This Isn't What 'Class Warfare' Looks Like

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is wrong about Bill de Blasio's campaign.

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Democratic mayoral hopeful Bill de Blasio is joined by his daughter Chiara during a campaign rally in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. The Democratic primary election is Tuesday, Sept. 10.

We've reached a bizarre, 21st-century interpretation of social and economic relationships when being upfront about one's inter-racial marriage is "racist" and bemoaning the dramatic disparity of wealth is "class warfare." And yet that is what departing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is doing in his characterization of the campaign of Bill de Blasio, one of the Democrats seeking to replace Bloomberg. 

In an interview with New York magazine, Bloomberg called the de Blasio campaign "class warfare and racist." Notably, Bloomberg was responding to a leading-the-witness comment by writer Chris Smith, who suggested in their conversation that de Blasio was waging " class warfare" in his campaign discussion of economic inequality among New York's citizens.

Bloomberg added the term " racist," though he very quickly said "no, no" when asked if de Blasio himself was racist. Bloomberg said he was referring to de Blasio's unabashed use of his African-American wife and biracial children in his campaign.

The logic there is truly absurd. Why shouldn't de Blasio have his family work on his campaign? Virtually every other candidate does. And more to the point, if de Blasio kept his family under wraps during the campaign, he would likely be accused of being ashamed of the racial makeup of his family. And finally, while we surely have made some progress in changing laws and people's prejudices regarding race and interracial marriage, the suggestion that a man who has a wife of another race has some sort of campaign advantage is utterly absurd.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the Democratic Party.]

But it's Bloomberg's "class warfare" remarks that are more troubling, since they betray a complete lack of knowledge – or at least of compassion – for the rank-and-file sorts in New York, along with the poor, who support the lavish lifestyles of the very wealthy. Bloomberg thinks it's the opposite – that it's the wealthy who are grandly supporting the lower classes either through tax revenue for public benefits or by hiring them as nannies and drivers. Said Bloomberg:

The way to help those who are less fortunate is, No. 1, to attract more very fortunate people. They are the ones that pay the bills. The people that would get very badly hurt here if you drive out the very wealthy are the people he professes to try to help.

[de Blasio is] a very populist, very left-wing guy, but this city is not two groups, and if to some extent it is, it's one group paying for services for the other… If we can find a bunch of billionaires around the world to move here, that would be a godsend, because that's where the revenue comes to take care of everybody else.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

Well God bless us everyone, then. What we really need are more hedge fund managers who can play video games with people's pension funds. After all, the rich people are the ones who pay all the taxes. Except – that's not always true. The nation's wealthiest Americans are paying nearly the lowest average tax rate in 50 years. In 2008, the top 400 richest Americans (those making more than $110 million a year) paid 18 percent in income tax, lower than the rate for middle-class Americans.

True. A functioning city needs to attract some wealthy people who can hire other people and contribute to the tax base. But the method doesn't work if the jobs they are creating are low-paid ones. It's not only terribly unfair, but it's destructive to the economy as a whole, since underpaid people can't buy very much – a damaging trend, given that our economy is 70 percent driven by consumer spending. And luring high-income citizens to New York isn't very useful, either, if they are legally avoiding the official tax burden.

Wall Streeters and bankers who nearly ran the economy into the ground a few years ago got bailed out – and some received bonuses to stay on and clean up the mess they made. Meanwhile, middle-class Americans lost their homes, and the poor and unemployed saw their already-meager benefits reduced. That's what leads to so-called "class warfare" – not any campaign by any candidate for mayor. Calling attention to one's inter-racial family isn't racist, and pointing out the appalling gap in wealth and income is not class warfare. Dismissing those two trends might be, however.