THE BLOG
01/21/2015 01:59 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Is Obama's State of Union Speech a Call for Class Warfare?

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We hear it every time raising taxes on the rich are even suggested. The phrase "class warfare" comes up. Yesterday Sen. Orrin Hatch, the new President pro temp ore of the Senate and Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, used the phrase to describe financial measures proposed in Obama's State of the Union message.

But what is class warfare exactly? Using the term evokes the Russian Revolution and the killing of the Tsar and his family. It suggests the Cuban Revolution and all those Miamians who had business and lost them, and thus is a red-baiting term along with "redistribution" of wealth, which Hatch also used yesterday.

The two terms -- class warfare and redistribution of wealth -- are meant to scare the average voter into supporting Republican financial measures, which are largely pro-business and pro-Wall Street. To disguise that intent, the Republicans like to use the term "job-creators" instead of big business, and they always refer to "small business" if they have to use the "B" word, to make them seem more democratic. But make no mistake about it, the Republican party is still the party of the wolves of Wall Street, try as they may to don workers' clothing.

So it goes like this -- cut taxes on the rich, cut regulations on big business, and you'll allow the magic hand of commerce to invisibly control the economy -- which will of course recover in its newfound liberation. Free the free market!

But there is another story. Businesses pay workers. Businesses need to keep costs down to increase profits. One of the ways they keep costs down is pay workers the lowest possible wages and buy materials at the lowest possible costs. Unregulated capitalism goes through boom and bust cycles. When the cycle booms, everyone is happy. When the cycle goes bust, workers are fired. Wages are reduced. And business owners try to walk away with as much capital as they can.

In this scenario, workers and businesses are linked together, but not in the familial way that Republicans like to describe. Workers without unions are dispensable parts of a financial system that doesn't really have morality or ethics. Workers and businesses are linked at the hip, but business has the scalpel to cut that bond. The relationship is, if not a war, then a continuous battle. It is a battle by definition. It only becomes "class warfare" if workers want raises or the government wants to have businesses pay higher taxes.

So it is not as if there was "class peace" all along. It's just that no one put up big banners to say the relationship between workers and businesses is either in a temporary truce or an ongoing conflict. The only people who cry "class warfare" are those whose wealthy classes who have gotten a free pass for the moment.