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Class Warfare

Class warfare refers to the tension and struggle between different socioeconomic classes, often framed as the conflict between the wealthy and the working classes.

This term is frequently used in discussions surrounding taxation, wage disparities, and access to resources, where policies are seen to favor one class at the expense of others.

More on “Class Warfare”

A charge thrown around by both parties to suggest political opponents are insensitive to voters’ economic concerns.

Democrats use “class warfare” to argue that Republican policies favor the upper classes. Republicans, meanwhile, contend that Democrats want to punish society’s most successful by redistributing income and limiting opportunities for economic growth.

“Class warfare” became commonplace in American politics during the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century. As America became less of an agrarian society, with cities growing quickly, the richest in society came to control the lion’s share of wealth. The results were violent strikes, the rise of unions, and the beginnings of the socialist movement.

In the early 1900s, Republican Theodore Roosevelt fought excesses of the infamous “robber barons” whose greed he con-tended had undermined economic fairness in America. He pushed for the adoption of an income tax and a federal estate tax on the inheritances of wealthy families. To his critics, Roosevelt was engaging in class warfare. Later, another Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, would engage in similar so-called strife with the New Deal.

According to Bruce Stokes of National Journal, “Issues of class are central to American politics, as abhorrent as they may be to Americans’ self-image and the narrative they tell themselves about their history and society.” As a result, both sides have tried to claim the class warfare mantle as their own. In his 2004 annual letter to his company’s shareholders, investor Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest men, observed in a now-famous quote: “If class warfare is being waged in America, my class is clearly winning.”

For a time in his 2000 presidential bid, Vice President Al Gore promoted the slogan, “The people versus the powerful,” that got him tagged as a class warrior. Twelve years later, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney got portrayed as an über-defender of the upper classes when he was surreptitiously taped decrying the “47 percent” of the American electorate who would never vote for him.

But some on the right contend class warfare can be a winning political position. A 2012 Republican presidential primary rival of Romney’s, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, said as much in an August 2013 talk to GOP activists in Iowa. Santorum said his party should reject Democrats’ divisive talk of “classes,” even if it’s the broadly lauded “middle class.” “Since when in America are people stuck in areas or defined places called a class?” Santorum asked the crowd. “That’s Marxism talk.”

From Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes © 2014 Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark.

Use of “Class Warfare” in a sentence

  • Critics argue that the proposed tax reforms exacerbate class warfare by disproportionately benefiting the wealthy, while leaving the working class with a heavier burden.
  • The senator accused her opponents of engaging in class warfare rhetoric to galvanize support, contending that the economic policies in question aimed at overall growth rather than favoring a particular class.
  • The rising income inequality in the nation has led to accusations of class warfare, as advocates for economic justice demand policies that address the widening wealth gap between the affluent and the less privileged.