Obama’s fiscal plan: Class warfare or a fair shake for the middle class?
To the delight of his supporters, President Barack Obama drew a line in the sand Monday, and practically invited congressional Republicans to step over it.
Seeking to reduce the national debt by $3 trillion over 10 years, Obama informed Congress he would “veto any bill that changes benefits for those who rely on Medicare but does not raise serious revenues by asking the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations to pay their fair share.”
He assured middle-class voters, “We are not going to have a one-sided deal that hurts the folks who are most vulnerable.”
Proposing to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy Obama stated, “Middle-class taxpayers shouldn’t pay higher taxes than millionaires and billionaires. That’s pretty straight forward.” He added, “It’s hard to argue against that.”
Apparently, Obama doesn’t understand congressional Republicans yet. Of course they can argue with that.
They have spent the last two years proving they can argue against anything proposed by the Obama administration.
According to economist Richard Wolfe, Republicans always respond to demands that the wealthy pay a larger share of federal taxes in one of two ways. First, Wolfe writes, they raise a cry of “class warfare,” to pit the “working class against corporations and the rich.”
Second, Wolfe says, they claim “such proposals would take money for the government that would have been invested in production and thus created jobs.”
Although Wolfe says, “neither logic nor evidence supports either claim,” Republicans were quick to make both charges against the Obama administration this week.
Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, accused Obama of appealing to Americans’ “fear, envy and anxiety” by raising taxes on people earning over $1 million annually. This ” class warfare path,” he said, “would only hurt the economy.”
Having neither logic nor evidence to support his position, Ryan turned to Republican ideology for support.
Once the rallying cry for workers, women, minorities and other groups seeking to assert their civil rights, the term “class warfare” was co-opted by Republicans to designate a threat from the middle class to appropriate some of rich people’s wealth to serve the common good.
In the 1950s, “class warfare” became associated with Marxism, anti-capitalism and anti-Americanism. The John Birch Society was the tea party counterpart then, and Sen. Joe McCarthy was its man in Congress.
One of the Birchers’ great fears was the ever-present threat of “class warfare” in America. Many of them believed it came with the civil rights movement.
When Ronald Reagan, who frequently used “class warfare,” charges to denigrate his opponents, became president, the term had become a pejorative epithet for any group challenging the economic status quo.
It continued to be used to distract Americans from growing economic disparity through both Bush administrations. Today the concept that “class warfare” could threaten the safety of the rich and their money has become ingrained in the conservative Republican psyche.
Obama’s proposal was offered as part of a comprehensive rewrite of the tax code so that working American families would not pay a greater percentage of their earning in taxes than the wealthy. “I reject the idea that asking the hedge-fund manager to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or teacher is class warfare. I just do,” the president said.
Though Obama rejects the “class warfare” narrative, billionaire Warren Buffett does not. He said in 2008, “There’s class warfare, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making the war and we’re winning.”
As Wolfe pointed out, “the federal income tax on the richest individuals fell from 91 percent to the current 35 percent” over the past 50 years. “Yet, Republicans … use the term ‘class warfare’ for what Obama proposes — and never for what the past five decades have accomplished in shifting the tax burden from the rich and corporations to the working class.”
If Obama succeeds in changing the narrative on taxes to emphasize the responsibility of the rich to pay their fair share, he may once more capture the White House with a campaign theme of “change we can believe in.”