In defense of his tax schemeís tilt toward the rich, George W. Bush
has been complaining lately about ďclass warfare.Ē
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 hasnít 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 isnít?
According to the Bush world view, it isnít class warfare to propose
a tax cut that would increase already massive disparities
in wealth and income. It isnít 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 isnít class warfare to reserve
45 percent of total tax benefits for that same 1 percent. And it isnít class warfare to penalize working single mothers with children while rewarding rich, retired married couples. No, it isnít 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 wasnít the slightest hint of class warfare in the Presidentís decision to help his friends at Northwest Airlines
tamp down the companyís restless unionized mechanics. He was just trying to help ďhard-working Americans,Ē
mostly business flyers, get around. And never mind that his Labor Secretary, Elaine Chao, used to serve on the
board of Northwestóor that his old family friend and fund-raiser Fred Malek is still on the airlineís board.
Anyone who brings up those connections is guilty of class warfare.
It wasnít class warfare when Mr. Bush agreed to sign a bankruptcy ďreformĒ
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 countryís largest credit-card issuer. Any assertion to the contrary would surely be class warfare.
It wasnít class warfare when the President, at the urging of industry
lobbyists, signed a bill repealing the Clinton
administrationís new ergonomic regulations. He was merely saving billions of dollars for the nationís 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 donít 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 isnít the kind of thing that happens when all you have to do is open and close a briefcase.)
It wasnít 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 wasnít 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 wasnít 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 hadnít been updated since 1942, he was doing a favor to
his financial backers in the mining industry.
And it definitely wasnít class warfare when Mr. Bush decided to slash
$200 million from the budget for child-care
assistance to the nationís 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 wasnít class warfare at all. Just plain old-fashioned cruelty.