Class War Rekindled
June 6, 2005
I was in Washington last week for the "Take Back America" conference organized by the Campaign for America's Future.
Hundreds of progressives and Democrats got together to talk about how to fight the Republican takeover of the country, and to reenergize the opposition.
One theme emerged over and over: the vast transfer of wealth to the already-wealthy that is rapidly reshaping our nation. There are so many examples of this triumph of wealth over the public interest, it would take pages to list them all. But this administration's war on everything from sane environmental regulation to the public schools to municipalities' ability to provide basic services to people is creating a closed society to replace the American ideals of equality, opportunity, and class mobility.
On the last day of the conference, Bill Moyers put a human face on this tragic theft of our democracy.
Showing clips from the show that's been targeted by Bush's chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Moyers demonstrated the "biased" journalism the Republicans hate. Two programs tracked the lives of lower-middle-class families in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Tamaqua, Pennsylvania. They were losing their homes and falling off the edge into poverty because of layoffs by corporations determined to increase profits.
We are now living with the largest social inequality in America since 1929. The average CEO makes $37.5 million, while the average worker makes $38,000.
But it's not just economic inequality that is the problem. The enormous political power of the rich, and the increasing powerlessness of ordinary citizens, is creating a country where it is dangerous to live.
The bankruptcy bill, Moyers pointed out, "strips leverage from people who have no leverage to spare."
And, as The Progressive's lead editorial points out this month, corporate lobbyists have succeeded in getting the government to sign off on a massive default on pensions for retired workers. Even as the President moves forward with his plan to undermine Social Security.
Workers are so insecure about their jobs, they are afraid to make demands or join unions.
As Bob Herbert writes in his op-ed column today, the American dream itself has gone by the boards. Poor children in Canada and Western Europe are more likely to move up into the middle class than are their counterparts in this country. It is time, Herbert suggests, to talk about the "Scandinavian dream."
The Times has been running a series on class inequality that shows some startling gaps developing--not just between the rich and poor, but between the super-rich and everyone else, driven, in large part, by the Bush tax cuts that force austerity on public services while freeing up billions in private money for the obscenely wealthy to enjoy. Even business magazines like Forbes and the Economist are moved to comment on "income inequality not seen since the gilded age," as the Economist put it, such that "the United States risks calcifying into a European-style, class-based society."
This is the sort of "class war" rhetoric the right deplores. But the excesses of this Administration are such that it may finally spark a kind of class outrage that poses a real threat. Let's hope so.
As Moyers said in his speech: "These are not radical views. They are not even liberal views. They are just plain American values."