President Obama: Class warrior

Rick Moran
A very good article by Jonathan Martin and John Harris at Politico on Obama's class warfare. You don't see this too often in major media, and their analysis of the GOP response is spot on.

There was nothing especially subtle about the way Barack Obama played the politics of class resentment against Mitt Romney in 2012.

"My opponent," Obama brayed in Virginia Beach last fall, "thinks that someone who makes $20 million a year, like him, should pay a lower [tax] rate than a cop or a teacher who makes $50,000."

And there was nothing especially mysterious about the reason: Class warfare works.

 

That fundamental reality of the Obama years -- that the president won a second term in large part because he gave new life to an old brand of class-based politics -- continues to echo six months later as the dominant factor shaping American politics this spring, as the parties slog through the latest fiscal fight.

Both parties are in the midst of intense and far-reaching debates about how to respond.

Among Republicans, alarmed by the long-term implications of Obama's victory, there is an argument over whether a new era of politics driven by economic grievance requires only a change of messaging and a less ripe-for-caricature messenger than Romney -- or a much more fundamental rethinking of its policy agenda.

 

Among Democrats there is division over whether Obama is squandering his victory by embracing in his new budget the idea that popular entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare must be trimmed to make them more affordable. Many liberals believe that this stance represents a surrender, in politics and substance alike, in what is their side's most potent class-conflict weapon.

But to Obama loyalists, Democrats must act now to preserve their hallowed New Deal and Great Society accomplishments so they're not emasculated later under a Republican president.

"The most persuasive case for reforming Medicare is saving Medicare," said Obama strategist David Axelrod. "You don't want to see the Big Bad Wolf making those decisions."

 

Other Democrats fret that Republicans outfoxed Obama on entitlements. "He wants to look like a centrist and all he did was let them make him own it," said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chairman of the House Progressive Caucus. "It's terrible politics."

For Obama, this spring's fights over class represent both a political challenge and a definitional moment. His most consistent argument -- that higher taxes on the well-to-do are the essential element in preserving popular government benefits to the middle-class and poor -- is in tension with his most consistent promise, that his presidency will break Washington gridlock and elevate problem-solving over ideological purity.

The argument made by the authors is that the GOP is going to have to do more than nominate a candidate who isn't rich and who has a compelling biography. The Democrats made exactly the same mistake in the 1980's and they dug themselves a deeper hole for doing it.

Nor is tweaking the message the answer. The GOP is not only seen as the "party of the rich" - something that can be changed fairly easily. What matters is that Republicans start addressing the real needs of the Middle Class.

Entitlements are no long reserved exclusively for the poor. More and more, federal programs address the needs of the Middle Class - insurance subsidies, day care, student loans, and other "quality of life" issues that, simply put, makes life easier for Middle Class parents.

As long as Republicans oppose or want to cut many of those programs, they will be portrayed as "not being in touch" with ordinary folks. It will take a very persuasive conservative candidate who can clearly enunciate conservative principles to have a chance of altering this dynamic.

At the moment, no one in the GOP jumps out at you who might fill the bill. But we barely know several of the candidates and it's still a couple of years before we start getting serious about 2016. And there's always a chance that someone no on the radar might emerge.

Beyond demphasizing social issues, or distancing the party from Wall Street, or any other tweak that has been put forward, there must be a reckoning with the Middle Class. Republican success in the 1980's was due to ordinary people believing that the GOP better represented their interests. To win again, the GOP must find a way to return to that formula and attract many of the voters who abandoned the party in the last decade.

A very good article by Jonathan Martin and John Harris at Politico on Obama's class warfare. You don't see this too often in major media, and their analysis of the GOP response is spot on.

There was nothing especially subtle about the way Barack Obama played the politics of class resentment against Mitt Romney in 2012.

"My opponent," Obama brayed in Virginia Beach last fall, "thinks that someone who makes $20 million a year, like him, should pay a lower [tax] rate than a cop or a teacher who makes $50,000."

And there was nothing especially mysterious about the reason: Class warfare works.

 

That fundamental reality of the Obama years -- that the president won a second term in large part because he gave new life to an old brand of class-based politics -- continues to echo six months later as the dominant factor shaping American politics this spring, as the parties slog through the latest fiscal fight.

Both parties are in the midst of intense and far-reaching debates about how to respond.

Among Republicans, alarmed by the long-term implications of Obama's victory, there is an argument over whether a new era of politics driven by economic grievance requires only a change of messaging and a less ripe-for-caricature messenger than Romney -- or a much more fundamental rethinking of its policy agenda.

 

Among Democrats there is division over whether Obama is squandering his victory by embracing in his new budget the idea that popular entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare must be trimmed to make them more affordable. Many liberals believe that this stance represents a surrender, in politics and substance alike, in what is their side's most potent class-conflict weapon.

But to Obama loyalists, Democrats must act now to preserve their hallowed New Deal and Great Society accomplishments so they're not emasculated later under a Republican president.

"The most persuasive case for reforming Medicare is saving Medicare," said Obama strategist David Axelrod. "You don't want to see the Big Bad Wolf making those decisions."

 

Other Democrats fret that Republicans outfoxed Obama on entitlements. "He wants to look like a centrist and all he did was let them make him own it," said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chairman of the House Progressive Caucus. "It's terrible politics."

For Obama, this spring's fights over class represent both a political challenge and a definitional moment. His most consistent argument -- that higher taxes on the well-to-do are the essential element in preserving popular government benefits to the middle-class and poor -- is in tension with his most consistent promise, that his presidency will break Washington gridlock and elevate problem-solving over ideological purity.

The argument made by the authors is that the GOP is going to have to do more than nominate a candidate who isn't rich and who has a compelling biography. The Democrats made exactly the same mistake in the 1980's and they dug themselves a deeper hole for doing it.

Nor is tweaking the message the answer. The GOP is not only seen as the "party of the rich" - something that can be changed fairly easily. What matters is that Republicans start addressing the real needs of the Middle Class.

Entitlements are no long reserved exclusively for the poor. More and more, federal programs address the needs of the Middle Class - insurance subsidies, day care, student loans, and other "quality of life" issues that, simply put, makes life easier for Middle Class parents.

As long as Republicans oppose or want to cut many of those programs, they will be portrayed as "not being in touch" with ordinary folks. It will take a very persuasive conservative candidate who can clearly enunciate conservative principles to have a chance of altering this dynamic.

At the moment, no one in the GOP jumps out at you who might fill the bill. But we barely know several of the candidates and it's still a couple of years before we start getting serious about 2016. And there's always a chance that someone no on the radar might emerge.

Beyond demphasizing social issues, or distancing the party from Wall Street, or any other tweak that has been put forward, there must be a reckoning with the Middle Class. Republican success in the 1980's was due to ordinary people believing that the GOP better represented their interests. To win again, the GOP must find a way to return to that formula and attract many of the voters who abandoned the party in the last decade.