(This is this week's newspaper column which does not, for some reason, appear on the paper's website, although it is in the print version. One of the paper's conservative columnists has noted that his column doesn't appear either. We're trying to find out why. Stay tuned. )
One of the most widely used and abused right wing buzzwords of this wild and wacky century is "class warfare." Sometimes it seems as if it's the knee-jerk wingnut answer to everything. Point out the growing inequality of income in America, in which the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and more numerous, and the middle class is getting smaller and being squeezed harder? They won't bother denying it, they'll just complain that mentioning it is "class warfare." Propose a tax hike on the wealthiest Americans to pay for upgrades to American infrastructure (and in doing so, create more jobs for the companies who do the upgrading)? "Class warfare!" the Teahadists sputter.
Well, after hearing the whining of Louisiana representative John Fleming, I'm saying "so what if it is?" Fleming, who owns a chain of Subway restaurants and UPS stores back home, recently appeared on MSNBC and complained that by the time he paid taxes, paid all his bills, and "fed his family" he had "maybe, $400,000 left over to invest in new locations, upgrade my locations, buy more equipment." When host Chris Jansing pointed out that he probably wasn't going to get a lot of sympathy pointing out that he "only" had 400K left over after expenses, the poor little rich boy went immediately to the standard fall-back, saying "class warfare never created jobs."
I've got to tell you, Congressman Fleming, when you consider that your buddies in Congress oppose President Obama's plan to cut payroll taxes, which affect primarily middle and working class people, yet continue to insist on tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, that sounds an awful lot like class warfare to me. When you consider that that 400K you regard as so paltry is the equivalent of eight median household incomes ($50,000 was the average in 2010, down 2.3 percent from the year before)....well, it makes me want to reach for a torch and a pitchfork, build a guillotine in the front yard, and say, to paraphrase Patrick Henry, "if this be class warfare, let us make the most of it."
As for the tired old protest that higher taxes on wealthy people are "punishing success,” I refer you to Massachusetts Senatorial Candidate Elizabeth Warren. You may remember Warren as the woman who helped oversee the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that the Republicans in Congress are now striving mightily to strangle in its crib. She was recently at a campaign event in Andover and delivered an epic smackdown to the myth of the "self-made American millionaire," saying: "There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
Doggone right. Here's the thing. If there's one unshakable rule of economics, it's that stuff costs money. Roads, highways and bridges cost money. Schools cost money. A powerful military costs money, especially when it’s in two wars. Police cost money, as the NC Highway Patrol showed us when they had to suspend their training academy indefinitely, because of budget cuts--cuts necessitated by the Republican-controlled legislature's refusal to consider tax increases.
Let's face it: civilization is expensive. Right wingers like to rail against "freeloaders," but it's the people who become successful because society provides the infrastructure and the freedom to use it, and who then refuse to help pay for it, that are freeloading.
If you're a member of the middle class, keep one thing in mind: When multimillionaire politicians or pundits or talk show hosts start hollering about "class warfare," while opposing tax breaks for the middle class and defending them for the wealthy, they want you to pay for the civilization that made their success possible. They've already declared war. On you.