Republicans buy into class-warfare narrative

January 21, 2012


“Are you better off today than you were $4 trillion ago?”

     — Former presidential candidate Rick Perry

It’s the campaign line of the year, and while the author won’t be carrying it into the general election, the eventual nominee will.

The charge is straightforward: President Obama’s reckless spending has dangerously increased the national debt while leaving unemployment high and the economy stagnant. Concurrently, he has vastly increased the scope and reach of government with new entitlements and oppressive regulation, with higher taxes to come (to offset the unprecedented spending).

In 2010, that narrative carried the Republicans to historic electoral success. Through most of 2011, it dominated Washington discourse. The air was filled with debt talk: ceilings, supercommittees, Simpson-Bowles.

What’s the incumbent to do? He admits current conditions are bad. He knows that his major legislative initiatives — Obamacare, the near-trillion-dollar stimulus, (the rejected) cap-and-trade — are unpopular. If you can’t run on stewardship or policy, how do you win re-election?

Create an entirely new narrative. Push an entirely new issue. Change the subject from your record and your ideology, from massive debt and overreaching government, to fairness and inequality. Make the election a referendum on which party really cares about you, which party will stand up to the greedy rich who have pillaged the 99 percent and robbed the middle class of hope.

This charge, too, is straightforward: The Republicans serve as the protectors and enablers of the plutocrats, the exploiters who have profited while America suffers. They put party over nation, fat-cat donors over people, political power over everything.

It’s all rather uncomplicated, capturing nicely the Manichaean core of the Occupy movement — blame the rich, then soak them. But the real beauty of this strategy is its adaptability. While its first target was the do-nothing, protect-the-rich Congress, it is perfectly tailored to fit the liabilities of Republican front-runner Mitt Romney — plutocrat, capitalist, 1 percenter.

Obama rolled out this class-war counter-narrative in his Dec. 6 “Teddy Roosevelt” speech and hasn’t governed a day since. Every action, every proposal, every “we can’t wait” circumvention of the Constitution — such as recess appointments when the Senate is not in recess — is designed to fit this re-election narrative.

Hence: Where does Obama ostentatiously introduce the recess-appointed head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? At a rally in swing-state Ohio, a stage prop for Obama to declare himself tribune of the little guy, scourge of the big banks and their soulless Republican guardians.

For the first few weeks, the class-envy gambit had some effect, bumping Obama’s numbers slightly. But the story was still lagging, suffering in part from its association with an Occupy rabble that had widely worn out its welcome.

Then came the twist. Then came the most remarkable political surprise since the 2010 midterm: The struggling Democratic class-war narrative is suddenly given life and legitimacy by ... Republicans! Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry make the case that private equity as practiced by Romney’s Bain Capital is nothing more than vulture capitalism looting companies and sucking them dry while casually destroying the lives of workers.

Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO nods approvingly. Michael Moore wonders aloud whether Gingrich has stolen his staff. The assault on Bain/Romney instantly turns Obama’s class-war campaign from partisan attack into universal complaint.

Suddenly Romney’s wealth, practices and taxes take center stage. And why not? If leading Republicans are denouncing rapacious capitalism that enriches the 1 percent while impoverishing everyone else, should this not be the paramount issue in a campaign occurring at a time of economic distress?

Now, economic inequality is an important issue, but the idea that it is the cause of America’s current economic troubles is absurd. Yet, in a stroke, the Republicans have succeeded in turning a Democratic talking point — a last-ditch attempt to salvage re-election by distracting from their record — into a central focus of the nation’s political discourse.

How quickly has the zeitgeist changed? Wednesday, the Republican House reconvened to reject Obama’s planned $1.2 trillion debt-ceiling increase. (Lacking Senate concurrence, the debt ceiling will be raised nonetheless.) No one noticed. It made page A16 of The New York Times. All eyes are on South Carolina and Romney’s taxes.

This is no mainstream media conspiracy. This is the GOP maneuvering itself right onto Obama terrain.

The president is a very smart man. But if he wins in November, that won’t be the reason. It will be luck. He could not have chosen more self-destructive adversaries.

— Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. His email is letters@charleskrauthammer.com.


cato_the_elder 6 years, 3 months ago

Point well taken, but since Obama has already been pushing this bogus agenda for some time and a few prominent Republicans have surprisingly chosen to do the same, getting it to the forefront this early will make it old news by April.

Getaroom 6 years, 3 months ago

This piece of tripe is from The Krauthammer not Will, but they are mostly interchangeable anyway. More revisionist history from the right and you love it that way. Good thing there is no law against revising history just to suit your own politics and racist views.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

"Create an entirely new narrative."

New? There's nothing new about it-- Republicans began class warfare in earnest in 1981, and have done nothing but escalate ever since-- and sadly, Democrats have often cheerily joined in (and have been well compensated for it.)

Interesting sidenote-- a recent study has shown that large campaign donations result in a 4000% return on "investment." And you wonder why the überwealthy wanted money declared "speech."

Cant_have_it_both_ways 6 years, 3 months ago

How can their not be class warfair when the half that dont pay taxes hate those who do and vise versa. The only to fix this is for everyone to pay into the system.

realisticvoter 6 years, 3 months ago

Wouldn't necessarily say they are dishonest, just totally ignorant. They seem to spend too much time on Fox listening to their dishonesty.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 3 months ago

USA Banks and industry sitting on 19 million jobs to make Obama look bad!

WASHINGTON -- Corporate America is sitting right on top of the solution to the nation's employment crisis, according to a new report from a group of University of Massachusetts economists.

If America's largest banks and non-financial companies would just loosen their death-grip on a chunk of the $3.6 trillion in cash they're hoarding and move it into productive investments instead, the report estimates that about 19 million jobs would be created in the next three years, lowering the unemployment rate to under 5 percent.

"There is no reason that the U.S. needs to remain stuck in a long-term unemployment crisis," Robert Pollin, lead author of the report and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute, said in a statement accompanying the report's release Tuesday.

"Getting the banks and corporations to move their hoards into productive investments and job creation requires carrots and sticks -- policies such as a new round of government spending stimulus as well as taxes on the banks' excess reserves -- that can both strengthen overall market demand and unlock credit markets for small businesses," Pollin said.


Kendall Simmons 6 years, 3 months ago

Sorry, but just because some guy tells us 19 million jobs will be created if only...doesn't mean 19 million jobs would be created.

Heck, the Keystone report claimed 22,000 jobs will be created if Phase 3 was approved. Turns out they were counting jobs that have already come and gone in the first two phases of the project...so much for "will" be created. Plus they included jobs with projects that have absolutely nothing to do with the Keystone project!.

If there's one thing we should have learned by now, economic theories and proposals from economists seem to have nothing to do with economic reality :-)

George Lippencott 6 years, 3 months ago

I prefer to use the term shared sacrifice. If we as a nation chose (as we have) to compete our workers internationally and thereby limit their incomes we certainly have a right to do that – particularly if by doing so we reduce our massive footprint on the environment. However, IMHO, that sacrifice should be shared. The various elites in this country have not been asked to participate. They (all of them - I note that Hollywood is Democratic; Business is both, Wall Street is both) should see some pain. Somehow that simple notion of shared sacrifice has been lost.

deec 6 years, 3 months ago

Occupy explicitly disavows association with any political party. They oppose the collusion of government and big business that is destroying the world. Many are disillusioned former Obama supporters. Anarchists, libertarians, democrats, republicans,socialists, and even some tea partiers are involved in the movement to reform government. Clearly they are having an effect, or else mainstream pundits would not be trying to co-opt their narrative.

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 3 months ago

OWS doesn't have a narrative. And "mainstream pundits" aren't trying to "co-opt" that nonexistent narrative, either.

Rather, they're simply trying to use the existence of OWS to diminish Democrats and Obama...and lots of people will buy into that because they haven't a clue what OWS stands for. They just think it seems to be a "bunch of hippies who want to camp illegally"...which means they MUST be liberals and Democrats.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

It's quite possible that many in the "Occupy" movement will not vote for Obama.

Young idealistic voters often vote third party, a la Nader, and take votes away from Democrats, who would otherwise be their most likely choice.

Just as Paul supporters most likely take votes from mainstream Republican candidates.

jayhawklawrence 6 years, 3 months ago

I think Charles is missing the point.

We are witnessing the slow death of a political party that has failed on many levels. This is what happens when your ideas no longer fit the needs of your customers and you oversell your products.

Expectations can be a very bad thing. If you are waiting for the next iPhone or iPad or the next great operating system from Microsoft and it turns out to be a dud, Mr. Customer is going to get a little angry.

That is the biggest threat to the Republican Party in 2012.

Mr. Customer is going to be very disappointed.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

I agree.

Shows how little concern those rich folks have for the country as a whole, or for anybody other than themselves, doesn't it?

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

I disagree with your interpretation - it looks like greed, plain and simple, to me.

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 3 months ago

I have a friend who reads Krauthammer. Doesn't give a flip about the politics. He's just fascinated that there is someone out there who actually uses words like "Manichaean" and "zeitgeist". I can say in three words what Sauerkraut said in several hundreds. "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!! OMG the poor peeplez is uprising! The sky is falling!"

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 3 months ago

That Southeast Missouri State tax-payer-subsidized education has served you well!

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 3 months ago

You're welcome. Glad that is settled.

You did mange to spell "compliment" correctly, though.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago


It's always funny when people comment on spelling with a spelling error in their post.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

I guess you won't be voting then.

Hey - you could vote for Nader on a write-in ballot :-)

Non-partisan economists have tended to support Obama's economic views and policies, from what I've read.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 3 months ago

If enough disappointed progressives vote for Nader, the Mope is history.

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