President Obama shouldn’t be afraid of a little class warfare

By:  Sally Kohn

On Monday, defending his plan to raise taxes on the rich to pay for job creation, President Obama said: "This is not class warfare, it's math."

No, Mr. President, this is class warfare - and it's a war you'd better win. Corporate interests and the rich started it. Right now, they're winning. Progressives and the middle class must fight back, and the president should be clear whose side he's on.

The class war began in 1971. That year, soon-to-be Supreme Court justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. wrote a confidential memorandum to a friend at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce about the "Attack of the American Free Enterprise System." In the mid-20th century - from the New Deal to Social Security to environmental and civil rights laws - the government had cut into corporate profits while creating middle-class prosperity. Falsely believing that capitalism was under attack, Powell wrote: "It must be recognized that businessmen have not been trained or equipped to conduct guerrilla warfare with those who propagandize against the system." His proposal, from which the modern conservative movement grew, was to equip business elites for that battle with aggressive policies to make Americans believe that what's good for wealthy chief executives is good for them, too.

Between 1979 and 2007, the income gap between the richest 1 percent of Americans and the poorest 40 percent more than tripled. Today, the richest 10 percent of Americans control two-thirds of the nation's wealth, while, according to recently released census data, average Americans saw their real incomes decline by 2.3 percent in 2010. Though our economy grew in 2009 and 2010, 88 percent of the increase in real national income went to corporate profits, one study found. Only 1 percent went to wages and salaries for working people.

Last year, American companies posted their biggest profits ever, and bonuses for bank and hedge fund executives not only reached record highs, but grew faster than corporate revenue. Meanwhile, almost one in 10 Americans is unemployed, and 15 percent live at or below the poverty level.

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