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Michael B. Keegan

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The Imaginary Class War

Posted: 09/23/11 12:38 PM ET

Suppose they threw a class war and nobody came?

The Republican Party is up in arms this week in response to President Obama's proposal to help close the deficit by requiring the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share of taxes. Specifically, the president has proposed the "Buffett Rule," named for billionaire Warren Buffett, which would ensure that millionaires pay as fair a share in income tax as do all working Americans. In response, GOP budget guru Rep. Paul Ryan resurrected one of his party's favorite talking points, calling the proposal "class warfare." Others have been following his rhetorical lead. In last night's GOP debate in Florida, Mitt Romney asserted that "the president's party wants to take from some people and give to others" and Newt Gingrich insisted that people on unemployment insurance are getting paid "for doing nothing." Republican leaders seem to be preparing for an all-out assault from low-and-middle income Americans whom they bizarrely believe are intent on stealing their cash.

The Republicans' "class warfare" accusation is both ironic and cynical.

It's ironic because, in the midst of the current economic and jobs crisis, where a huge number of Americans are desperately hurting -- with homes underwater, with unemployment insurance running out and health insurance gone, with kids in over-crowded classrooms in buildings that are decaying -- the rich are getting richer and large corporations are sitting on record profits. Income inequality in the U.S. is at its highest since the precarious days of the late 1920s. One third of Americans who were raised in middle class households can fall out of the middle class as adults. A political elite beholden to the wealthiest CEOs has pursued policies that take money out of the pockets of the neediest to create ever-larger tax breaks for the wealthy. The richest one percent of Americans now earn almost a quarter of the country's income and control 40 percent of its wealth -- a level of inequality not seen since the days before Social Security and Medicare and the social safety net as we know it. If there is "warfare" going on between the "haves" and the "have nots" it's pretty clear who is waging war on whom.

Even more, this claim of "class warfare" that Republicans are touting is something quite dangerous. It's an expression of a deeply cynical vision of our country, in which everyone is out for themselves, the suffering of the least fortunate is of no consequence to the most fortunate, and the American dream is off-limits to those who have lost their footing in a devastating economy. Fortunately, this is a vision that most people wholeheartedly reject. The task of our elected officials is to stop assuming the worst about their constituents' insensitivity to the plight of their fellow Americans, to stop trying to pit us against each other and to start working toward an economic policy that works for everyone. Struggling Americans don't want to take the American dream away from those who have achieved it and successful Americans don't want to see their fellow citizens slip into permanent poverty.

The "class warfare" Republicans decry is all in the heads -- and the destructive policies -- of a small number of political leaders. While all but a few Republicans in Congress have signed a pledge to never raise taxes on corporations or the wealthy, the majority of Americans are much more pragmatic. According to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, a whopping 71 percent of Americans -- including 86 percent of moderates and 74 percent of independents -- think that any plan to reduce the deficit should include both spending cuts and tax increases. 56 percent, including large majorities of moderates and independents said that wealthier Americans should pitch in and pay higher taxes to help reduce the deficit. A Gallup poll this week found that 53 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaners support the president's plan to eliminate corporate tax loopholes (a major element of the alleged "class warfare"), and majorities of GOP respondents supported spending that extra revenue on hiring public employees, funding public works projects and cutting payroll taxes on small businesses.

The Republicans' invocation of "class warfare" is a political ploy that the vast majority of Americans want no part of. Warren Buffett is not alone.

 

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