BROOKS: Class War

November 5, 2010
David Brooks

Four years ago, Warren Buffett, the third richest man on the planet, said, "Of course there is a class war, but it's my class, the rich class, that is waging the war, and we're winning."

This mid-term election in the United States is a front of the class war. Business interests and the wealthy have declared war against anything that dares to impose controls on them, limit their activities or touch their fortunes, and they say so, explicitly and openly.

The vast majority of funds that are invested in what is already the most expensive mid-term election in history (it is expected to exceed, perhaps by far, 3.5 billion dollars) comes from billionaire donors, companies and groups representing the wealthy class.

For example, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has invested some $75 million in this election, almost all to support Republican candidates. In January, Chamber president Thomas Donohue said his association intended "to carry out the biggest and strongest voter-education effort and promotion of issues in our nearly one-century-old history." He is keeping his promise.

The organization American Crossroads, a project of Karl Rove, former campaign and political strategist for George W. Bush, receives donations of up to one million dollars from wealthy donors to support conservative candidates across the country.

Multinational companies channel funds through these organizations (using laws that allow them to conceal the identity of some donors) to promote their corporate agendas to weaken government control over their operations, the impact of health reform, efforts to curb the change in climate and other things considered "anti-business" that inhibit business. They also promote policies that favor "free enterprise" and "free trade."

 Many companies take advantage of a recent decision by the Supreme Court of the United States (known as the Citizens United case) that gave companies the same rights of "freedom of expression" enjoyed by individuals. Through this decision, they can fund propaganda for or against candidates to promote their agenda.

That ruling maintained that "independent expenditures" made by companies in the electoral debate "do not lead to corruption or the appearance of corruption" and though they "can generate influence on, or access to, elected officials, that does not imply that these officials are corrupt. And the appearance of influence or access will not cause voters to lose faith in this democracy."

This was denounced as a serious abuse of the democratic process by champions of electoral reforms who seek to reduce the influence of money in elections.

An editorial in The Nation says: "We witnessed an assault on democracy by multinational companies, which, released by the Citizens United ruling, seek to get the best government that money can buy."

Thus, many commentators, like Robert Reich, professor of public policy and former Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton, conclude that, on Nov. 2, "Americans will decide whether to transfer even more of our government to companies that have been plundering the United States."

It is worth remembering that the recent years have been very good for the wealthy. In 2007, the richest 1 percent of households concentrated 23.5 percent of national income, the highest concentration since 1928 (one year before the start of the Great Depression). Although the richest lost some of their fortunes in the last recession, they are already recovering it. In 2009, the level of inequality between the richest and the others reached its highest point since the survey began tracking household income in 1967, reported Reuters.

Apparently, many of the country's wealthiest interests do not want to cede anything. The offensive against Barack Obama and his Democratic Party seems odd to some, since the right-wing accusations that it is "socialist" lack any basis in fact; rather the opposite.

As noted by E. J. Dionne, columnist for The Washington Post, in an article in The New Republic, "Obama, after all, has been working overtime to rescue capitalism. Wall Street is doing fine, and the rich are getting richer again."

Virtually no one, least of all Obama, has questioned the basis of the market system or has proposed more than slightly tighter economic regulations (after the largest financial collapse since the Great Depression) and quite modest tax increases on the wealthy.

But even these steps are apparently too much for those who finance all those television spots, which should lead voters to wonder: "Who pays for all this? What do they really want? And who gave them the right to buy an election?"

For social economists like Les Leopold, this class war was not declared by the underdogs, but the majority no longer can escape this battle while facing the reality that, while the rich get richer, millions lose their jobs, social programs are cut and access to health and education is limited.

He notes that the first question, the most difficult, is that of the old union song, "Whose side are you on?" Leopold, in The Huffington Post, says that in "this new class struggle, that decision has already been made" by the rich.

In this election, perhaps at a more explicit level than others, this war was openly manifested, and an offensive was launched that some warn could be threatening this "democracy" with huge amounts of money that attempt to determine something that will be officially proclaimed as the "popular will" when the polls closed on Tuesday. The great veteran journalist Bill Moyers recently said that, in this country, money "is a dagger aimed at the heart of democracy."