Be wary. By offering certain facts here, I may, according to President Bush, make myself guilty of "class warfare."
The president is proposing an economic "stimulus" plan that will certainly stimulate the very wealthiest Americans.
Its centerpiece will be an end to taxes on dividends, which will cost the government about $300 billion over the next decade. It happens, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, that roughly half that money would go to people earning more than $350,000 a year, to the top 1 percent of Americans. The 80 percent of households earning less than $73,000 a year will get less than 10 percent of this stimulant.
With so many Americans losing their jobs and their health insurance, with senior citizens getting clobbered by prescription drug costs, with money short for educating kids, you'd think we could find better ways of stimulating the economy.
But everything I just said is politically incorrect because it involves a kind of warfare of which the president most definitely disapproves.
"I understand the politics of economic stimulus, that some would like to turn this into class warfare," Bush said last week as he was giving reporters a tour of that very nice ranch he owns in Crawford, Tex. "That's not how I think."
Now, if I were in the president's position -- or in the position of the wealthy contributors who lavishly financed the campaigns of his political friends last year -- I wouldn't want anyone to talk about class either. God forbid we look at the details of exactly who benefits most from this administration's policies.
But it would be easier to respect this attack on class warfare if the president and his allies disavowed such belligerency themselves. Alas, they don't. They just play a different kind of class politics by demonizing those elites who are not on their approved list of corporate chiefs, oil millionaires, heirs to large fortunes and the like.
The president, for example, loves to bash the rich if they got that way by being trial lawyers.
Arguing for limits on medical malpractice awards in a North Carolina speech last July, Bush told the story of Jill and Chet Barnes of Las Vegas. "Jill is a student teacher," Bush said, "and her husband is a fireman." Because Nevada had such high malpractice insurance rates, Jill, who was eight weeks pregnant at the time, was having trouble finding a doctor -- "that's got to be really frightening to a young mom" -- and eventually got one by traveling an hour and a half to Arizona.
It didn't take long for Bush to describe the villain of the piece. He declared that "what we want is quality health care, not rich trial lawyers."
Yes, there's a lot to be said about the malpractice issue. And you felt bad for the young couple. But if setting up a teacher and a firefighter against "rich trial lawyers" is not class warfare, then Karl Marx is the current editor of the Wall Street Journal's editorial pages.
Republican class warfare is not confined to trial lawyers. Almost daily, Republicans attack privileged groups: "the cultural elite," "the Hollywood elite," "the intellectual elite" and, of course, "the liberal elite."
Bush merged some of these categories in 1994 when he was running for governor of Texas. No slouch as a fundraiser himself, he chided Ann Richards, his opponent, for going to California to raise money from the "liberal elite." That same year, the president's brother Jeb, running for governor of Florida, defended his views by declaring: "These are mainstream ideas, ideas that matter, whether the intellectual elite in this state like them or not."
The Bush sons learned from a master. A lovely bit of class warfare was the former president Bush's assault on his 1988 Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis, for representing the views of the "Harvard boutique." In 1992 Vice President Dan Quayle divided the world into "two cultures, the cultural elite and the rest of us." You know you're dealing with class warfare when an "elite" is set up against "the rest of us." George H.W. said he quite liked the speech.
Detect a pattern? Class warfare around cultural issues is wonderful. It distracts attention from the grubby details about how certain economic policies may benefit a rather small group of Americans who just happen to be the wealthiest Americans.
Oops, I committed class warfare again.
Years ago, Harold Lasswell, the great political scientist, suggested that one of the fundamental political questions is "Who gets what, when and how." It's a question we're not supposed to ask anymore.