Class warfare seems to be popping up everywhere these days. It must be campaign season.
Check out this sound bite: "I'm not for tax cuts for the rich. The rich can take care of themselves. I want to get America working again. And so I want to make sure that whatever we do in the tax code, we're not giving a windfall to the very wealthy."
No, that was not President Obama, whose latest "fair share" tax and deficit reduction plan has received a predictable pummeling from Republicans charging him with "class warfare." It was former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, speaking last month to voters in Portsmouth, N.H., about his own plans for tax fairness.
A day earlier, a fellow Republican presidential candidate, front-runner Rick Perry, said this about corporate giant General Electric's use of loopholes to reduce its federal taxes last year to zero: "I can't explain that. The idea that because you have a good relationship with the political world in Washington, D.C. is not a good-enough reason for you not to pay your fair share of taxes."
Whenever Democrats speak of "fair share," conservatives reflexively hear "class warfare." Such was the Republican response to Obama's $3.6 trillion "fair share" deficit reduction plan.
Yet conservatives have long understood a populist reality that Obama has been reluctant to face: Class warfare works, but call it something else -- like fairness.
Voters have a keen sense of fairness, especially when they detect somebody is being unfair to them.
Until now, fighting for his ideas and promoting his presidential achievements have not been high on Obama's agenda, much to the consternation of his supporters. But with employment, public morale and his approval ratings hitting new lows, "No Drama" Obama is starting to talk tough, pushing with new vigor his "balanced approach" that includes ending the Bush-era tax cuts for "millionaires and billionaires."
In response comes the charge of class warfare, as if the fairness of our nation's progressive tax system -- a central element of the Democratic agenda -- were some sort of a Marxist clash of the classes against one another.
Yet neither party lacks class cards or shyness about playing them. Ask Texas Gov. Perry, a master of the poverty-snob card in his battle against "elites," including some of his fellow Republicans.
"As a son of tenant farmers, I can tell you: I wasn't born with four aces in my hand," he told Iowa voters, playing off a line that Romney used in their debates. Romney attributed Texas' economic successes to trends that preceded Perry's governorship. "If you're dealt four aces," Romney said, "that doesn't make you necessarily a great poker player."
Perry raised the umbrage and resentment cards. "There's some folks back in Texas who are real offended by that," he said in Iowa, despite Romney's repeated praise for the greatness of the Lone Star State and its people. "We work hard in Texas."
Perry couldn't resist the implication that his biggest GOP rival is some sort of elitist.
And as Republicans charge Obama's "fair share" plan with class warfare, they might take note of this Perry appeal for a new business tax in 2005, quoted in the Texas Tribune in 2005 and retrieved by the Atlantic Wire website's Elspeth Reeve: "The goal is to create greater tax fairness, not a greater tax burden on the people of Texas."
Yup, "tax fairness" isn't just for Democrats.