Warren Buffett is an uncommonly outspoken and candid rich guy,
"There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."
"Buffett has outraged conservatives by saying that he pays taxes at a lower rate than his secretary. He's said this for years, but he's a target now because President Obama is using his comment to make the case for higher taxes on millionaires."The issue of class warfare resurfaced recently when the Republicans shrieked and howled in response to Obama's "tax the rich" campaign rhetoric. The reactions of Boehner and Canter are to be expected. The representatives of the monied class always cry "class warfare" at any threat to their position, just as Zionists cry "anti-semitism" to deflect any and all criticism of Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians. Their unrelenting hypocrisy is a time-honored tactic, proving again that the best defense is always a brutally aggressive, take-no-prisoners offense. And that's why the rich only call it class warfare when we fight back.
A recent post by Joshua Holland suggests six ways the rich are waging a class war against the middle class. The actions he cites are mostly related to vilifying the poor, but also hint at the illusion of meritocracy in America -- this idea that the rich have earned their gains due solely to innate attributes of talent, character and hard work. On both these points, Holland's views are consistent with Shadia Drury's commentary on Fake Populism. But Holland adds a wonderful bit of imagery,
"I recently offered a less Orwellian definition, arguing that real class warfare is when those who have already achieved a good deal of prosperity pull up the ladder behind them by attacking the very things that once allowed working people to move up and join the ranks of the middle class."As he says of his six strategies, they all are designed to protect the status quo in service of the elites' interests, in part to distract from the structural causes of poverty and inequality.
And, as I've argued in earlier posts, this latest campaign in the war of the classes differs markedly from the past -- the success of the rich is so sweeping this time -- because today's elites have at their disposal an incredibly powerful weapon known as the corporation;
"The rise of this new breed of elites, come to exploit the tension between democracy and liberty -- as well as the perennial conflict between rich and poor -- coincides with the ascendance of the corporation. The global corporatist infrastructure provides the vast sums of money -- the enabling mechanism -- that now powers the policies and politics of our so-called democracy. Corporatism has come to dominate our culture and society. It is the corporation, and the pervasive culture of corporatism, that has spawned this new breed of corrupt elite."Corporate structure and corporate culture have given today's elites an unprecedented advantage for which we have no countervailing force -- much like a virus for which humans have no natural defense.
And you can be assured that the staunch advocates of the monied elite (otherwise known as our elected representatives) will continue to press this tactical and strategic advantage. For example, according to a Republican insider who recently "left the cult", the GOP's corporatist worldview is perfectly aligned with one of its most sacred beliefs;
"The GOP cares solely and exclusively about its rich contributors. The party has built a whole catechism on the protection and further enrichment of America's plutocracy. Their caterwauling about the deficit and debt is so much eyewash to con the public.
Republicans have attempted to camouflage their amorous solicitude for billionaires with a fog of misleading rhetoric. John Boehner is fond of saying 'we won't raise anyone's taxes' as if the take-home pay of an Olive Garden waitress were inextricably bound up with whether Warren Buffet pays his capital gains as ordinary income or at a lower rate. Another chestnut is that millionaires and billionaires are job creators. US corporations have just had their most profitable quarters in history. So, where are the jobs?"But you don't need the revelations of a political insider to acknowledge the obvious fact that we are in the midst of an epic struggle for the very soul of democracy -- one that they are winning, by the way. Class warfare is being waged everyday in the statements and actions of this new breed of corrupt elite. And what is abundantly clear is that they hate democracy -- or at the very least, they wish to reserve it only for those (in their opinion) best qualified to exercise it. As one prominent conservative wrote recently,
"Registering them [the poor] to vote is like handing out burglary tools to criminals. It is profoundly antisocial and un-American to empower the nonproductive segments of the population to destroy the country."This sentiment was echoed by Rush Limbaugh, who wonders why poor people should be allowed to vote; and Judson Phillips, president of Tea Party Nation, who says that voting should be limited to those with property; or Walter Williams, who writes that he finds "democracy and the rule of the majority a contemptible form of government"; or Pat Buchanan who calls democracy a "childlike faith", and then goes on to quote John Adams,
"Democracy never lasts long. Its soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide."But while they may hate democracy, the elites and those who serve them are not above using its trappings and traditions as cover for their own advantage. Our culture is infused with a populist rhetoric that ignores the fact that we live in an unprecedented global oligarchy or, rule of the rich on a global scale. We are constantly bombarded with a populist rhetoric that suggests we live in a radical (ie, populist) democracy that caters to the needs of the many, rather than the privileges of the few,
"Even though oligarchy reigns supreme, democracy is so revered in our society that it has become a new god. People are willing to die for it, launch wars in its name and bomb others in the hope of converting them to the true faith. The prevalence of this naive conception of democracy allows us to be hoodwinked by our ruling elites into supporting an agenda that serves the interest of the global oligarchy while pretending to be radically democratic or populist."The elites and those who serve them have been waging class warfare for the past 40 years. Today's GOP remains determined to drown government in the bathtub; it is a movement that now requires its members to pledge an oath that they will never raise taxes. Today's GOP is the ideological offspring of the sainted Ronald Reagan's famous dictum "government is the problem", an ideology that is now totally loosed from its moorings. Today's GOP is based on the unrepentant and unassailable conviction that victory in the long struggle for power is at hand. And, like the evangelicals with whom they are allied, these are not people with whom you can reason.
Leading GOP commentators like Bill O'Reilly continue to advance the elitist agenda that taxation of "achievement" is unfair and unjust (the meritocracy argument), while Elizabeth Warren correctly put taxation and the social contract in their proper context when she said,
"There is nobody in this country that got rich on his own. Nobody."And in an excellent commentary on the social contract, Paul Krugman refutes the idea that the meritocracy of the monied class absolves them of any responsibility to share in the burdens of society, even as they happily reap all the benefits it affords,
"Republicans claim to be deeply worried by budget deficits. Indeed, Mr. Ryan called the deficit an existential threat to America. Yet they are insisting that the wealthy -- who presumably have as much of a stake as everyone else in the nation's future -- should not be called upon to play any role in warding off that existential threat. Well, that amounts to a demand that a small number of very lucky people be exempted from the social contract that applies to everyone else. And that, in case you're wondering, is what real class warfare looks like."If the Republicans are the most visible, shameless and outrageously outspoken in waging class warfare, they are not its only practitioners. While it is true that the GOP has become an "insurrectionary party that flouts the law when it is in the majority and threatens disorder when it is the minority", the Democrats are employed by the same corporate paymasters. They may lack the partisan zeal and cynical strategic vision of their rivals, but Democratic lawmakers understand the bargain they must strike in order to gain and hold power, and they have demonstrated their willingness to play the game.
At some point, though, as you trace the rise of money in politics, follow the history of deregulation and offshoring and the gutting of the middle class, and read of the renewed (and farcical) angst over tax rates for the rich, you must ask the most basic of questions: Why?
Can it all just be simple greed? Can this most spectacular success of the monied elite be nothing more than a brilliantly conceived and executed bank heist? Well yes, it certainly is about the money -- and enormous sums of it, to be sure. After-all, four hundred Americans now control more wealth than 150 million of their fellow countrymen, combined, in what has become a new Gilded Age.
But there's got to be more to it. Beyond these staggering financial gains engineered by the monied elite, there might also be a certain prestige in this victory -- a triumph for the ages that elevates these newest captains of industry (or Robber Barons, if you prefer) to the rarified status of an Astor, Carnegie, Mellon, Rockefeller or Vanderbilt.
Beyond the obscene piles of money, the "why" is really about a return to the natural order of things, where wealth is the mechanism that not only distinguishes the few from the many, but also maintains that separation. From Plato to Alexander Hamilton to the conservative thinkers of today, rule by the elite remains, in their view, the natural order -- money and power in the service of money and power.
"All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and the well born, the others the mass of the people...The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge and determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share of government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second." Alexander Hamilton, first Treasury Secretary of the U.S.Viewed in this context, the elites consider liberal democracy and the New Deal to be the aberrations of history, not the basis for a new society. And since the term democracy does not even appear in the US Constitution, it is the views of Limbaugh, Phillips, Williams and Buchanan that truly animate the them. The monied class has chafed at what it views to be the unnatural imbalance created by FDR, and it is now poised to reclaim its natural right. And this brings us full-circle to Warren Buffett and his so-called betrayal of the rich few.
Buffett has a shone light where darkness prevails. He has opened a dialogue on a forbidden subject. But the tax issue is a misdirection. True, the rich believe in meritocracy, and have managed to shed the burdens of the social contract (the rich will always find ways to shed the burden of the social contract). The real prize is the power that their money has secured, a return to their self-serving vision of the natural order of things, and their self-proclaimed right to a permanent share of government.
Update. This post was given a brief run on OpEdNews this past weekend, and in its short life there generated some interesting conversation. The big story in the online world is of course the growing protest movement which has taken on Wall Street, and it now seems to be morphing into other causes in other cities. Known as the 99%ers, this movement has been likened to the protests of the Arab Spring, and the anti-austerity actions in Europe, Israel and Greece. Even the organizers of the long-planned October 6 rally are climbing on board. Whatever association you prefer, the public dissent now building in the US is a long-overdue expression of a class struggle that most citizens didn't even know they were waging.
I would urge the interested reader to follow the link to a post by Michael Parenti, called Class Warfare Indeed.
Your musical accompaniment for the day: "Hey Jude", The Beatles, Past Masters; the massed horn entrance at 3:48 of the song is one of the great moments in rock music. Enjoy.