Bush Shows Class in Favoring Rich

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

warfare.

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

a briefcase.)

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

industry.

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

cruelty.