The Roots of Reverse Class Warfare

Reverse class warfare isn't just wrong, it was meant for a different era

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With impeccable timing, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart picked up the theme of Rick Perryesque "reverse class warfare," RCW, that I addressed last week.

If the segment weren’t a parody, it might pass as Dickensian tragedy. Various Fox Newsoids call into question whether people categorized by the U.S. Census as "poor" truly deserve not to pay federal income taxes. Because, don’t you see, they have all these "modern conveniences:" refrigerators, cellphones, air conditioners, dishwashers!

A couple of minutes of Googling proves why you don’t need a bleeding heart to realize this kind of thing is a farce. Simple household budgeting will do the trick. [See photos of the GOP hopefuls on the campaign trail.]

Big-box stores like Walmart and Best Buy and various online outlets offer fridges at $399 or less. You can score a dishwasher for $250 and a microwave for $50. A window-unit air conditioner can be had for as little as $100. Plugging these items into the bill estimator at brings us a monthly electric tab of less than $50. As far as mobile consumer goods go, cellphones are often free and darn near disposable—and monthly plans are as cheap as $40.

Add all this together and our theoretical freeloader has spent less than $1,000 for items that will last five to seven years or more.

Meanwhile, he’s renting in a neighborhood with lousy schools and high crime rates, and he’s taking the bus to a lousy job. This is to say nothing of paying state and local income taxes as well as the federal payroll tax, and dealing with high food and fuel costs (wait: If he’s got a car, he shouldn’t be on the bus!).

But the fact that he’s chatting on a cellphone while waiting for the bus—why, it could only mean socialism. [See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

It occurs to me that the RCW habit began over a decade ago, in a far, far different political and fiscal environment. Back then, there were surpluses as far as the eye could see—and tax cuts had lost traction with the electorate. So the bright bulbs over at the Wall Street Journal dreamed up this line of attack: How can we make cutting taxes for the wealthy a political winner again? Bingo: Make everyone pay federal income taxes, and everyone will be back on board.

Not to understate things, but times have changed. RCW has become a sort of vestigial ideological organ. It didn’t used to be about raising revenue. Rather, broadening the tax base was supposed to be about making everyone feel the Leviathan’s pinch.

Almost without anyone noticing, RCW became part of the debt-crisis discussion. [Vote now: Who won the debt ceiling standoff?]

It’s a moral disgrace.

Reagan wept. Again.

  • See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.
  • See a collection of political cartoons on the GOP hopefuls.
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