Class Warfare One-Percent Style

Bill de Blasio is waging “class warfare.”  New York City’s Democratic mayoral nominee is running a divisive campaign that, according to his Republican opponent Joe Lhota, is “separating people apart.”  It’s undignified, or worse.  One anonymous banker characterized de Blasio’s rhetoric as “terrifying.”

What’s so spooky about de Blasio, presently his city’s public advocate?  He’s unapologetically progressive.  Echoing John Edwards’ “Two America’s” populist stump speech, de Blasio speaks of a “Tale of Two Cities,” one rich, one not.  “We are not, by our nature, an elitist city,” he told supporters at one stop.  “We are not a city for the chosen few.”

His is not just rhetoric.  The centerpiece of de Blasio’s platform is a proposal to provide universal access to prekindergarten.  An income tax hike from 4.3 percent from 3.87 percent on earnings of over $500,000, or an additional outlay of $2,120 for a family earning $1 million, would finance his initiative.

Very terrifying, indeed.  Terrifying, I tell you!  Attention must be paid.  And it is.  According to the New York Times, the oligarchy’s cavalry has been summoned.  The right’s Daddy Warbucks, David Koch, one half of the Koch Bros, Inc., the multi-billionaire siblings that generously patronize conservative causes, has contributed $145,000 to a political action run by several Lhota associates.  More monies are likely forthcoming.

Not that it’s likely to matter.  Lhota trails de Blasio by 40-plus points, according to a various polls.  More worrying still for the likes of the Kochs, de Blasio and his “Marxist playbook,” an allusion to the candidate’s prior support of the leftist Nicaraguan Sandinistas, may be a harbinger that the 30-plus year reign of Milton Friedman-inspired market fundamentalism has run its course.  A miserable economy has benefited only a few Americans and that has produced gob-smacking disparities cannot continue.  Consider this: were Manhattan a country, its levels of economic inequality would rival those found in sub-Saharan Africa.

It’s same story on a national level, as inequality in America is now on par with that during the Gilded Age.  And it’s getting worse.  Noted economist Emmanuel Saez recently reported that, between 2009 to 2012, the incomes of the top one percent of American earns ballooned by roughly 31 percent, while those for the bottom 99 percent grew by an anemic .4 percent.  In other words, the top one percent captured 95 percent of the income gains during the first three years of the economic recovery following the “Great Recession.”

Among the biggest losers of the winner-takes-all economy are “Millennials,” or the generation born between 1980-2000.  This unlucky cohort has come of age during a lousy economy that gone from recession to jobless recovery to recession.  Many Millennials live at home, lack health insurance, and have mammoth student loans.  An increasingly threadbare government that has reduced public investment exacerbates their predicament.  Predictably, they tend to reject the laissez-faire zeitgeist that has reigned since Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

Peter Beinart sets this out brilliantly in The Daily Beast.  He notes Millennials’ striking progressive stances on economic and social issues, and, even more startling, their iconoclasm on big philosophical questions: “Millennials are more willing than their elders to challenge cherished American myths about capitalism and class. They are far more likely than older Americans to say that business enjoys more control over their lives than government.  And unlike older Americans, who favor capitalism over socialism by roughly 25 points, Millennials, narrowly, favor socialism.”

Millenials’ increasing importance as an electoral block bodes poorly for the right, which relies on tired tropes about the wonders of the marketplace.  The writing is on the wall.  “The door is closing on the Reagan-Clinton era,” Beinart observes.

Which may well explain why de Blasio causes such fear.  He’s not a washed-out “Third Way” Democrat in the mold of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, center-left politicians whose appeasing philosophies largely align with Reagan’s.  Clinton, after all, famously proclaimed, “The era of big government is over.”   And it was Clinton who deregulated Wall Street.  For his part, Obama, handed the rubble borne by the ruinous neoliberalism, has done little to reverse course.  Indeed, many of his key economic advisers like Tim Geithner and Larry Summers are veterans of the Clinton administration.

But De Blasio is a different beast.  He’s keen on reversing the reigning corporatist dogma that has so egregiously harmed our country.  As a result, New York City may have replaced California as the nation’s trendsetter.  And that strikes fear into the hearts of the Koch-buttressed crony capitalists that have had the run of the place for too long.

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