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Middle Class Surprised to Hear Santorum Say They Don’t Exist

by Clyde Weiss  |  January 23, 2012

In a laughable attempt to reframe a crucial debate occurring in America today about the unfairness of America’s tax system that unjustly benefits the extremely wealthy, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum recently claimed the middle class doesn’t exist:

“There may be middle-income people, but the idea that somehow or another we're going to buy into the class-warfare arguments of Barack Obama is something that should not be part of the Republican lexicon.”

In fact, it’s the Republican presidential candidates and their billionaire financial backers who like to raise the “class warfare” argument every time someone suggests that they pay their fair share of taxes. They raise it when people point to the widening gap between the 99% of Americans who work for a living and the extremely rich 1 percent, such as Mitt Romney, who live off their investments and benefit from lower federal tax rates than most workers.

Yet, when asked recently about anti-Wall Street protestors who point out the discrepancy between Wall Street and Main Street, Romney calls it class warfare. He said, “I think it’s dangerous, this class warfare.” Romney also accuses President Obama of fanning the flames of class warfare.

But it’s Romney and the rest of the GOP presidential field who are inciting class warfare. How?  Through their attacks on workers’ rights, like collective bargaining, that helped build the middle class in the first place. For instance, Santorum says if he becomes President he will deny public workers an opportunity to improve their lives through a union:

“I would actually support a bill that says that we should not have public employee unions for the purposes of wages and benefits to be negotiated.”

Romney has his own anti-worker agenda, and his record makes clear he is no friend of working middle-class families. Take his support of Ohio’s anti-worker law Senate Bill 5, which would have deprived public service workers of their right to have a voice on the job through collective bargaining. Voters last November were not persuaded by his arguments, however, and sided with workers to repeal the law by an overwhelming margin.

Americans say they believe there is already a war between the classes. That’s no surprise. Inequality has resulted in a middle class that’s actually shrunk, according to Alan B. Krueger, who chairs the White House Council of Economic Advisers. He explains:

“The share of all income accruing to the top 1 percent increased by 13.5 percentage points from 1979 to 2007. This is the equivalent of shifting $1.1 trillion of annual income to the top 1 percent of families. Put another way, the increase in the share of income going to the top 1 percent over this period exceeds the total amount of income that the entire bottom 40 percent of households receives.”

Krueger blames this downward shift partly on the decline in union membership, which he said dropped from 20 percent of employees in 1983 to just 12 percent. He also cited tax changes in the early 2000s that “benefited the very wealthy by much more than other taxpayers, compounding the widening gap in pre-tax earnings.”

That’s why the fight to preserve the middle class depends on winning the fight to preserve collective bargaining. As AFSCME members already know, strong unions “are a critical factor in creating a middle-class society,” says a report from the Center for American Progress. “Restoring the strength of unions would go a long way toward rebuilding the middle class.”

That’s why AFSCME’s International Executive Board has endorsed President Obama for re-election. “President Obama is the only choice for the 99%,” said AFSCME Pres. Gerald W. McEntee. We must put people back to work, make the 1 percent pay their fair share, and protect Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. President Obama will stand up for working families.” 

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