Jonathan Chait on the GOP and 'class warfare'

What to make of the new half-hour film about Mitt Romney's record at the private equity firm Bain Capital? It seems odd that a film portraying financiers as vultures should come from a super PAC that supports Newt Gingrich, a candidate who claims Romney's economic policies aren't conservative enough. As Jonathan Chait of New York magazine points out, it's also odd for Republican presidential candidates (Gingrich, Perry, and Santorum) to be accusing their party's frontrunner of having fed off the carcass of American industry for a quick profit; these are, after all, the same candidates who accuse President Obama of class warfare just because he wants to let a few tax cuts expire. (Rick Santorum even believes it's class warfare to use the word "class," exceptwhen he's using it.) Chait writes:

The GOP Establishments deepest and most recurrent fear is an open debate over economic class. This is not a debate they feel they can win even among Republican voters, a majority of whom actually favor higher taxes on the rich. Romneys assertion yesterday that economic inequality should not be discussed, or should only be mentioned in quiet rooms, is a too-frank expression of the GOP elites actual belief that the issue must be kept out of political debate....Republicans believe any discussion of the disparate class impact of regressive policies constitutes an impermissible attack on the rich. If the matter is to be discussed at all, it must be under conditions that insulate it completely from the political debate, so as to avoid waking up the populist demons.
The irony is that, unlike the Democrats line on taxes (rich people are swell but the fiscal trade-off of keeping their taxes low is not worth it), Gingrichs assault on Romney actually comes pretty close to a plausible definition of class warfare. If you try to define even mild objections to regressive policies as vicious class warfare, you have little room to object when the real thing arrives.

Matthew Boudway is senior editor of Commonweal.

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