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Shattering the class warfare taboo

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Smart v. Stupid

Shattering the class warfare taboo

Today, most Americans see conflict between the rich and us

  • Wikimedia/Matthew Reichbach

The United States has always had a culturally enforced taboo: Don’t speak ill of the rich. If anyone thought or said that the rich don’t play fair, they were simply a sore loser. This taboo lasted much longer than it should have, owing mostly to the Republican practice of using “class warfare” as a bludgeon. “That’s class warfare,” they’d scream. How un-American.

Then Occupy Wall Street arrived, spoke the unspeakable, and shattered the glass wall. In fairness, the stage was set the day we were presented with the ridiculous premise of Citizens United. But tents in town squares broke the long prohibition on asking why – in a land founded on equality – the wealthy are so pampered and coddled.

A new poll from Pew Research Center confirms that Americans are thinking a lot about class disparity. And now that they are talking, it turns out that most Americans think the deck is stacked in favor of the rich. Liberals and socialists, you might be thinking? Sure Democrats and Independents weighed in with equal and broad majorities, but more than half of Republicans also agreed.

The numbers look good for an Obama election strategy focused on representing the middle class. They look bad for the Romney’s “corporations are people” strategy. According to Pew’s research, a solid two thirds of Americans might be inclined to think that the so-called “job creators” are actually self-dealing pricks. “I like to fire people,” plays right into this, not because of the context, because of the “like.”

If President Obama can win the case that he represents middle-class families and workers, a solid two thirds of Americans will support him. In fact, the “class conflict” between the rich and middle class (according to Pew) is now thought by most Americans to be much more severe than racism, ageism and nativism.

The view cuts across all common economic strata from incomes below $20,000 to incomes above $75,000. Even those who realistically aspire to cross class lines are likely to believe that the upper-income class will conspire to keep them out. In three years, Pew found, the majority who believe that middle and upper earners are in conflict has risen by 24 percent.

This should be an earth-shattering bit of data to anyone planning to run on the “pamper the rich for your own good” platform. When Mitt Romney defines success by how much money you amass, he ignores the contributions of firemen, teachers, nurses and the guy who makes sure your car’s wheel stays on. Those folks are now openly questioning his greed-logic.

Still, the survey didn’t find an interest in getting even with the wealthy. Americans may envy the rich, but not in the resentful way Romney would have you believe. Roughly half of respondents thought wealthy folks earned their money. Only half thought they didn’t.

But with such a plurality of agreement that class tensions exist, it could be inferred that average earners will be less likely to let themselves be taken advantage of by the rich. And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? If the numbers continue to increase, it can only lead to a realignment of political views to disfavor – or at least more equally favor – the rich.

The new prevailing view also crosses age groups. Young people acknowledge the class conflict by over seven in ten, but 64 percent of their parents agree and 55 percent of their grandparents. Another interesting fact from the Pew poll is that the belief in class conflict comes mostly from white people coming into agreement with black and Hispanic Americans. Black and brown people were ahead of the curve. But since 2009, the gap between black and white views on this subject has narrowed from 23 points to nine.

So what does it all mean for our upcoming presidential election? It means that class disparity will continue to be an election issue. It means that the Occupy Wall Street message has resonated with Americans. It turns out that OWS said what people were already thinking.

It also means that a subject that America’s oligarchy and their Republican handmaidens have sought to keep taboo is now going to be freely discussed in bars and around dinner tables. That may not keep Mitt Romney out of the White House, but it surely makes his association with and advocacy for rich folks that much more of a millstone around his neck.

Even still, Obama will contend with a bad economy, Republican attempts to limit voting, SuperPACs, and the usual amount of white racism. But the overreach by the rich (and their R-Party spokespeople) looks to have created a big opportunity for the incumbent. Just ask Rush Limbaugh.

Jimmy Zuma splits his time between Washington, D.C. and Tucson. He writes the online opinion journal, Smart v. Stupid. He spent 5 years in Tucson in the early ‘80s, when life was a little slower, swamp coolers were a little more plentiful, Tucson’s legendary music scene was in full bloom, and the prevailing work ethic was “don’t - unless you have to.”

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