WHAT OTHERS SAY: In debt talks, another battle in war against working class

Thursday, July 28, 2011 | 6:52 p.m. CDT

Sen. Mike Lee, a tea party Republican from Utah, was on Fox News Monday night with this reaction to President Barack Obama's position on debt reduction: "Class warfare, as much fun as it may be for the president, is not going to solve this problem."

Earlier Monday, hedge fund manager Daniel S. Loeb of Third Point Capital accused Mr. Obama of "stirring up class warfare" against "hard-working successful Americans."

And then there's Rush Limbaugh, who says Mr. Obama's intention "is for one group of Americans to hate and despise another group."

Well, we're concerned about class warfare, too. Our concern is that for 30 years or more, the wealthy have been waging — and winning — a silent war against the working class.

The battlefield is strewn with casualties. More than 14.1 million people are without jobs, many of them with little hope of ever getting a decent job again. More than 3 million families have lost their homes to foreclosure.

Income disparity is at record levels: In the past three decades, the richest 20 percent of households took almost every dime of income gains. The top 1 percent had four times the gains of even the second-wealthiest 19 percent.

Things are bad enough for white families — new data compiled by the Pew Research Centers found that median household wealth for white families dropped 16 percent from 2005 to 2009. But African-Americans saw household wealth drop by 53 percent and Hispanics saw their wealth plunge by two-thirds.

But if Mr. Obama — after conceding vast swaths of the battlefield to Republicans — has the temerity to suggest ending the tax break on corporate jets as a tiny step in reducing deficits, Mr. Lee accuses him of fomenting class warfare.

If Mr. Obama proposes that hedge fund managers like Mr. Loeb (estimated 2010 income: $100 million to $150 million) pay income taxes at 35 percent instead of capital gains taxes at 15 percent, he's accused of stirring up class warfare.

This is a little like Admiral Yamamoto accusing U.S. sailors at Pearl Harbor of drawing Japan into World War II by shooting back at his airplanes.

Make no mistake: For all the mind-numbing talk about "job creators," "blank checks," walk-outs and reneging, the debt-ceiling debate is just the latest front in the silent war against the working class.

In insisting that a debt-reduction plan include at least some new revenue, Mr. Obama said Monday night, "Most Americans, regardless of political party, don't understand how we can ask a senior citizen to pay more for her Medicare before we ask a corporate jet owner or the oil companies to give up tax breaks that other companies don't get. How can we ask a student to pay more for college before we ask hedge fund managers to stop paying taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries? How can we slash funding for education and clean energy before we ask people like me to give up tax breaks we don't need and didn't ask for?"

Neither the president nor Republican congressional leaders have been very forthcoming about just what programs they would cut, and by how much. Both sides know there will be a political firestorm when Americans wake up and find out what's been done in their names.

There should be a firestorm. What continues to defy belief is how many working-class soldiers in the silent class war are on the wrong side, as if this were 1863 and they were collecting bounties to fight in someone else's place.

Civil War draftees complained that it was "a rich man's war and a poor man's fight." So is this one.

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