One of the neat tricks that the Republican Party has pulled off flawlessly since Reagan is to convince average Americans that their interests are the same as the wealthiest of all Americans.
Republican politicians are trained, whenever confronted with the inconvenient truth of growing income inequality, to utter the magic words "class warfare." For three decades, this has had a powerful impact on their Democratic counterparts. They hear "class warfare," and instead of agreeing that there has been class warfare in this country -- one that's waged on the poor and the middle class -- they immediately shut up.
For the fact that we can actually talk about income inequality these days we have Occupy Wall Street to thank, not so much my own party.
But we are having a meaningful discussion about that now. And in the last couple of weeks, we have two telling takes on the issue. One from the presumptive Republican nominee for president, and the other from a rising star in the Democratic party, Elizabeth Warren.
The first comes from Mitt Romney, who tried to trot out the old tried and true class warfare line at his victory speech after the New Hampshire primary. Romney charged that President Obama was trying to divide us with "the bitter politics of envy."
Then less than a week later, Romney inadvertently revealed his worldview by commenting that he made some money on speaking fees last year, "but not very much."
Not very much turned out to be $374,000. And, in fact, it wasn't very much when you consider that the Romney's pulled in an estimated $9.6 million over the last eighteen months or so. At least we can say that the pin money that Romney earned from his speeches was probably taxed as ordinary income, with a maximum rate of 35%. But virtually everything else was taxed at the much lower capital gains rate of only 15%.
Romney is part of that class of Americans whose money works for them as opposed to them working for their money, and he gets rewarded with a much lower overall tax rate.
But thanks to OWS, Romney's line about the "politics of envy" didn't have the usual magical effect. Some Dems fired right back.
The best was Elizabeth Warren, running for the U.S. Senate seat once held by Ted Kennedy. Warren made the case for a more fair distribution of wealth and income better than I ever could.
So the other take on income and wealth inequality comes from Warren. I give over the rest of this post to her:
There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there, good for you. But, I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory and hire someone to protect against this because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea. God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
For more on this issue, read this op-ed by Charles Blow.