I really wish the pundit class would realize that the “class war” as folks like me who put it in our blog titles know it is about much more than simple tax rates. Even Timothy Noah pointed out that fixing the massive inequality in this country won’t come from marginal tax rates alone.
That said, hell yes it’s time to raise taxes on the rich. But letting the Bush tax cuts expire was also one of Obama’s biggest applause lines back in ‘08 (hell, back to ‘07 in South Carolina, where mainstream pundits like to forget that lots of people are no fans of wealthy elites).
Sherrod Brown could tell Jonathan Chait a few things about populist rhetoric and class war—which was the reason why, back in 2010 after I wiped the tears off my cheeks from Russ Feingold’s loss to that vapid troll Ron Johnson (who wants to mansplain economics to the brilliant Tammy Baldwin), I decided to pay close attention to what was going on in Ohio, a state where I’ve never lived and only visited a couple of times.
Because Brown, who cited Lincoln Steffens and W.E.B. DuBois in his victory speech election night before losing his voice and ceding his space at the podium to his wife, knows that the class war isn’t just about tax rates. It’s about jobs and trade policy, about the right to collective bargaining and unions, it’s about squeezing down women’s access to abortion to keep us small and scared, and it’s about attacks on voters—campaigns for voter ID and the type of curtailing of early voting hours and access that Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted spent most of his last year on.
And Elizabeth Warren knows a few things about class war too—she knows that it’s bailouts and bankruptcy law, foreclosures and student loans. Warren just won a blistering campaign for the Senate and she’s going to now have to wage an intra-party battle for the seat on the Banking committee that she so richly deserves (but Chuck Schumer no doubt wants to hang on to his Wall Street money and will try to block her along with many other “pro-business” Dems).
And the aforementioned Tammy Baldwin, who along with Brown earned her populist cred showing up to support union workers and their allies as they faced attacks on collective bargaining rights. Baldwin was there when Wisconsin stormed the Capitol and kicked off a year of popular uprisings and the beginnings of a real, deep resistance to the power of the 1%. Wisconsin workers didn’t forget when it came time to vote for her.
So yes, Jonathan Chait, I agree with you that this election was as much about class war as any in recent history. I just think that boiling it down to taxing the rich is shortsighted. We’re going to have a lot of class-war fights on our hands in the next couple of years, from Social Security to, inevitably, more attacks on unions, from the minimum wage to the still-unfixed housing crisis to the Supreme Court nominations that are probably coming to immigration and education. Pounding the podium for the expiration of the Bush tax cuts is quite literally the least Obama can do for the working class.