Keeling: Class warfare may be just what we need

job destroyers, outsourcers thrive as middle class shrinks

Herald-leader columnistJuly 15, 2012 

Economic doldrums persist. Unemployment numbers missed Isaac Newton's gravity memo. Americans — including (gasp!) some Republican politicians in tight races — like individual elements of Obamacare. But it's at best a 50-50 issue taken as a whole, with most polls showing the antis ahead of the pros.

So, what's an incumbent president looking for an encore to do? Why, start a little "class warfare," of course. At least that's what Republicans accuse President Barack Obama of doing by suggesting households with annual incomes of $250,000 or more really don't need another extension of the Bush-era tax cuts.

Mitt Romney, Obama's presumptive Republican opponent, responded to the president's proposal by saying, "The very idea of raising taxes on small businesses and job creators at the very time we need more jobs is the sort of thing only an extreme liberal can come up with."

Are these the same "job creators" who created just 80,000 jobs in June and less than 80,000 each in April and May? Looks like they've been sleeping on the job. Or just hoarding their extra money.

Besides, various polls have shown a majority of Americans favor letting the tax cuts expire for people earning the big bucks. A Washington Post-Bloomberg News Poll conducted in October 2011 found that even 54 percent of respondents who leaned Republican supported raising taxes on households earning $250,000 or more per year. And I just can't get my mind around the idea that 54 percent of people who tilt R qualify as extreme liberals, which they would have to be according to Romney's comment.

But let's not get picky. Romney's locked and loaded to fire off all the right focus group-vetted buzz words and catch phrases throughout the rest of the campaign. For that matter, so is Obama. And even some congressional Democrats argue against eliminating the tax cuts for households earning between $250,000 and $1 million.

Economically, the difference between these two thresholds could have some significance. I don't know what it is, so I will leave it to folks who know a whole lot more about economics than I do to define it. Politically, I don't think it matters whether Democrats push for the 250 G's threshold (the top 2 percent of household incomes) or the cool million cutoff (the top 1 percent).

What matters for Democrats, if they want to have a chance of holding onto the White House and at least one chamber of Congress, is for them to get together, pick a number and let the class warfare over tax cuts for the wealthy begin. On this issue, the polls indicate they are on the side of the angels (or at least a substantial majority of the public) while the rest of this year's political landscape looks like hostile territory for them.

And a decent case can be made that 98 percent (or 99 percent) of Americans have been on the receiving end of a class warfare waged by the rich, aided by their political mercenaries in Congress and state legislatures and their propagandists on talk radio and TV, for more than 30 years.

The earnings gap between the wealthiest 1 percent or 2 percent and the rest of Americans steadily increased during those decades and is now so ludicrously wide it would be a source of national shame in some developed countries. The middle class shrank. The numbers of the working poor grew.

Far too often, Romney's "job creators" played the role of "job exporters" if not outright "job killers." The latter designation seems particularly appropriate in the supposed recovery from this lingering Great Recession. What these folks learned from the massive layoffs and widespread furloughs accompanying the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression is they can demand equal or increased productivity from fewer employees earning less money and get it because the workers still on the job fear more layoffs and furloughs are coming. This is the new American business template.

Meanwhile, a modern band of "robber barons" whose greed, chutzpah and incompetence wind up tanking their companies at the expense of workers and investors alike walk away with golden parachutes worth tens, even hundreds of millions of dollars. And with the help of savvy financial advisers, they probably can figure out a way to avoid paying any parachute tax.

All things considered, a little class warfare might not be a bad thing for this country, regardless of which political party benefits. Maybe it would remind us of the egalitarian principles cherished by our founding fathers when they established this democratic republic we all call home.

At least until we become sufficiently wealthy to renounce our citizenship and flee to some tax haven abroad, leaving only the huddled masses to pay the piper in the land that made it possible for us to strike it rich enough to hire those political mercenaries and propagandists.

Reach Larry Dale Keeling at lkeeling@herald-leader.com.

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