Why Class Warfare May Work This Year

Michael Perelman michael at ecst.csuchico.edu
Thu Aug 24 20:10:45 PDT 2000

Patrick Bond once referred to the old South Africa as socialism for the whites. Could we be moving in that direction?

Seth Ackerman wrote:

> Wall Street Journal
> Op-Ed
> Why Class Warfare May Work This Year
> Al Gore has followed Bill Clinton's lead by abandoning the nonworking poor.
> Thursday, August 24, 2000 12:01 a.m. EDT
> Class war was supposed to have gone the way of the Cold War, finished off in
> the '80s. So how did Al Gore's jeremiad against "powerful forces" rocket him
> into a slight lead over George W. Bush, who last Wednesday seemed
> invincible?
> That's the way the poll bounces, say confident Republicans. But they
> shouldn't be too sanguine. The postconvention polls may be inconclusive, but
> they strongly suggest that Democratic class warfare has an unanticipated
> resonance in 2000. If so, the reason can be summed up in two words: welfare
> reform.
> <<...>>
> By all accounts, the 1996 Welfare Reform Act has been a success, shrinking
> the rolls by getting people to work. Its political effects have been at
> least as impressive. It has nullified the underclass--those poor people
> permanently dependent on government handouts--as a political issue. No
> longer can Republicans wage class warfare, as Richard Nixon and Ronald
> Reagan did with such great success, by promising to protect the interests of
> working- and middle-class taxpayers from welfare-dependent freeloaders.
> At the same time, Democrats need no longer bear the political burden of the
> underclass and its attendant problems of crime, squalor and illegitimacy.
> Mr. Gore's convention speech illustrates the point. He promised so many new
> programs and bashed corporations so mercilessly that it was easy to mistake
> it for an oration in the great Mondale-Dukakis tradition. But there was one
> crucial difference: Mr. Gore offered nothing to the nonworking poor. Quite
> the contrary, he boasted of having reduced their numbers. "Others talked
> about welfare reform," he said. "We actually reformed welfare and set time
> limits. Instead of handouts, we gave people training to go from welfare to
> work."
> What a difference from 1988, the year in which Democrats' support for the
> dependent poor reached its zenith. In those days, the "plight of the
> homeless" was a fashionable political cause. "Homelessness" is really a
> problem of mental illness and drug abuse, but '80s Democrats insisted the
> issues were housing and Mr. Reagan's malevolence. In his acceptance speech
> at the 1988 Democratic convention, Michael Dukakis promised to "create
> decent and affordable housing for every family in America, so that we can
> once and for all end the shame of homelessness in the United States of
> America."
> This year Mr. Gore not only made no such promise, he didn't mention the
> homeless a single time. That's the difference between Gore-style and
> Dukakis-style class warfare. Mr. Gore presents himself as the ally of the
> hardworking, taxpaying American against HMOs, tobacco companies and other
> unpopular corporations. Mr. Dukakis's ally was the drunken bum who accosts
> you and demands a buck. That's why Mr. Dukakis got trounced and Mr. Gore may
> yet win.
> Bill Clinton understood all this when he ran for president in 1992. In
> perhaps the most brilliant calculation of his political career, the Arkansas
> governor threw the underclass overboard. He promised to "end welfare as we
> know it." He celebrated the death penalty. And he criticized the loudmouthed
> rap star Sister Souljah, who had an unfortunate habit of inciting murder.
> True, it took a Republican Congress to pass welfare reform, and Mr. Clinton,
> mindful of his liberal backers, vetoed two versions of the bill. But he did
> sign the third, and Al Gore may be the beneficiary this November.
> <<...>>
> Gov. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" is the flip side of
> post-welfare-reform politics. While Mr. Gore ignores the undeserving poor,
> Mr. Bush lays out a persuasive vision for how to help them--one based on
> charity and faith rather than entitlement and bureaucracy. Unlike the vice
> president, Mr. Bush did mention the homeless in his convention speech. He
> lauded "the heroic work of homeless shelters" and specifically cited the
> work of Mary Jo Copeland, who runs a faith-based homeless center in
> Minneapolis.
> Compassion, however, doesn't win presidential elections, as Democrats since
> Hubert Humphrey have learned. If Mr. Bush wants to win, he will have to make
> a compelling case against Mr. Gore's class-based populism.
> Fortunately for Mr. Bush, such a case can be made, thanks to a trend that
> may have even more political significance than the shrinking of the
> underclass: the growth of the investor class. Roughly half of American
> households now own stock, either directly or through mutual funds. Among
> voters, who tend to be older and better off than the population at large,
> the rate of stock ownership is surely higher.
> Mr. Bush should tell Americans: When my opponent attacks "big corporations,"
> he's attacking you and me. He should emphasize his proposal to allow workers
> to invest a portion of their Social Security payroll taxes in private
> accounts--a plan that could revolutionize politics by expanding the investor
> class to include every American who collects a paycheck. No wonder Mr. Gore
> thinks it's "risky."
> "I believe in private property so strongly, and so firmly, I want everyone
> to have some," Mr. Bush said in an April speech. Compassionate conservatism
> is a worthy idea, but the power of property should be the centerpiece of the
> Bush campaign.
> Karl Marx said the class struggle would end when workers owned the means of
> production. Thanks to the democracy of the market, and not the dictatorship
> of the proletariat, the U.S. is now closer to this Marxian ideal than any
> society in history. If Mr. Bush fights well, Nov. 7 may mark the end of the
> final campaign in America's class war.
> Mr. Taranto is editor of OpinionJournal.com

-- Michael Perelman Economics Department California State University Chico, CA 95929

Tel. 530-898-5321 E-Mail michael at ecst.csuchico.edu

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