Demonstrations against the financial elite on Wall Street, which began Sept. 17, are gaining momentum. Stars like Michael Moore and Susan Sarandon are now making appearances to rally the crowds. And unions, including the New York-based United Federation of Teachers and the Transportation Workers, are now joining the New York marches. Smaller rallies against corporate riches have hit the streets of Chicago and San Francisco and other U.S. cities.
“Would you rather keep … tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires or would you say let’s get teachers back in the classroom?” President Obama asked in a blunt political push for his jobs bill before an Ohio audience last week. “Now, the Republicans… they said, ‘Well, this is class warfare.’ You know what? If asking a billionaire to pay their fair share of taxes, to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or a teacher is class warfare, then you know what? I’m a warrior for the middle class. I’m happy to fight for the middle class.”
The Republican counterattack is to label Obama a failed leader resorting to class warfare. He is a desperate politician who is now “pitting one group against another,” in the words of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
But a Fox News poll out last week said the president and fellow Democrats are gaining with voters by calling attention to the nation’s class divide.
“Do you think Barack Obama’s political strategy for re-election is designed to bring people together with a hopeful message, or drive people apart with a partisan message?” the poll asked.
Fifty-six percent said the president is pursuing his campaign strategy to bring people together. That majority of registered voters included 53 percent of independents and 68 percent of self-described moderates. It also includes 58 percent of people who earn over $50,000 annually.
Similarly, USA Today reported last week that a Gallup Poll found 66 percent of Americans favor the president’s call to increase taxes on individuals earning over $200,000 and 70 percent want to end corporate tax deductions to pay for his proposed American Jobs Act.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post released a poll showing that the class division strategy is hurting the Republicans. It found 47 percent of Americans agree that the GOP represents the interests of the nation’s rich.
The power of the Democrats’ populist appeal against the upper class is currently on view in the Massachusetts Senate campaign. Elizabeth Warren, the consumer advocate running for the Democratic nomination, is a powerful class warrior.
Warren is the architect of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and a fervent advocate for tax equality. Early polls show her running even with or slightly ahead of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass). Brown has been one of the Senate’s biggest recipients of campaign contributions from bankers, mortgage lenders and hedge fund managers. Last year, Forbes magazine named him one of Wall Street’s favorite members of Congress.
In a video that has gone viral, Warren refutes Republican charges of class warfare, saying: “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there, good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.”
On the other side of the debate, the GOP is keeping to their old, familiar refrain. Led by Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), they insist that the best way to stimulate the economy is to give even more money to the wealthy in the hope they will create jobs and stimulate the economy.
Americans reject the argument and so do the facts. Corporate profits are the highest they have ever been. Despite the recession, the rich have been doing extremely well with the richest 400 Americans having more money than the bottom 150 million.
Yet unemployment and underemployment have persisted with no change. If the GOP theory of trickle-down economics were true, then the rich should be creating jobs like crazy and stimulating the economy in the process. They have not.
The president and his party are in the early stages of reclaiming the mantle of economic populism from the Republicans and the Tea Party. So far, the Democrats decision to join the pitchfork brigade looks to be a winning strategy.
Juan Williams is a writer, author and Fox News political analyst. His latest book "Muzzled: The Assault On Honest Debate" (Crown/Random House) was released in July.