In defense of his tax scheme’s tilt toward the rich, George
W. Bush has been complaining lately about “class warfare.” This is an
interesting phrase to hear uttered by a President accustomed to the tony
precincts of Kennebunkport and River Oaks. After all, Dubya probably hasn’t
thought too much about class warfare since the good old days at Yale, when he
and his fellow seniors applied red-hot coat hangers to the flesh of freshmen in
the back rooms of the Deke fraternity.
Having apparently memorized the Cliffs Notes version of
Republican argumentation, he now warns against the perils of class warfare
wherever he goes. But what exactly does he mean when he uses that loaded term?
What is class warfare, and what isn’t?
According to the Bush world view, it isn’t class warfare to
propose a tax cut that would increase already massive disparities in wealth and
income. It isn’t class warfare to trickle tax savings of $256 a year or less to
the bottom 60 percent of American families, while lavishing $7,500 a year or
more upon the top 1 percent of American families. It isn’t class warfare to
reserve 45 percent of total tax benefits for that same 1 percent. And it isn’t
class warfare to penalize working single mothers with children while rewarding
rich, retired married couples. No, it isn’t even class warfare to slash the
estate tax in a manner that would award 85 percent of the benefits to the top1
percent of taxpayers (yes, them again).
It is class
warfare, however, to mention any of the above facts.
The Bush interpretation of class warfare can be applied to
almost any area of public policy. It is clear, for example, that there wasn’t
the slightest hint of class warfare in the President’s decision to help his
friends at Northwest Airlines tamp down the company’s restless unionized
mechanics. He was just trying to help “hard-working Americans,” mostly business
flyers, get around. And never mind that his Labor Secretary, Elaine Chao, used
to serve on the board of Northwest-or that his old family friend and
fund-raiser Fred Malek is still on the airline’s board. Anyone who brings up
those connections is guilty of class warfare.
It wasn’t class warfare when Mr. Bush agreed to sign a
bankruptcy “reform” bill that grossly discriminates against troubled
middle-income families while favoring rich deadbeats and bank-card companies.
He was only cracking down on fraud, and his decision to sign the bill had
absolutely nothing to do with Charles Cawley, the $100,000 Bush fund-raiser who
also happens to be the chief executive of MBNA, the country’s largest
credit-card issuer. Any assertion to the contrary would surely be class
It wasn’t class warfare when the President, at the urging of
industry lobbyists, signed a bill repealing the Clinton administration’s new
ergonomic regulations. He was merely saving billions of dollars for the
nation’s businesses, whose generous leaders have assured him that they are
taking very, very good care of workers injured by repetitive stress and other
musculo-skeletal disorders, and that they don’t need any pesky federal
regulators telling them what to do.
It probably was class warfare, however, when the National
Academy of Sciences reported last January that repetitive-stress injuries,
often inflicted on women workers, cost the country about $50 billion in lost
wages, compensation and medical costs, in addition to pain and suffering. (This
isn’t the kind of thing that happens when all you have to do is open and close
It wasn’t class warfare when Mr. Bush unilaterally rescinded
long-standing agreements that protected the wages and conditions of workers
employed on federally funded construction projects or performing services in
federal buildings. It also wasn’t class warfare when Mr. Bush abolished a
successful labor-management cooperation arrangement in the federal bureaucracy,
one day after his Labor Secretary assured leaders of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. that her
boss is committed to working with labor. Those were merely a couple of slaps at
those nasty union bosses. After all, they and their members committed class
warfare by supporting Al Gore last year.
It wasn’t class warfare when Mr. Bush undid the new federal
regulations reducing the permissible level of arsenic in drinking water,
although that problem is most likely to affect poor communities in the
Southwest. It is class warfare to
note that when the President overturned those rules, which hadn’t been updated
since 1942, he was doing a favor to his financial backers in the mining
And it definitely wasn’t class warfare when Mr. Bush decided to slash $200 million from the budget for
child-care assistance to the nation’s poorest families, or when he cut
back federal funding to prevent child abuse, or when he sliced training funds
for medical personnel at pediatric hospitals.
That wasn’t class warfare at all. Just plain old-fashioned