Steve Benen made an interesting point this morning, noting that the viral Elizabeth Warren video rebutting the bogus charge of “class warfare” is “starting to have an impact on the national discourse.”
Indeed, President Obama has gone out of his way to rebut the “class warfare” charge in just about every appearance he’s made in recent days. I don’t know if Obama’s pushback is based on Warren’s arguments, but he certainly seems to be amplifying his rebuttal in ways strikingly similar to the case Warren made. Here is Obama in Colorado yesterday:
I’m not saying this because we should be punishing success. This is the Land of Opportunity. What’s great about this country is that any of these young people here, if they’ve got a good idea, if they go out there and they’re willing to work hard, they can start a business, they can create value, great products, great services. They can make millions, make billions. That’s great. That’s what America is all about. Anybody can make it if they try.
But what’s also a quintessentially American idea is that those of us who’ve done well should pay our fair share to contribute to the upkeep of the nation that made our success possible because nobody — nobody did well on their own. A teacher somewhere helped to give you the skills to succeed.
Firefighters and police officers are protecting your property. You’re moving your goods and products and services on roads that somebody built. That’s how we all do well together. We got here because somebody else invested in us, and we’ve got to make sure this generation of students can go to college on student aid or scholarships like I did. We’ve got to make sure that we keep investing in the kind of government research that helped to create the Internet, which countless private sector companies then used to create tens of millions of jobs.
And you know what? I’ve talked to them, most wealthy Americans agree with this. Of course, the Republicans in Congress, they call this class warfare. You know what? If asking a millionaire to pay the same tax rate as a plumber makes me a class warrior, a warrior for the working class, I will accept that. I will wear that charge as a badge of honor.
As E.J. Dionne has pointed out, the most effective rebutal to the “class warfare” charge is to stress that raising taxes on the wealthy is not about envy. Rather, it’s about better serving the common good in a way that makes wealth creation possible in the first place.
Another critical point: Obama’s argument doesn’t begin and end with his case about taxes. He’s weaving it in with a broader argument he’s making about values and today’s Republican Party. By regularly invoking the crude reaction of some audience members at GOP debates — the “let him die” moment, the booing of the soldier — and by continually insisting that we’re all in this together, Obama is trying to build a larger case about the choice voters face, between the optimistic, inclusive, charitable vision he’s fighting for and a fundamentally mean-spirited, exclusionary, pessimistic one that’s cloaked in cries of “class warfare.”
Only time will tell if this will work politically or not. Support for high end tax hikes may be soft and the issue may not motivate voters. Obama’s push could hurt vulnerable Dems in red states. He may not succeed in passing meaningful job-creation policies. The economy may ultimately trump all. But I still insist that this is a good argument for us to be having, and I hope it continues.