President Obama unveiled his latest deficit-reduction plan on Monday, and there was plenty that Republicans could fairly criticize.
Did they attack the president for raising federal revenue inefficiently — not through removing loopholes and carveouts in the tax code? How about for making his reforms to health-care spending too small? Even White House officials admit that the plan isn’t a long-term solution to health-care cost inflation. But Republicans didn’t really home in on either.
Instead, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Fox Business Network Monday night jumped on Obama’s idea to set a minimum tax rate for millionaires, calling it “class warfare.” GOP budget chief Paul Ryan also used the term “class warfare” five times during his pre-buttal of the president’s plan on Fox News Sunday. Not only are these Republicans confusing an appeal of Obama’s plan — raising badly needed revenue — for a deficiency. Their headline criticism is a particularly shallow talking point.
“Class warfare” has been term of overstatement since America actually had high-profile socialist politicians such as Eugene Debs (d. 1926) or Huey Long (d. 1935). And it has become an almost meaningless term of derision amid the conservative political tilt of the last several decades. In a nation in which the debate rages about whether the government should run at 18 percent or 24 percent of GDP — half or less of your typical European social democracy — the word “hyperbole” doesn’t quite capture the scale of Republicans’ exaggeration when they attack the president for “class warfare.”
Republicans can feel as though the president isn’t being constructive with his latest debt plan, proposing something that the GOP would never get close to accepting. Yet, in their response to Obama, they are showcasing so many of the ways they have poisoned the debt debate themselves: unwillingness to admit that the government will need more revenue; more focus on dismantling government than on guaranteeing its budget is sound; defense of these preferences with aggressive and misleading rhetoric that makes Obama’s policies seem like products of the lunatic left.