Terrance Heath

The Message: Time To Pay It Forward

Filed By Terrance Heath | September 26, 2011 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: class warfare, Elizabeth Warren, pay it forward

This has been posted all over the progressive blogosphere by now, but it bears reposting and repeating.

Elizabeth Warren, who was passed over to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau -- her own brainchild -- is now a candidate for the Massachusetts Senate seat currently occupied by Scott Brown. In that capacity, Warren recently answered conservatives’ cries of "class warfare" regarding President Obama’s new jobs agenda. What she said encapsulated precisely the message that every candidate appealing for Main Street votes, from the White House down, needs to repeat from now until November 5, 2012, and beyond.

In a video of a recent Warren appearance, posted online by an individual who says he or she is not affiliated with the campaign, Warren answered the charge. "I hear all this, you know, 'Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever,'" Warren said. "No. 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. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory -- and hire someone to protect against this -- because of the work the rest of us did.

"Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless -- keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along."

(Oh, and if you’re an Internet tycoon, well, you made your fortune using "tubes" for which the rest of us paid the R&D costs. So don’t start.)

There are several reasons some form of this message bears repeating in the political debates ahead.

First, it’s a direct answer to the question President Obama posed, when he framed the big choice America has to make.

Should we keep tax loopholes for oil companies? Or should we use that money to give small business owners a tax credit when they hire new workers? Because we can't afford to do both. Should we keep tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires? Or should we put teachers back to work so our kids can graduate ready for college and good jobs? Right now, we can't afford to do both.

This isn't political grandstanding. This isn't class warfare. This is simple math. These are real choices that we have to make. And I'm pretty sure I know what most Americans would choose. It's not even close. And it's time for us to do what's right for our future.

Second, as the president said, in the contest between what the tea party wants and  what the majority of American want, it’s not even close. It’s never been close. A recent Gallup poll shows that most Americans support the proposals in the American Jobs Act.

Americans generally favor raising taxes on higher-income Americans and eliminating tax deductions for some corporations as ways of paying for President Obama’s proposed jobs plan.

...The president also proposed raising taxes on wealthy Americans in his deficit-reduction proposal announced on Monday at the White House. Republican leaders have responded that this idea represents nothing more than "class warfare," but the current data show that the majority of Americans generally favor increasing taxes on the rich as a way to increase revenue.

Slightly more than half of rank-and-file Republicans and Republican-leaning independents favor the idea of eliminating certain corporate tax deductions as a way to pay for a jobs creation bill. Forty-one percent of Republicans favor raising taxes on higher-income Americans. Democrats strongly favor both proposals for paying for the cost of the jobs bill.

Third, as my fellow blogger Richard Eskow explained, there is no "third way." This is the president’s and the Democrats big chance lead, and lead with a message that the majority of Americans are hungry for.

This is it. This is the opportunity, that Barack Obama has been waiting for. He finally has the chance to push for policies that are popular with Republicans and independents as well as with Democrats. This is his "post-partisan" moment.

But there’s a catch: These policies have been stigmatized among the policy elites. The only people who like them are voters.

So the Big Chance comes with a Big Choice: he President can win the bipartisan support of the electorate. Or he can win the support of insiders from both parties, backed by billionaires and corporate think tanks, who use the "bipartisan" label to push the right-wing ideology of austerity economics.

But he can’t do both. There’s no "third way." And the choice he makes now may well determine his political future.

That’s the reason Warren’s statement caught fire on the Internet. This is a message that resonates with millions of Americans, and it’s a message they haven’t heard much.

They certainly haven’t heard it from Republicans. Republicans haven’t talked like that since Abraham Lincoln explained the relationship between capital and labor. Instead, Republicans gave us job-killing budget cuts, while lying to us about "job-killing regulations"

The statements by Warren and Obama both take swipes at what our own Sarah Robinson defined as the myth of the "self-made" American.

Specifically, we need to drive home the fact that anybody who calls themselves an American cannot, in the same breath, declare that they are in any sense entirely "self-made." This is indeed the land of opportunity. But those opportunities exist only as long as we work together to create them; and willfully denying that is an insult to every other American who sacrificed to make your opportunities possible. It’s like saying your parents had nothing to do with raising you. You’d expect them to be hurt, offended, and angry at your lack of gratitude. The rest of us who contributed to your success aren’t wrong to feel insulted, too.

Progressives know the truth: Nobody in America ever did it alone, for themselves. For the past 220 years, we’ve done it together, for each other.

It’s a message that resonates with Americans, because we know on a "marrow-deep" level that it didn’t "just happen." Not our transformation from upstart colonies to "the land of opportunity," nor the growth of a middle class and an economy that worked well enough to "the American Dream" within reach. It happened because, as Sarah said, we did it together. We did it with each other and for each other. Now, as many of us find that Dream farther and farther out of reach, the only way we’re going to get it back is if we do it together; with each other and fore each other.

The president and his party have a message that Americans want to hear, and a plan that the majority of Americans support. Supporters of a plan for jobs now and for rebuilding the American Dream for working people have a real fight on their hands between now and the 2012 election, but it’s a fight that the majority of Americans will join -- making it a winnable fight -- if they believe that the politicians who are talking the talk really mean it this time.

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