David Brooks. (Photo: Getty Images)
David Brooks was upset. You can tell when this conservative and rather-professorial columnist for The New York Times gets upset, because his words almost sag with disappointment - you can practically hear the tsk-tsks and the heavy sighs in each paragraph. When most commentators on the right see things that offend them, they get snarling mad; Brooks gets sad.
What saddened Brother Brooks this time was Barack Obama's budget. In a recent column, he noted that the $3.6 trillion total is "gargantuan" (we columnists are paid to make keen observations like that), but what really upset him was that the tax burden to finance universal health care, energy independence and other big initiatives in Obama's budget "is predicated on a class divide."
With heavy sighs, Brooks expressed great despair that "no new burdens will fall on 95 percent of the American people," adding with a tsk-tsk that "all the costs will be borne by the rich and all benefits redistributed downward."
Leaving aside the fact that such things as health-care coverage for every American and a booming green energy economy will benefit the rich as well as the rest of us, Brooks' column was echoing a prevalent theme in all of the right's attacks on Obama's economic proposals: Class War! Indeed, the Times' columnist even suggested (sadly) that Obama's budget was fundamentally un-American: "The U.S. has never been a society riven by class resentment," he sniffed.
Whoa, professor, get a grip! Better yet, get a good history book (Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" would be an eye-opening place to start). While our schools, media and politicians rarely mention it, America's history is replete with class rebellions against various moneyed elites who act as though they're the top dogs and ordinary folks are just a bunch of fire hydrants.
Check out the Tenant Uprisings of 1766, Shay's Rebellion in the 1780s, the Workingmen's Movement of the 1830s ... on into the post-Civil War populist movement that confronted the robber barons, the bloody labor battles at Haymarket and Homestead in the late 1800s, Coxey's Army in 1894, the Bonus March of 1932, the Penny Auctions by farmers in the 1920s and '30s, the rise of the CIO in the Depression years ... and right into modern-day fights involving environmental justice, fair trade, women's pay, workplace safety, tenant rights, janitors, farmworkers, union-busting, bank redlining, consumer gouging, clean elections and so forth.
If Brooks & Co. are so isolated as to imagine that our citizenry harbors no class resentment, they should go to any Chat & Chew Cafe across the land and listen to the locals express their innermost feelings about today's greedheaded Wall Streeters who wrecked our economy for their own enrichment. There is a fury in the countryside toward these plutocratic purse-snatchers who are being allowed to keep their exalted executive positions, draw fat paychecks and get trillions of dollars in bailout money from common taxpayers. People don't merely resent them, they yearn for the legalization of tar-and-feathering!
Yet, Brooks and his political brethren are now bemoaning the plight of the plutocrats, assailing the "redistributionists" who talk of spreading America's wealth. In his column, Brooks cried out for a conservative vision of "a nation in which we're all in it together - in which burdens are shared broadly, rather than simply inflicted on a small minority."
Do we look like we have suckerwrappers around our heads? Where were these tender-hearted champions of sharing throughout the last 30 years, when that same "small minority" was absolutely giddy with redistributionist fervor - redistributing upward, that is?
With the full support of their political hirelings from both parties, this minority created tax dodges, trade scams, corporate subsidies, deregulation fantasies, financial hustles, de-unionization schemes, bankruptcy loopholes and other mechanisms that turned government into a redistributionist bulldozer, shoving wealth from the workaday majority into their own pockets.
Brooks might have missed this 30-year class war, but most folks have been right in the thick of it and are not the least bit squeamish about supporting a national effort to right those wrongs. After all, even a dog knows the difference between being stumbled over - and being kicked.