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“Class Warfare” and the Abbott-and-Costello Routine

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Andy Schmookler is running for Congress in the 6th Congressional District of Virginia, challenging the incumbent Congressman, Bob Goodlatte.  He is an award-winning author, political commentator, and teacher has been a resident of Shenandoah County since 1992.  He is a graduate of Harvard University and holds a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley.

President Obama proposes to close tax loopholes that benefit the super-rich, and the Republicans scream “Class Warfare.”  I’m hoping the coming showdown will bring this long-running Abbott and Costello routine in American politics to an end.

Here’s how the routine works: The Republicans push through laws that further enrich the already fabulously rich. The Democrats protest the injustice of such policies. The Republicans then accuse the Democrats of waging “class warfare.” And the Democrats shut up until the next round.

Over  the years, this rhetorical strategy has enabled our “them that has, gets” politics, filling  me with the same frustrated anger that I felt as a boy when I saw a brilliant Abbott-and-Costello routine in one of their films.

As I recall, the two men are stranded on a desert island with no food, until Costello finds a bag of beans. Abbott argues successfully that since they are buddies, the two should share the food equally.

Abbott eats his half before Costello takes his first bite, Abbott then protests. How can it be that he has nothing to eat while Costello has all those beans? Aren’t they buddies? Shouldn’t the beans be divided?

Costello senses something’s wrong. Still, he agrees to divide the beans again, and again Abbott eats his share while Costello again prepares to eat his, and again is interrupted by Abbott’s outraged protestations. Aren’t we buddies, share and share alike?

And so it goes until they’re down to the last bean, Abbott having eaten all the others.  Abbott then challenges Costello for half the remaining bean. If I remember correctly, Costello ends up throwing his last remaining bean-fragment away–still having eaten nothing– furious but bewildered.  His hunger tells him he’s been had, but he can’t quite figure out how.

I could hardly bear to watch this scene, just as over the years I’ve hated to watch  the success of the Republicans in  shifting the tax burden down the social ladder, dismantling social protections, removing obstacles that were erected to protect the public interest from mighty economic powers–and then clobbering anyone who protests by charging them with waging class warfare.

The Republicans misuse an American ideal that our nation, unlike the Old World, should be free of the politics of class, and that it is un-American for one class to fight another for a better deal.  But like Abbott’s plea for “fairness,” the Republican distaste for “class warfare” is one-sided.  As billionaire Warren Buffet has declared:  “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”T

The share of national income of the top 1 percent has more than doubled in the past generation, and with the top one percent of one percent the rise has been still more dramatic.  Inequality of income and wealth are now greater in America than at any time in living memory.

Meanwhile, the very rich are paying the lowest tax rates in half a century, half the rate they paid on ordinary income until thirty years ago.  Corporate taxes constitute only a fraction of the share of national income that they were in the 1950s.  And the compensation of corporate executives has skyrocketed while the median wage of average Americans has fallen.

Maybe it’s showdown time. The polls show that a substantial majority of American believe the rich should be paying more at this time of widespread economic hardship.  The data show how policies of our government in which big money has been playing a growing role– have aided a massive shift of wealth from the middle class to the super-rich. Our national goals will be hard to achieve without more sharing of the burden.  Real sharing.

At long last, it seems the cry of “class warfare” is not intimidating the Democrats and their leader, the president of the United States.  Let’s hope that’s so.  It’s about time that average Americans get their fair share of the beans.

To learn more about Andy, please go to www.AndySchmooklerforCongress.com

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