Republicans reinvent “class warfare”

Yesterday President Obama introduced a new plan to decrease the deficit by another $3 trillion that includes a combination of spending reductions, efficiency goals for programs like Medicare, and tax increases for the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans. Republicans are decrying the plan as “class warfare” in an ugly and disingenuous inversion of that phrase. Obama countered the claim by defending the simple principle that those Americans who can afford to pay more taxes should do so on that basis. After all, wealthier Americans reap the harvest of all the hard work that the rest of Americans do, so it stands to reason they should pay more as matter of fairness.

The Republican charge raises the following critical questions. What, exactly, is “class warfare”? Why do Republicans believe Obama’s proposal is an example of it?

The term “class warfare” is traditionally used by Marxists, communists, socialists, and anarchists of all stripes to describe the inherent tension between, and conflict generated by, competition between different socio-economic classes. Specifically, the conflict between workers and capitalists. Historically, Americans have naively assumed that there are no “classes” in this country because of the widely believed myth that “anything is possible” or that social mobility of the “rags-to-riches” sort is uniquely American. Surveys done during the Great Depression showed that a large majority of Americans did not believe there were classes, despite the fact that a large majority of them were standing in job lines, bread lines, or starving. (Financial collapse caused by unregulated speculation and unchecked greed? Sound familiar.)

Today, this myth is still widely believed. In part, this is what has made the Republicans so successful at capturing the imagination of populist middle America in which people regularly vote against their own economic interests in order to prop up a façade of traditional values. (Free markets and preservation of traditional values? Contradiction? Anyone? Anyone?) Thanks to unregulated capitalism without democratic accountability most people in Middle America live poorer lives than their coastal counterparts, a fact made clear by the redistribution of taxes in which every $1 in taxes paid by Blue States subsidizes $3 in federal spending going to Red States. Yet, people in Red States have lower incomes and shop more at Wal-Mart. (Have you read Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas? You should.)

What do Republicans mean by “class warfare”? Are they saying that Obama’s tax plan creates conflict between classes by making the wealthiest Americans pay more than their fair share? Does this imply that they are already paying their fair share? Exactly what is their fair share?

Republicans have yet to state clearly what a fair principle of taxation is. The idea that flat tax is more fair in a system where people have radically unequal incomes is like saying that people should be paid the same because everyone makes an equal contribution to the goods and services produced. If the Republicans’ understanding of “fairness” is anything like their understanding of “free and fair” elections, you can be sure it will not be based on “one person, one vote.” If you have more money, you should be able to influence the outcome of elections. That’s their view of the matter.

The charge that Obama’s tax plan is “class warfare” is therefore blowing smoke up the ass of most middle-class Americans. The fact is that Republicans (and most Democrats alike) serve the interests of the wealthy. Campaigns and elections are funded primarily by wealthy individuals, PACs, and corporate contributions. Perhaps Obama’s tax plan should be considered a democratic tax on wealthy people buying elections and influence. That seems more accurate, and fair as a principle, than anything the Republicans have come up with, including their outrageous defense of a flat tax, which is only fair in a situation where everybody is paid the same. In that case, perhaps everyone should be paid the same. That would make an end to “class warfare” for sure. ::KPS::