Class Warfare in Politics

FITE asks a simple question, but the answer is complicated.

Newsletter #33 Will Kerry Target the extremely rich?

Can the American public warm up to a campaign of “class warfare?” John Kerry evidently doesn’t think so. As of this writing, he has not uttered one word on the most egregious part of an ongoing class warfare being waged by the extremely rich, the corporate crime wave of the past 15 years that has robbed the rest of us of billions, if not trillions, from our savings.

Prominent liberals are warning him to avoid the issue. Well known columnist Robert Kuttner has publicly warned against a class warfare strategy. Kuttner claims that “this is not a country where most voters resent the rich as a class. It’s a land where nearly everyone would like to be rich.” Since all of us would like to get there some day, he reasons, they won’t support tax increases on the rich.

Kuttner and others are wrong. While Americans don’t want to tax the rich who earn several times their own income, they would be quite happy to tax to the hilt those making hundreds or even thousands of times more. These are the EXTREMELY rich. They may easily make in one HOUR what the rest of us work hard to make in one YEAR. In fact, it’s part of a 300 year political tradition of detesting the monied aristocracy for the way it always threatens democracy.

Kerry ignores this sentiment at his peril. The Democratic party lost many supporters during the middle 1990s when they stopped targeting the “lobbyists” and giant corporations in order to fill their party coffers with money from them. Winning these voters back with a serious program of taxing these embezzlers would, according to author Thomas Frank and others, bring them back. (His excellent book – “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”)

Kerry should remember that crime is a “values” issue. While Kerry could not compete with Bush on school prayer or abortion, he could gain support on the crime of embezzling the savings of hard working Americans.

But he would, of course, risk losing some significant campaign contributions. The presidential candidates with the most money have always won the election. And, by the way, Kerry himself has never spoken in favor of measures that would stop these criminals.

For a more detailed treatment of this, go to the John Kerry page on our website.

–Charles Palson

Kerry isn’t the problem, at least not by himself. The problem is the stranglehold of the right-leaning Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) which champions corporate interests in the Democratic Party and was the moving force behind Bill Clinton’s disavowal of welfare and Kerry’s extraordinary success in fund-raising since the primaries. It is also the group behind Dean’s loss; no, not the scream but the army of apparatchik they mobilized to defeat a rank outsider and the first serious threat to their power that they’ve ever faced. eRobin, in a post a few days ago after Barack Obama’s speech, put it this way:

I said in a previous post that Dean and Obama represent the future of the party. After last night, it’s clear that the party is not willing to tolerate a reform-minded Dean. He was effectively brought to heel despite the clamoring of the crowd to hear him say that he will continue to fight up and down ballot for the progressive candidates across the country. Dean was the party’s chance to reach out to Nader voters without using Nader and they crushed the idea with force. They don’t need to be reminded of who’s a Democrat around here.

The Party brooks no dissent even if it’s only showing up as memories.Obama’s speech, as brilliant as it was, is a good example of that. It toed the Party line completely. I’m afraid that in him we are seeing someone being groomed to be a figurehead for a phony new direction in the Party. They’ll get a lot of mileage out of him because he is beautiful to look at and to hear. And he’s a member of a minority group, which always is a good thing when you’re talking “new direction”. But I’m concerned that he isn’t the reformer that the Dems will need in order to do what Andy Rappaport, the progressive fundraiser featured in the NYT magazine story Wiring the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy, is suggesting when he says:

”There is a growing realization among people who take very seriously the importance of progressive politics that the Democratic Party has kind of failed to create a vision for the country that is strongly resonant,” he said. ”And our numbers” — meaning Democrats as a whole — ”are decreasing. Our political power has been diminishing, and it’s become common knowledge that the conservative movement has established a very strong, long-term foundation, whereas we’ve basically allowed our foundation, if not to crumble, to at least fall into a state of disrepair.

The central question of the article is which groups are going to get the money that Rappaport and his associates believe is “floating out there” for progressive causes. Will it be 527’s like that resonate with millions of people and energize them so much that they give their own time and money to the cause? Or will it be to the Democratic Party? Although everyone was putting on a happy face last night, it’s really a choice between what we know Dean represents but didn’t bring to the floor and the status quo that Obama stood for last night. For Obama, it’s a choice between being part of a machine that is happily trying to crush Dean’s reform efforts while it positions itself as the voice of all America, or part of the engine of real change.

It isn’t just Obama. There are other rising stars in the Demo party like Nancy Pelosi, who has become a real power in only a few years, who have the fate of the party in their hands. If these potential superstars buy the DLC line then Ralph Nader is right and most of the differences between the parties will slide into oblivion. We will find ourselves with the choice of voting for right-wing conservatives masquerading as liberals or for extremist right-wink nutjobs.

But if they instead choose to move toward Dean and the 527/populist wing, the party will have to go with them and real liberalism could be re-ignited. They have the power and the charisma to do it–let’s face it, Dean damn near pulled it off and he has neither–but it isn’t clear to me that they understand that the party is facing a choice. They think they can have it all.

They can’t. If they try, it will backfire on them as it did in ’02 and activists will abandon the party in droves. They’re only back now because Bush has united them with his greed, arrogance and incompetence. I think Chuck is right, though not necessarily about Kerry: the future of the Democratic party lies in one of two directions–as Republicans-lite or populists genuinely fighting for the little guy as they used to.