Can't you at least have the common decency to admit that you're waging class war? Under this president, the most fabulous nickname of whom I've seen thus far is 'Chimpy McFlightsuit,' the rich have gotten richer and everyone else has gotten poorer. Isn't that bad enough, without you lying about the fact that you're doing it? Isn't it bad enough that you spend millions and employ thousands to suck resources from ninety percent of the population to make the other ten percent even fatter than it already is? Even Hitler was honest enough to call what he was pursuing 'war.' And you're as honest as Hitler, aren't you?"

Okay, the Hitler part -- as all Hitler parts are -- is maybe too much. But the rest is perfect and should be recited verbatim, with suitable citation and credit afforded to me.

You transform what they hope to wield as a term of extreme opprobrium into a moral and political boomerang, and watch as, like in The Road Warrior, it chops their hand off.

Come on, Arianna, tell me I'm wrong. Reader, tell me this isn't simply a verbal acknowledgment that everyone, including the lamest, most timid Democrat in Congress, has known for decades.

Don't ignore the charge. Elicit the charge. Welcome, embrace, and give a big kiss to the charge, and then use it against them. Because of course you agree. Of course you realize this is how it has been. Of course you realize this is how it is. Of course you realize this means war.