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President Obama’s recent proposal to levy new taxes on millionaires and billionaires has produced the cry we always hear from the right when the imperial privileges of the wealthy are questioned.
“Class war; class war!!” The belief is that we musn’t mention class in America because, well, there’s just something Communist about it.
But the truth has its own imperatives. And the truth is that we have always had class divisions in the United States. Have we forgotten about The Gilded Age, the time just after the turn of the 20th century when industrialism had created so many wealthy “captains of industry?”
We should remember that the men who worked in those industries made very small wages. Unions weren’t even legal yet, and there was no such thing as “a minimum wage.”
Today, we have a greater gap between the rich and the rest of us than ever before. Corporate CEOs sometimes make 200 or 300 times what their “average worker” earns.
We have a “conservative movement” that clearly favors the rich in all its policies. Tax cuts are to go to the wealthiest instead of the middle class. And there’s an elusive phrase if ever there’s been one…just who is “middle class” anymore?
Well, if you make less than the average annual income, and you’re struggling to pay your bills, or, let’s say, living from paycheck to paycheck, you’re not exactly “middle class.”
You may be “lower middle class,” a term we don’t hear much anymore, but one that probably describes most working Americans.
Conservatives are always telling poor and struggling people that they’re better off than they really are. Let’s face it; it’s embarrassing to be poor in such a rich country that puts such a high standard on having money.
Most poor people today work, and they do so for low wages in “right-to-work” states, where unions are punished and the wages are always low. That certainly describes Virginia and all of the Deep South. Right-wing propaganda has tried to get people to accept these things as “their lot in life,” if you will.
Then the religious right comes along and says, ‘Well, Jesus said we would always have the poor with us, and heaven is your real reward. So just vote against abortion and don’t worry about money.”
Far too many people have taken that advice, and they go to the polls and vote for the very party that keeps them poor. Conservatives like it that way.
Conservative Republicans know that if the poor and the middle class voted entirely out of economic motives, Democrats – the party of FDR and the New Deal – would seldom lose a national election.
Some of the working poor vote GOP out of their own greed, and greed has always been encouraged by the right in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Some who struggle see themselves not as poor, but as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires,” a phrase I saw on the Internet.
Groucho Marx once said: “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, and rich is better.” But Abraham Lincoln once remarked: “God must have truly loved the common man, because he made so many of them.”
National policy should benefit those who are the victims of unfettered capitalism; the rich don’t need any help. Most people do indeed work hard, but they wind up just like Lincoln’s “common man,” able only to barely support themselves and their families. They don’t get rich.
Class war? Fine. It’s time for working class America to wake up and look around. The “Occupy Wall Street” movement just may be a signal that people are finally figuring this out.
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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.