President Obama’s rhetorical war on the “the rich” is obviously political, an attempt to polarize voters into an “us vs. them” mentality. By demonizing the nation’s economic elite, the “one percent,” the president and his ilk are attempting to create class war, a move they believe will favor more liberal (Democratic) candidates.
But some observers see darker shadows in this kind of rhetoric. A recent Wall Street Journal article compared much of today’s political class warfare rhetoric to the anti-Jewish tone used by the Nazis in the years leading up to the “final solution” of attempted Jewish annihilation. Because Jews historically represented wealth in Europe, the Nazi rhetoric was designed to play on that envy and to influence the general German population into accepting anti-Jewish laws. Rhetoric was the first step toward genocide in Nazi Germany.
That WSJ article’s link between Obama’s political rhetoric of class envy and Nazi propaganda may be a little overstated, but its underlying thesis is right. When government leaders use inflammatory rhetoric to divide and demonize people into groups, the results can lead to disaster:
• Islamist leaders use religious rhetoric to demonize the West and to motivate their followers into committing heinous acts of terrorism.
• At the height of the British Empire, English imperialists used class rhetoric to justify that nation’s colonization and subjugation of people all over the world.
• American history also has examples of extreme rhetoric used to demonize others. The two most notable were the subjugation of Africans into slaves and the genocide of Native American Indian cultures. Some of today’s American anti-Hispanic rhetoric also barely rises above the level of masked cultural hate.
Throughout history, people have always envied others. It is human nature to want what we don’t have and to blame others for our own problems.
Along with that, there have always been utopian schemes based on hateful rhetoric. Some of those have been little more than small cults with only a few followers. Others have been national in scope, as with the rise of both Fascism and Communism in the 20th Century.
For its part, the rise of communist in the Soviet Union was theoretically rooted in the creation of a society where everyone would be equal. In reality, millions of people were murdered or subjugated in the name of communist “equality.”
There’s a telling line about that in “Enemy at the Gates,” a popular movie about the Soviet defense of Stalingrad during WWII. One of the characters in the movie, Danilov, is a dedicated communist, a true believer in the movement who uses his propaganda skills to shore up moral among the Soviet soldiers during the battle. But in the end, just before Danilov allows himself to be killed to save his friend Vassili, he says this:
“I’ve been such a fool, Vassili. Man will always be a man. There is no new man. We tried so hard to create a society that was equal, where there’d be nothing to envy your neighbor. But there’s always something to envy. A smile, a friendship, something you don’t have and want to appropriate. In this world, even a Soviet one, there will always be rich and poor. Rich in gifts, poor in gifts. Rich in love, poor in love.”
But that reality does not stop political leaders from stoking the fires of envy to gain political advantage. Both political parties are guilty of this. But the Democratic Party under President Obama has taken this class warfare to a new level.
The president and his followers talk endlessly about the “inequality” in America. Indeed, there is inequality, but its not just because one group of people are being oppressed by another group. In a nation of many cultures, there are bound to be different values and goals. Not everyone can be a wealthy Wall Street executive or a super-rich NBA player.
The real problem here is that the president wants to use the power of government to pick the winners and losers on society by heavily taxing “the rich” and transferring that money to “the poor.” Democrats want more people to be beholden to the government for their livelihood because that expands the power of both government and the politicians who pull the levers of government.
To do that, the President and his party feel the need to make “the rich” demons in the minds of the general population to justify their higher tax policies. But that demagoguery is dangerous in a political system that is supposed to value different opinions. Playing on people’s envy is a low-class tactic unworthy of any president.
What really needs to happen in this nation is for everyone to see exactly how much they pay in taxes each year. Rather than having property taxes taken out of escrow accounts, property owners should have to write a lump sum check each year. Rather than having state and federal taxes withheld from payroll checks, each individual should have to write a check to those governments each month. Rather than having sales and use taxes buried in our purchases, we should all have to pay those dollars in a lump sum each year.
If all Americans had to pay taxes directly and not have it withheld and virtually hidden as it is today, more people would pay attention to the spending policies of their governments.
That would also dampen the kind of polarizing, class war rhetoric President Obama has become so fond of using in his second term.
The antidote to Obama’s bombast is truth.
Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers, Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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