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The pitch for economic fairness

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Like clockwork, the machine on the other (“right”) side will be attempting, in the drive toward the election of a president, to spin as something altogether different, a glaring income disparity in the country which President Obama has indicated to be his top bread-and-butter issue to take to the electorate. “You can call this class warfare all you want,” Obama said in his State of the Union address. “Most Americans would call it common sense.” We’ll find out in due course whether the president’s unapologetic embrace of populism in that vein becomes the rally cry he’s betting it would or if those hired guns of political chicanery have their way in planting a whole other seed among the voting public.

One man’s “class warfare” is another man’s “economic fairness.” The class thing has been the label of choice, of course, ever since the administration has had the temerity to ask for an increase in taxes on the wealthiest Americans, an end to subsidies for big oil companies and other measures aimed at having the scales not so heavily tilted in favor of the rich and powerful. “Class warfare” was evidently seen by right-side strategists as a handy defense against that type of assault. So, faithfully working the script, presidential contender Mitt Romney, for instance, after he recently released (not without lots of resistance) his latest tax return, was constrained to declare he had nothing to be ashamed of in the millions he was worth. Which speaks directly to what the Republican ruse is all about. Their game plan, they’ve already let on, is about stoking a sense of the moneyed class being vilified among the hoi polloi -- a blatant corruption of what the administration has proposed. Declaring the wealthy enemies of the state isn’t exactly what Obama had in mind in highlighting the country’s income imbalance. His State of the Union remarks once again defined it graphically: “a shrinking number of people doing really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by.”

All things being equal, this obviously can’t be won purely by the numbers by those GOP/conservative proponents of the divide-and-conquer tactic. Any restructuring of things which the majority of Americans believe to be leading toward some leveling of the playing field will find favor with them. Which, by logical projection, should mean rejection of those who look to be obstacles. In the public square it’s a no-brainer. Poll numbers strongly support policy moves perceived as less coddling of the nation’s fat cats, such as the aforementioned increased taxes on the wealthy and ending oil industry subsidies. But, as we’ve oftentimes underscored here, all things aren’t equal. This is still a presidency that made history in a manner which, for some, didn’t quite sit well; this is still a president seen as infinitely unlikeable for a goodly portion of the electorate.

As for Republican lawmakers, it must be that they’re already convinced they have the wherewithal to thwart even a mass revolt. How else to explain the arrogance and obstinacy that would look askance at an overwhelming majority of Americans favoring a tax increase on the wealthy while they choose to continue being beholden to the outlandish tax philosophy of Grover Norquist? Ditto, with the Republicans’ consideration of what’s doing with big oil, they’ve unashamedly bought the twaddle of oil industry lobbyists while the citizenry, in the face of booming industry profits, believes subsidies are an abomination. Why would anyone be surprised at single-digit approval ratings for people on Capitol Hill?

For whatever it’s worth, along came the Occupy movement across the country, following its Wall Street beginning, to lend voice to the idea that it was past time the less privileged 99 percent of the populace made its pitch for economic fairness. Never mind that they were dismissed in some quarters as society’s rejects (a member of New York’s Congressional delegation was conspicuous in his scum-of-the-earth characterization of the Wall Street protesters), such dramatizing of the issue had to have helped. And if it’s in the mix in the approaching election season, it couldn’t possibly be a sidebar about which the Republican camp would be overjoyed.

Holding fast to the party line is one thing. Stepping on folk without so much as an “Excuse me” is quite another. The economic crisis, whose vice-grip is not yet appreciably loosened, has left casualties among those of more sturdy moorings, let alone pipsqueaks with porous defenses. Emerging from this debacle only puts in more stark relief the kind of vulnerability to which the “growing number” referenced by the president, is subjected. This is clearly not a time when ideological inflexibility should be deemed a governing imperative. Sadly, irrespective of what circumstances prevail, some thrust into the role of governance remain unconvinced as to the place of compromise in tending the people’s business.

Quite frankly, this is indefensible. Obama said he would fight obstruction with action. We know well what the limits are on Oval Office action, but to what extent he can craftily move the ball bears watching. And we’ll find out, too, to what extent an electorate, warmed to a message of economic fairness, is prepared, because of issues with the messenger, to blithely reverse field, a move known not to be in its own best interests.

Posted 12:00 am, February 2, 2012
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