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'Class warfare' in the eye of the beholder

Elise Patkotak

Class warfare. It's the latest campaign buzzword. Try to have any reasonable discussion of our financial troubles, huge federal deficit and sinking middle class that includes asking the rich to kick in a few more bucks and you are accused of class warfare. Yet somehow, the fact that about 400 families in America now control 50 percent of its wealth is not seen in the same light.

So if I have this correct, it's class warfare when any attempt is made to have the very wealthy pay an incrementally small amount of their incredible wealth to keep America financially sound. But squeezing the middle class out of existence by destroying any semblance of their social safety net isn't.

The truth is that when the middle class is squeezed, it tends to squeeze downward, not upward, thereby putting more pressure on just those programs targeted by conservatives and the Tea Party for the biggest cuts. It's as though they are trying to negate centuries of human progress and go back to a world in which survival of the strongest is the only law of the land.

It's apparently not class warfare to try to squeeze an entire class out of existence rather than tap a class whose future seems fairly assured. Considered by the government as too big to fail and so in need of being bailed out whenever their machinations threaten to destroy our economy -- a luxury not available to the middle or lower classes -- these people are called the job creators. Well, I know a lot of unemployed Americans who feel that the only jobs being created with tax dollars used to bail the super rich out are being created in other countries. In America, not so much.

Why? Because American workers apparently feel they have a right to some basic dignity and believe conditions at work should be conducive to that dignity. They feel they should be paid a living wage for their labor and their workplace should be safe and humane. The upper class, however, knows that doing this might put the pinch on their finances and make that third villa in France unaffordable. They'd rather the worker should make minimum wage for maximum work to avoid any chance of not snagging that recently renovated castle in Italy. And if they can't find workers agreeable to those conditions in America, there are plenty of Third World countries where governments are not so concerned with basic human rights.

The message I get from the Tea Party and other ultra conservative right-wingers seems to be that destroying the middle class is fine but any attempt to get a buck or two more out of some billionaires who would not even notice it was gone is a moral outrage.

Once again I feel like Alice after she fell through the looking glass. Up is down. Down is up. And we should just leave those poor billionaires alone and not pick on them anymore. Better to pick on school lunches for poor kids, medical care for the elderly and making sure that anyone who has still managed to cling to the lower rungs of the middle class is kicked off so as not to use up too many of the precious resources that rightfully belong to the rich.

If I understand the logic that is used in coming to that conclusion, it seems to be that the rich have somehow earned their riches and deserve every single penny while the poor are obviously lazy slugs who should just die off because they clutter up our world with their neediness. The fact that many of the super rich are rich thanks to the efforts of their grandparents or great-grandparents and the only contribution they have made to the world is showing up at nightclubs without underpants seems to get lost in that logic.

But then, just when I despair for the future of our country, I turn on the TV and hear an interview with Melinda Gates who, along with her husband, have committed to giving away 90 percent of their wealth. When asked why, she said that when you are given so much, you have to give back.

It's time that message reached our politicians as they try to balance the budget on the backs of the poor.

Elise Patkotak is an Alaska writer and author of "Parallel Logic," a memoir of her 28 years in Barrow. Web site, www.elisepatkotak.com.


ELISE PATKOTAK
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