(As usual, the agreement with the syndicators means this column appears here a week after its newspaper release)
^(For use by New York Times News Service clients)@<
^By BOB FRANKEN@=
^C.2011 Hearst Newspapers@=
WASHINGTON _ It's outright predictable. Whenever anyone, usually on the left, has the audacity to suggest that the rich should be giving back just a teeny bit more, their paid protectors on the right side of the feedlot will scream: ``CLASS WARFARE!’’
As we all should know, those words are loaded ones, implying that any reform is tantamount to Marxism.
So it was when President Obama outlined his proposals to address the overlapping disasters of the economy _ massive national debt and desperate unemployment. The mere mention of added taxes on the wealthy or subtracted subsidies for their corporations gets the automatic GOP response. ``Class warfare,’’ complained House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. ``Class warfare,’’ muttered House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
It's become so predictable that the president was ready in his Rose Garden presentation earlier this week with a killer sound bite: ``It’s not class warfare, it’s math.’’
At least Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., put on a different spin, going to the floor to sniff: ``This is not a jobs plan, this is a re-election plan.’’
This the same Mitch McConnell who so famously declared, even before this year's congressional firefight had started, that ``the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president’’?
Notwithstanding the hypocritical sanctimony, there is a growing realization that the real class warfare in this country is that being waged by the wealthiest against everyone else.
Study after study reveals the ugly growing chasm between haves and have nots. It's reflected in the Census Bureau report that shows one in six Americans, 15 per cent, in 2010, lived below the poverty line at the bottom of the ladder, while the top 5 per cent control 60 per cent of America's wealth. Up until now, Obama has been frittering away these powerful arguments as he clung to the naivete of compromise and give-and-take with an opposition that was only about take.
There seems to be the sign of an awakening. In the Rose Garden, he took a shot at Boehner for being two faced. “The speaker says we can’t have it ‘My way or the highway,’’ declared Obama, ``and then basically says, `My way _ or the highway.’’’
The president’s new found populism echoes really-really rich guy Warren Buffett. The billionaire Oracle of Omaha declared to NBC that it’s unfair that he only paid the IRS 17.7 percent of the $46 million he made last year, while 15 of the 18 far-lower paid employees in his home office were docked an average of 32.9 percent. That’s because dividends and capital gains are taxed at 15 percent, while regular paychecks can put a wage earner in the 35 percent bracket.
Following in his footsteps could mean Obama is marching on solid ground. A USA Today-Gallup poll released just after the jobs speech found a 2-to-1 majority favoring increasing taxes on the rich. So the ``class warfare’’ chant might be finally recognized as the empty demagoguery it is. Besides, this is a political war where until now the Tea Party hordes have been romping around Washington.
Now Barack Obama has decided to engage the crusaders, replacing accommodation with confrontation. Unfortunately, as the 9 per cent-plus unemployment rate so bitterly demonstrates, this warfare hasn’t succeeded in getting our economy moving again.
It will certainly be after the 2012 election before anybody even tries to bridge all the gaps, IF the two sides haven't destroyed all the bridges.
(Email: bob(at)hearstdc.com; on the Web: www.bobfranken.tv)