Well, “Boo–Hiss,” say the Republicans. “It’s class warfare!” They object to the president, of course. That is just doing their Republican job. It is politics, after all, and they have to object to the incumbent Democrat chief executive and all things Obama. But the GOP would prefer that we have no perspective, as evidenced in the “class warfare” mantra and that oft repeated and tired bit about a “resounding defeat in 2010” referring to the mid-term election. That “referendum on the Obama presidency” elected a fractured Republican majority that now has approval ratings that are approaching single digits. Boo hiss.
Class warfare, huh? Let’s talk about that. The richest 10% of Americans control two-thirds of the nation’s wealth. Between 1979 and 2007, the income gap between the richest 1% of Americans and the poorest 40% more than tripled. Statistically speaking, 88% of the increase in real national income went to corporate profits as the US economy grew in 2009 and 2010. Recently released census data shows that real incomes of average Americans declined by 2.3% in 2010. If it is class warfare, the rich are the only ones who have been doing the fighting.
The 112th Congress has yet to address the fact that almost one in 10 Americans is unemployed and 15% live at or below the poverty level. It cannot even get the government funded for more than a few weeks at a time. But I have written a lot about the Republican majority inventing problems it wants to solve and I want to stick with class warfare. The real problem, as opposed to a make believe one, is that the president is not in capitulation mode, anymore. In fact, Obama is taking the argument to the Republicans with the American Jobs Act and calling them out in the process. He has gone on offense. Boo–Hiss, again.
“We’re going to see if congressional Republicans will put country before party,” Obama told the crowd of union members in Detroit. “The time for Washington games is over. The time for action is now. No more manufactured crises. No more games. Now is not the time for the people you sent to Washington to worry about their jobs; now is the time for them to worry about your jobs.” That’s got to sting as only the truth can.
At a Denver campaign stop on September 20th, the president told a crowd that Republicans in Washington have “a habit of becoming curiously deaf to the voice of the people. They have a hard time hearing what the ordinary people of the country are saying. But they have no trouble at all hearing what Wall Street is saying. They are able to catch the slightest whisper from big business and the special interests.” That president was Harry S. Truman and the year was 1948. “What I am really telling you is not that the Republicans are coming, but they are here. They have been in Washington for the last 2 years in the form of the notorious Republican ‘do-nothing’ 80th Congress.”
Truman represented the middle class and took it to his Republican opposition who gave him a load of boo–hiss. “Big business is against any aid to the farmers, and the Republican leaders in Congress are the errand boys of big business and special privilege,” Truman told his Winona, Minnesota audience on October 14, 1948.
He explained the term he had coined, a handle if you will, that the 112th Congress is trying to avoid being called — “do-nothing.” Truman said, “That is why the Republican 80th ‘do-nothing’ Congress – I mean do nothing for the people, they did something for the special interests all right . . .”
Republican sympathizers like to point to President Obama’s decline in the polls, as if they are proud of their low polling numbers. It is a point that the administration notes as well. Republicans pointed to Truman’s polling more 60 years ago, too. In fact, here is the Gallup presidential approval comparison in September: 1951 Truman — Approve 32%, Disapprove 54%; 2011 Obama — Approve 41%, Disapprove 51%.
“By 1948, Truman began to employ a more relaxed, folksy, and sometimes fiery speaking technique,” according to the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “He combined both style and substance in launching effective attacks against the Republicans.” He took his argument to the people by train. On Truman’s “whistle-stops”, he attacked the Republican Congress, warned that a Republicans White House would repeal the New Deal, and reminded voters that the Democrats had saved the country from the Depression.
“If you give the Republicans complete control of this government, you might just as well turn it over to the special interests and we’ll start on a boom and bust cycle and try to go through just what we did in the twenties. And end up with a crash which in the long run will do nobody any good but the Communists,” he said. Truman won the 1948 election against all odds.
The Republican “class warfare” charge is also dated in our relatively recent political history. A Republican opposition originally accused President Franklin D. Roosevelt of turning class against class. Although FDR came from elite wealth, he championed the middle class in his opposition to the wealthy elite. “Government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob,” Roosevelt said. “Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me and I welcome their hatred.” Evidentally, so is Obama.
“If asking a millionaire to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or a teacher makes me a class warrior, a warrior for the middle class, I will accept that; I’ll wear that as a badge of honor,” President Obama said in a speech promoting his jobs bill recently in Denver. “Because the only class warfare I’ve seen is the battle that’s been waged against the middle class in this country for a decade now.” So President Obama’s new strategy is similar to Truman’s – be aggressive, push new ideas, and call out those who oppose him. They do not like him anyway.
Is it working for Obama? Just listen to the Boo–Hiss. The right’s most ardent Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer protests that Obama’s new tack is “anti-millionaire populism” from a “self-proclaimed class warrior.” Speaker John Boehner tweets, “Pitting one group of Americans against another is not leadership.” Yes, the Speaker of the House tweets.
Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says, “Members of Congress will have a lot of explaining to do when they go home at the end of the year if they’ve done nothing, nothing, to address the urgent need to help our economy and create jobs. … Their constituents are demanding it.”
American Enterprise Institute political scholar Norm Ornstein says, “Republicans came in believing the radical, conservative ideology is what voters were aiming for — and more confrontation.” However, President Obama’s inability to quickly solve the nation’s economic situation has only reinforced the right’s ideological advantage, according to others. Even though poll after poll shows that the public wants less confrontation, toned-down rhetoric and a spirit of bipartisanship, it has not worked for Obama.
The president has been recast. Like Truman before him, Obama has decided that populism only works when it is taken out of Washington and out of a studio. He has changed his tone and is again on the public speaking circuit. That the fractious right has taken up “class warfare” as an issue demonstrates that Republicans have become defensive. Boo–Hiss.