Marco Rubio's Class Warfare Paranoia

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JONATHAN CHAIT JULY 1, 2011

Marco Rubio's Class Warfare Paranoia

Marco Rubio is delivering a speech that neatly demonstrates the right-wing mentality toward the question of distributional justice:

Rubio tells us that he will respond to Obama’s recent press conference, where the president reveled in class-warfare bluster. “Quite frankly, I am both disappointed for our country and shocked at some of the rhetoric,” he says. “It was rhetoric, I thought, that was more appropriate for some left-wing strong man than for the president of the United States.”

“Talking about corporate jets and oil companies,” Rubio says, missed the point. “Everybody here agrees that our tax code is broken,” he says, and he is open to discussing tax reform. “But don’t go around telling people that the reason you are not doing well is because some rich guy is in a corporate jet or some oil company is making too much money."

Where in his remarks did Obama say that people are struggling because some rich guy gets a corporate jet? Nowhere. Obama argued that reducing the budget deficit ought to be done in a way that some shared sacrifice:

The tax cuts I’m proposing we get rid of are tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires; tax breaks for oil companies and hedge fund managers and corporate jet owners.

It would be nice if we could keep every tax break there is, but we’ve got to make some tough choices here if we want to reduce our deficit.  And if we choose to keep those tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, if we choose to keep a tax break for corporate jet owners, if we choose to keep tax breaks for oil and gas companies that are making hundreds of billions of dollars, then that means we’ve got to cut some kids off from getting a college scholarship.  That means we’ve got to stop funding certain grants for medical research.  That means that food safety may be compromised.  That means that Medicare has to bear a greater part of the burden.  Those are the choices we have to make.

So the bottom line is this:  Any agreement to reduce our deficit is going to require tough decisions and balanced solutions.  And before we ask our seniors to pay more for health care, before we cut our children’s education, before we sacrifice our commitment to the research and innovation that will help create more jobs in the economy, I think it’s only fair to ask an oil company or a corporate jet owner that has done so well to give up a tax break that no other business enjoys.

Does Obama say that corporate jets are causing people to struggle? No. Does he say he wants to confiscate corporate jets? No. He says he wants to eliminate special subsidies for corporate jets:

If you are a wealthy CEO or a health -- hedge fund manager in America right now, your taxes are lower than they have ever been.  They’re lower than they’ve been since the 1950s.  And you can afford it.  You’ll still be able to ride on your corporate jet; you’re just going to have to pay a little more.

Rubio's demagoguery is very reflective of conservative thought on these questions. Conservatives frequently assert that "class warfare doesn't work in America." But they obviously believe otherwise -- indeed, they assign class warfare far more power than do any liberals. Conservatives believe that any public discussion of wealth differences or the disparate impact of different policies opens the door to raging envy, the consequences of which are hard for me to grasp but which strike right-wingers with terror.

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posted in: jonathan chait, united states, marco rubio

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