Are We On the Cusp of a Class War?

19 Sep

Despite what Michelle Bachmann says, the defining issue of our time is not going to be gay marriage.  I think it’s more likely to be terrorism.  But “class warfare” is also going to be a good contender.

For some time now, Sociological Images has been documenting the ever-increasing gap between the very rich and everyone else.  Just a few days ago, Martin Hart-Landsberg wrote that median income has fallen and that poverty rates are rising.

In a speech delivered today, President Obama sided with Warren Buffet and took a firm stance that taxes on the very rich must be raised.  Frank James for NPR posits that:

Along with the jobs bill he introduced last week, the deficit-reduction plan was an opportunity to frame the political debate for the 2012 general election.

Whoever becomes the Republican presidential nominee and Republican congressional candidates will have to explain to voters why the wealthiest Americans shouldn’t pay taxes at rates that are at least as high as those paid by the middle class.

The president is betting he’ll have the better of that argument, especially since polls suggest a substantial majority of Americans agree with him. If 2012 is to be a referendum, he plans to make it not on him but on the rich and their taxes.

This is phenomenal.  For years, liberals have tried and failed to convince voters that U.S. tax policy favors the wealthy, and conservatives have hijacked the dialogue.  Finally, it seems, people understand that the current system is not fair, and that no one is asking the wealthy to pay more than their fair share.

The fact is that Republican proposals to introduce spending cuts without tax increases places the burden largely on the poorest among us – the ones who would be most affected by a reduction in social services like Medicare and Medicaid.  When Republicans tell us we need to tighten our belts, they’re actually just telling poor people that they need to struggle even harder than they already do.

I’m guessing that conservatives already feel that they are losing control of the dialogue.  s.e. smith of This Ain’t Livin’ pointed out over the weekend that Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, a (as far as I’m concerned) seminal sociological work on the working poor in America, has become a challenged book.  Smith says:

Many people in the United States have very set, specific ideas about poverty and what it is like to be poor. This book turns those ideas on their head and forces people to confront some of their own attitudes about poverty. Parents who want their children to believe that people deserve to be poor because they’re lazy and unmotivated, who want their children to believe that anyone can succeed by trying, who want children to believe that those people working in low wage jobs aren’t anybody their children need to worry about, certainly don’t want their kids reading Nickel and Dimed.

While I believe that Nickel and Dimed ought to be required reading for everyone (love that book), I’m going to take the fact that its status as a challenged book is a positive litmus test that tells us that conservatives are scared.  They’re scared that we know what they’ve been playing at.  They’re scared that we’ve all realized that there is a class system in the U.S., and the vast majority of us are not benefiting from it.

Could it possibly be that we’ve finally got the upper hand?


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