The class warfare debate 

When the Republicans accuse President Obama of engaging in "class warfare" by seeking to tax millionaires and corporations that dodge taxes, they frame the coming election in exactly the terms that the president and the Democrats ought to demand.

If Obama can't win that debate, he isn't Harry Truman, or Franklin Roosevelt or even Woodrow Wilson. William Jennings Bryan, maybe. They all fomented war between the classes, at least according to the GOP, and only Bryan, who ran to "honor God and please mankind," didn't prevail with the voters. Obama wouldn't even be Teddy Roosevelt or Dwight Eisenhower, who insisted against the tugs of their party that the rich and the trusts not be given special privilege by the government.

Deficits and the rapidly expanding national debt are the only issue for the Tea Party dominion that now runs the Republican Party. So Obama this week proposed slackening the debt growth by $3 trillion over the next decade, half of it by shutting down the Iraq and Afghan wars and embroidering on the Medicare and Medicaid savings in the new health-insurance law and half by restoring higher taxes on the richest Americans and closing tax loopholes for the most profitable businesses.

House Speaker John Boehner said the debt package had to be big cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and not a dime more taxes on the "job creators," tax-dodging corporations and millionaires.

The president picked up on billionaire Warren Buffett's now-famous op-ed piece last month in The New York Times, in which he said people of vast wealth like him should be called on to make a greater sacrifice for the good of the nation. Obama's plan would require those reporting $1 million a year or more in net income to pay at least the same effective tax rate as middle-class Americans. In a 2007 speech in New York Buffett said he was taxed at 17.7 percent on the $46 million in net profits he made that year (a bad year for him) while his secretary, who earned $60,000, was taxed at 30 percent. A big venture capitalist calculated that he paid a lower rate than his cleaning lady.

Asked if that was engaging in class war, Buffett replied that it was indeed. That war has been waged since the 1980s, he said, "but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning." It was in the '80s, under Ronald Reagan, when the highest marginal tax rate was lowered from 74 to 28 percent and the tax burden was shifted more heavily to the working class in the form of higher payroll and excise taxes.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell called Obama's plan "class warfare."

But if fiscal and tax policy is class warfare on the Democrats' side why isn't it on the Republican side? Who will bear the cost of government and in what proportions are the essence of fairness and justice. It is the heart of every debate over tax reform, which the Republicans say they want to have.

Boehner said debt reduction must come about from shaving benefits from Social Security and the government health-insurance programs, mainly Medicare and Medicaid. Obama said he was willing to make big changes there but not if the elderly, poor and middle class were the only ones called upon to sacrifice.

He didn't carry the correlation far enough. Government-worker pension programs and Social Security taxes paid by the middle class made it possible for George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan to give the big tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans by soaking up roughly $3.5 trillion of the debt they created at near zero interest. Otherwise, we would owe another $3.5 trillion or so to communist China and the OPEC countries. Was that class war or merely surrender?

Obama ought to take a few pages from Truman, who endured the taunts of class war.

"I have told the people that there is just one big issue in this campaign and that's the people against the special interests," he said in the 1948 campaign. The special interests were the rich, Wall Street and the big corporations.

The national debt stood at nearly 120 percent of GDP, the accumulation of the Great Depression and World War II, which is much higher than today. After that campaign, Truman pushed through increases in the marginal tax rates in order to combat the debt growth. Eisenhower, who followed him, rejected his party's efforts to cut taxes. Finally, a Democrat, John F. Kennedy, set about to lower them when the depression and war debts were paid off.

The egghead Woodrow Wilson may be better suited than Truman to Obama. Here is Wilson's inaugural lament at the uneven sacrifice made by workers and the owners in the country's great industrial boom:

"We have not hitherto stopped thoughtfully enough to count the human cost, the cost of lives snuffed out, of energies overtaxed and broken, the fearful physical and spiritual cost to the men and women and children upon whom the dead weight and burden of it all has fallen pitilessly the years through. The groans and agony of it all had not yet reached our ears, the solemn, moving undertone of our life, coming up out of the mines and factories, and out of every home where the struggle had its intimate and familiar seat. With the great Government went many deep secret things which we too long delayed to look into and scrutinize with candid, fearless eyes. The great Government we loved has too often been made use of for private and selfish purposes, and those who used it had forgotten the people."


From the ArkTimes store

Speaking of Class Warfare, John Boehner

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

More by Ernest Dumas

  • Renowned reporter and author Roy Reed dies at 87

    Obituary by Ernie Dumas.
    • Dec 11, 2017
  • Tax lies

    If Aristotle's famous principle can be stretched from the theater of art to the theater of politics, we may soon discover whether the Republican tax cuts will challenge the public's "willing suspension of disbelief."
    • Dec 7, 2017
  • Not net neutral

    The Washington swamp that Donald Trump was going to drain gets deeper and wider every week.
    • Nov 30, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • No tax help for Trump

    The big conundrum is supposed to be why Donald Trump does so well among white working-class people, particularly men, who do not have a college education.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • Dollars and degrees

    Governor Hutchinson says a high graduation rate (ours is about the lowest) and a larger quotient of college graduates in the population are critical to economic development. Every few months there is another, but old, key to unlocking growth.
    • Aug 25, 2016

Most Shared

  • Conflicts of interest in the legislatures

    The Center for Public Integrity and the Associated Press collaborated for a project aimed at highlighting state legislators whose lawmaking might be affected by private business interests.
  • Industrial hemp pilot program coming soon to Arkansas

    One of the booths at this week's Ark-La-Tex Medical Cannabis Expo was hosted by the Arkansas Hemp Association, a trade group founded to promote and expand non-intoxicating industrial hemp as an agricultural crop in the state. AHA Vice President Jeremy Fisher said the first licenses to grow experimental plots of hemp in the state should be issued by the Arkansas State Plant Board next spring.
  • Cats and dogs

    I've always been leery of people who dislike animals. To my wife and me, a house without dog hair in the corners and a cat perched on the windowsill is as barren as a highway rest stop. We're down to three dogs and two cats, the smallest menagerie we've had for years.

Latest in Ernest Dumas

  • Tax lies

    If Aristotle's famous principle can be stretched from the theater of art to the theater of politics, we may soon discover whether the Republican tax cuts will challenge the public's "willing suspension of disbelief."
    • Dec 7, 2017
  • Not net neutral

    The Washington swamp that Donald Trump was going to drain gets deeper and wider every week.
    • Nov 30, 2017
  • Selling tax cuts

    Making tax law is always pretty simple, despite the arcane references to S corporations, pass-throughs, carried-interest deductions and the like, which define the ways that lots of rich people get their income.
    • Nov 23, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »


  1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Where cities go from here

    • So Florida says he was wrong the first time and the second time he says…

    • on December 10, 2017
  • Re: Cats and dogs

    • Dee-lightful column - and wonderfully written comments.

    • on December 10, 2017
  • Re: GOP contempt

    • If ineptitude and irrelevance had a poster boy, it would be Gene Lyons. He harangues…

    • on December 10, 2017

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation