Friday, March 18, 2011

Class Warfare and You.

In the wake of the 2008 market crash and subsequent recession, the term "Class Warfare" has been used more and more, primarily by the Republicans and pro-Republican media outlets, to marginalize and villify the increasing outrage among the middle class over the growing income disparity in our country.  The term "Class Warfare" has become a bad word, used to dismiss those who think the pillaging of the middle class by the wealthy is unjust and inherently detrimental to the American way of life as being lazy, entitled or another Republican insult buzzword, "Socialist."  The argument being that class warfare wasn't an issue when the economy was doing well, but now that we're in a recession and people are hurting financially, everyone wants to blame the rich for everything and NOW we have class warfare.  Well, in this case, the Republicans are actually right.  See, it's not really warfare if both sides aren't attacking each other, so they are correct, when the economy was doing well there wasn't all this "Class Warfare", because back then it was just "Class Terrorism".  The rich were attacking the middle class left and right, we just weren't fighting back because we were still doing well enough that we couldn't see the damage that was being done.

Like most of the "conflicts" that are sensationalized by the right and it's propaganda lapdog Fox News, the term class warfare was actually introduced into the conversation by the very people propagating it.  This isn't a new tactic of course, it's the same strategy that has been used by totalitarian regimes since the dawn of civilization.  It was used with great success by the Nazi Party to divide and conquer the working class there, it was used in Musolini's Italy to weaken the working class there and allow fascism to take over and it's used in "Banana Republics" and dictatorships all over the world today.  Unfortunately it's also having tremendous success in America, and has been growing more and more effective over the last 30 years.  It's propaganda 101 and the tactic is simple - do something to the people and act as though it is a retalliation to something your opponents did first.  You have seen this on the religious right, in things like Bill O'Reilly's annual tradition "The War on Christmas," where they look for any tiny act by the left to try and uphold the constitutional separation of church and state and declare it as a "Secular attack on Christianity in America."  So, if a courthouse in Michigan takes down a Christian nativity scene because it's a government building and the law requires it, then it's an attack on Christianity by the secular, progressive left and the "war" is on!  That's why you only ever hear terms like "War on Christianity" being spoken by Christian leaders and talking heads, because the war begins with them.  They search tirelessly for something to be offended by until they find it, and then decry it as a blatant personal attack against them and their values.  They're like a person who throws themself in front of a car and then accuses the driver of trying to kill them.  The reality, however, isn't that "secular progressives" want to destroy Christianity, it's that Christians want to destroy secular progressivism.  The "War on Christianity" doesn't benefit anyone except Christians who strengthen and ignite their base by calling them to arms against their imagined foes on the left.  It creates manufactured controversy and conflict that can be used by the right to deepen the divide between Christians and non-Christians, setting them further at odds with each other over a perceived injustice that simply isn't taking place.  The ultimate goal being to divide and conquer the middle class by turning them on each other.

The same exact tactic is being used with the "Class Warfare" argument.  Every time someone mentions repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, Republicans and pundits immediately cry "Class Warfare!"  Anytime someone points out that the largest share of tax dollars spent on entitlements all go to the richest people in the country, "Class Warfare!"  Anytime anyone dares to point out that the income gap between the wealthy elite and the middle class is the greatest it has been in history since right before the Great Depression in 1929, "Class Warfare!"  It's a propaganda buzzword that ignorant Republicans cling to because it justifies their neo-socipathic "Fuck the Poor!" mantra that has become the foundation of their political platform.  Unfortunately for the poor middle class working stiffs who keep voting Republican, the term "poor" means a whole different thing to Republican policy makers than it does for the people who keep electing them...

In spite of McCain's stumbling, evasive answer, his words in this clip are very telling of the modern Republican view of the distribution of wealth in America.  First, he blurts out that his definition of rich is "$5 million dollars", which ok, so maybe he wouldn't put that figure down on paper as his cutoff point for what defines rich and poor, but it does say something about the Republican mindset when it comes to wealth in this country.  When your family has a personal fortune of several hundred million dollars, and when all of your friend's families do too, it's kind of hard to be empathetic to the problems and issues that a working class family making $50,000 a year has.  I mean, Cindy McCain probably has dresses in her closet that cost $50,000 and rings in her jewelry box that could buy 5 middle class homes.  But, besides that, it's the other things he says in that clip that really tell the angle that Republicans have used successfully for the last 30 years to convince hard-working middle class American's to continue to vote for policies and politicians who are steadily funneling all the wealth in this country up to the richest 1%.  First, he gives the empty, "we're all the same" answer that "Some of the richest people I know are also the most unhappy".  Aww, poor little rich guys, crying in their mansions because all that wealth can't buy them happiness.  I bet they really are more unhappy than the family being evicted from their home because the bank foreclosed on their house and the factory that employed their father is closing after 30 years and shipping it's operations overseas.  I bet those poor rich people are so much sadder than the husband who has to watch his wife slowly die of cancer because his health insurance won't cover her treatments and he's already over $200,000 in debt from medical bills and simply has nothing left to sell to help pay to keep her alive.  I bet they just cry big crocodile tears over how sad and empty their lives are, free from the worry of juggling bills and going into credit card debt when the car breaks down and trying to make ends meet now that food prices have gone up almost 50% in 3 years, gas prices continue to rise, middle class wages are down 6% across the country and unemployment is holding steady at about 10%.
Then he segues right from that completely empty profundity to the populist "everyman" statement that anyone with a home, and education and safety is rich.  This is how the Republicans succeed in putting the middle class in the same company as the wealthy elite.  "Hey, at the end of the day, don't we all want the same things?"  Yes, except what the middle class wants is decent wages, basic job security, affordable health care, and basically just the means to get by from month to month without having to go into debt.  Oh, and having our houses actually GAIN equity again would be great too.  Meanwhile what the rich want is, basically, to get richer.  They don't have to worry about affording education, they don't have to worry about house payments, insurance payments, or the mundane expenses that middle class families have to make sacrifices every day to afford.  They don't even have to worry about job security because they're the ones who "create the jobs" aren't they?  Yet, put us all in that big comfy couch of "At the end of the day, don't we all just want to be happy?" and suddenly a blue-collar working man in Ohio is ready to drive his 10 year old truck down to the polls and pull the lever for ya! 
Then McCain pulls out that "Class Warfare" bomb.  "I don't want to raise taxes on ANYBODY.  I don't want this class warfare, I want to LOWER taxes!"  Hey, he's talking about US!  I mean, he just said we were rich too because we can afford a house and have a job, so he's trying to cut taxes for us too!  Don't you see, raising taxes slightly on the rich is just redistributing wealth, wealth that should be distributed to the top where it belongs! 

Unfortunately for Republicans, the numbers over the last 30 years don't lie.

From 1950-1979, the era universally regarded BY REPUBLICANS as the "Golden Age" of American values.  The time Glenn Beck wants so desparately to return our country to.  That wonderful, bygone era when the middle class was the strongest it has ever been in our nation's history.  Back then, the income distribution to the wealthiest 1% of the country was 9-11%.  What that means is that, out of all the wages that were being paid in America, 9-11% of them went to the richest 1% of the country.  Now, that actually seems downright reasonable.  I mean, you work hard, you build a business, rise up the corporate ladder, what have you, you absolutely deserve to enjoy the fruits of your labor.  10% of the wages going to the richest 1%, that seems pretty fair.  At the same time, the tax rate for the richest 1% of the country was right about 90%.  That seems outrageous by today's standards.  That a person making a million dollars a year would have to pay upwards of $900,000 in taxes!?  However, this tax burden could be drastically reduced if that wealthy individual invested his money, expanded his business, hired more employees and basically put his wealth back into the economy to continue to grow and stimulate it.  Then a person making a million dollars a year might only have to part with half of it, and in the process would create more good-paying middle class jobs, which would in turn stimulate the economy, encourage consumer spending and eventually result in increased revenue for that wealthy businessman year after year.  See, "trickle up" economics is what fueled the post-war age of economic prosperity in America.  It's what lead to the rise of the middle class.  Henry Ford once said "I have to at least pay my workers enough to afford to buy my cars, or I'll be out of business!"

This all changed when Regan took office in 1980.  From 1980-2010, The amount of wages going to the richest 1% of the country rose from 10% to 24%.  The last time the wage disparity between the rich and the middle class was that high was right before the Great Depression.  And, just like then, the result was a massive collapse of the stock market that lead to a global recession.  Simply put, there is a point at which the rich are hoarding so much of the countries wealth that there simply isn't enough left to distribute among the middle class to keep the economy going.  Using Henry Ford's analogy, the factory workers can't afford to buy the products they're making anymore.  The average employee at an American auto factory in 1960 could afford to pay cash for one of the new sedans that rolled off his assembly line from the money he had saved in the bank.  The average employee at an American auto factory in 2010 can barely qualify for credit to buy the sedan that rolls off his assembly line because he has no savings at all and an average of $10,000 in credit card debt.

From 1980-2005, in 38 of the 50 states, the rate of increase in wages for upper-class families was 62%.  In those same states during that same time frame, the increase in middle class wages was only 21%.  In all 50 states, during that time frame, there was never a decrease in the wage gap between the middle class and the upper class.  So, at best, things didn't get any better for the middle class from 1980-2005, and for 75% of the country it actually got worse.  Even more telling, the income for the richest American families from 1980-2005 rose by anywhere from 66-132%, grossly outpacing middle class and even upper class wages.  This wasn't class warfare, because the middle class wasn't hurting enough to fight back yet, this was class terrorism.  The richest Americans had found their puppet in Ronald Regan.  He could make their greed-driven middle class cash grab sound like the greatest thing the working class could possibly vote for.  Under Regan's presidency, the wage disparity between the CEO of a company and it's average employee grew by nearly 600%.  Meaning your boss was making $600 more for every $1 more you made than he was 8 years earlier.  In the 30-year span from 1980-2010, middle class buying power has only increased by about $143 a year.  In contrast, upper class buying power has increased by almost $1000 a year.  Even in spite of the declining state of the middle class, blue collar workers still voted in droves for Republican politicians and supported their "trickle down" economic policies.  They bought wholesale into the idea that funneling the wealth in at the top of the economic food chain would create job growth, encourage innovation and investment, promote prosperity and ultimately work its way down into the pockets of each and every hard-working American.  To this day, middle class Republicans will still defend the economically self-destructive policies of their party by insisting that giving money to the rich "creates jobs."  However, once again the numbers just don't support that argument.  Under Regan, unemployment rose.  Under Bush Sr. unemployment rose.  Under Bush Jr. unemployment reached the highest numbers since the Great Depression.  The only significant decline in unemployment in the last 30 years happened during Clinton's presidency, when the richest 1% were being victimized by that horrible 3% higher tax rate.

So, now we're in 2011, the economy has improved tremendously for the wealthiest 1% of the country and has done almost nothing for the middle class.  Unemployment is still hovering at the 10% mark nationally, though it's significantly higher in many parts of the country, including central CA.  Middle class wages are still down 5-10% from where they were in 2005, and more and more cuts to the middle class job market are still being announced every day as the individual states struggle to pull themselves out of huge budget defecits.  Food costs are still 25-50% higher than they were 6 years ago, and gas prices are on track to break the previous record high set at the peak of the financial collapse in 2008.  In fact, the only segment of the economy that has seen significant improvement is the richest 1%.

So, when McCain and other Republican leaders say "I want EVERYONE to be rich!" then turn around and say "A 3% tax increase for the wealthiest Americans to help out the other 99% is socialist redistribution of the wealth!"  You have to wonder who the fuck is dumb enough to still think these guys are on our side?  When you look at the amount of money GIVEN to the richest 1% in tax breaks, tax shelters, tax credits, tax incentives, subsidizations and bailouts and compare it to the increasing number of social programs, early educaton programs, healthcare programs, lower and middle class services, housing assistance, and so on that are being cut to fund those upper class handouts, you have to wonder who the fuck is dumb enough to think that it's lazy welfare moms and illegal immigrants who are living high on the hog off of your tax dollars?  When you see the concerted effort by the Republicans and their rich corporate puppet masters to break up the unions, eliminate collective bargaining and restrict the rights of workers to organize and fight for equality, you have to wonder who the fuck is dumb enough to think the Republicans give two shits about the plight of the working class?

Is it class warfare?  You're damn right it is.  The middle class is Pearl Harbor and the wealthiest 1% is a squadron of Japanese fighter planes, and they've been sinking our boats for the last 30 years.  At what point does the sleeping dragon finally wake up?

I defer the remainder of my time to Mr. Noam Chomsky.


  1. Well said, my friend.....again. I'm getting real close to opening a can of middle class-special forces-factory worker-commando style-Rambo would soil himself whoop ass on some holier than thou-silver spoon mouthed-trust fund havin-stock market manipulating-chauffer driven-pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon sayin mutha fuckas! Part of me hopes that everything would just fall apart already. Afterall, those of us who are used to struggling are the best prepared to deal with the aftermath of a socio-economic catastrophy. Knock, knock....who's there?.....the "meek"......

  2. It's unfortunate that, historically, true social reform almost always comes on the heels of violent revolution by the proletariat. I keep holding out hope that by some miracle common sense and compassion will somehow find it's way into our political discourse, but it's to the point now that I really think that's impossible. So, it's gonna be muskets and "whites of their eyes" again, but we should hopefully get a good 75-100 years of awesome times before the industrialists start forcing us into wage slavery again. ;)