In our post-mortem of the 2012 elections, the Campaign for America’s Future was one of the few organizations willing to say that “class war” was not only the common theme of many of the Democratic Party’s electoral successes but it is a strategy that the party should proudly embrace as it moves toward the 2014 and 2016 elections.
It’s taken six months after our “wage class war” report was posted for a major mainstream media outlet to probe our claim with any depth, but today Politico reporters Jonathan Martin and John F. Harris echoed our conclusion that “class warfare works.”
“That fundamental reality of the Obama years — that the president won a second term in large part because he gave new life to an old brand of class-based politics — continues to echo six months later as the dominant factor shaping American politics this spring, as the parties slog through the latest fiscal fight,” Martin and Harris write.
In his analysis of the 2012 elections, Robert Borosage said that the weak economy rendered President Obama and swing-district Democrats politically vulnerable, and wealthy Republican benefactors put up big money to go in for the kill. But with the Republican standard-bearer, Mitt Romney, being “inescapably the candidate of, by and for the 1 percent,” the Obama campaign was able to use populist themes to hold together the coalition of young people, women and people of color that helped get him into the White House in the first place.
But, as Borosage also noted in his analysis, Obama is not by nature a populist class warrior, and nothing reveals that more than his current willingness to champion a cut in Social Security benefits in order to win a “grand bargain” with Republicans on tax reform.
That is what brings us to what Politico accurately calls “both a political challenge and a definitional moment.” Having won significant electoral victories over the tribunes of the 1 percent in 2012, will President Obama and the Democratic Party soil that victory by doing the 1 percent’s dirty work for them on such issues as Social Security?
The most distressing answer to that question is in the comments to Politico by Obama political strategist David Axelrod, who goes so far as to echo the rhetoric by Republicans like Rep. Paul Ryan in justifying cuts to Medicare and Social Security.
“The most persuasive case for reforming Medicare is saving Medicare,” Axelrod is quoted by Politico as saying. “You don’t want to see the Big Bad Wolf making those decisions.”
Unsaid by Axelrod, of course, is that the American public does not want to see anyone making a decision to reduce Social Security benefits – neither bad wolves nor pliant sheep – when what we desperately need is a strategy for strengthening benefits and making seniors more financially secure.
Particularly insulting is Axelrod’s assertion that those of us who have been opposing President Obama’s proposal to limit Social Security cost-of-living adjustments through what is called the “chained CPI” are more interested in using retirement security “as a club with which to pound the opposition” and don’t want to “address long-term problems with the programs.”
But class war as viewed by progressives is not war for war’s sake. The economic future of low- and middle-income people – and thus the country at large – is at stake, as a result of a sustained, decades-long attack fueled by conservative economic policies on workers and the pillars of shared prosperity.
Solutions based on a different vision of an economy that works for everyone are at the very core of this fight. On Social Security, for example, we have shown how Social Security’s solvency can be assured for at least the next 75 years through a combination of more equitable taxation – asking wealthier individuals to pay more into the system – and bolder policies to grow the economy and get unemployed people working again, so that they are once again paying Social Security taxes.
What the White House and Congress should remember is that class war is in fact today’s central political reality, and any politician who wants to win either a future election or a positive political legacy should be on the side of working people, not the plutocrats and ideologues bankrolling the policies of austerity and income inequality.