Class Warfare Update

In my last post I wrote about how current policy debates do not make a ton of sense if you try to understand them through a lens of traditional conservative-liberal policy preferences as we have come to know them over the past 50 years or so. They do make sense, however, if you look at any given policy in terms of whether it helps or harms Americans, and which Americans it helps or harms. 

The fault line of most political debate these days divides those policies which are aimed at helping the rich and privileged and those aimed at helping the poor and disadvantaged. There is some degree of crossover here — on some issues the rich have successfully co-opted the middle class, on others they have not — and across all issues, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and ethnicity are deployed, strategically, to divide people. The common denominator, though, is a politics in which those with power and privilege seek to dominate those without it. 

In short, we are in an era of class warfare that has rendered our familiar concepts of what a conservative or a liberal is and what a Republican or a Democrat is obsolete. It’s a political realignment in progress, which I believe will lead to a dramatic shift in voting and political identification in the near future.* 

In the last post I outlined how that is playing out in the tax policy debate, but the fact is that it’s playing out in virtually all areas of policy and society. Indeed, once you begin to look at various policy proposals and preferences through the lens of the new class warfare, things start to make a lot more sense. 

Here’s a good example from just this morning. It comes from Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who plans to introduce legislation that would impose drug testing on food stamp recipients

Various states have flirted with such programs in the past. The thing is, though . . . they’re useless. They likewise further no traditionally conservative goal:

  • They are extraordinarily cost ineffective;
  • They do not actually detect much drug use, let alone stop drug abuse;
  • They do nothing to get people off of public assistance or to make anyone’s life better;
  • They represent an invasion of one’s privacy and personal liberty;
  • They fly in the face of typical conservative dogma when it comes to assistance, which usually holds that straight, no-strings-attached benefits are better than managed programs (think block grants and tax credits); and
  • It’s pure hypocrisy in that no other recipient of taxpayer funded support (e.g. Medicare, Social Security, business subsidies, politician salaries, etc.) is expected to undergo such testing. 

So, why would Walker propose such a thing? Because doing so serves the political end of consolidating the support of the wealthy and the middle class while demonizing the poor and people of color. 

Rich and middle class white people love it when politicians go after welfare and food stamp recipients. It confirms biases and prejudices they hold against the poor. That they’re lazy and shiftless and drug-addled and that they are responsible for their plight. It provides the holder of the view a sense of superiority. It likewise provides them a sense of comfort in that it allows them to believe that they cannot, themselves, ever fall into poverty. It’s been an amazingly potent political message for decades, going back to the mythical “welfare queens” and beyond. Such a view is outrageously common among comfortable white people. I grew up surrounded by people who talked about the poor in these terms and still encounter such people often. That it has a clear racial element to it makes the message even more effective.

Walker knows this. He likewise knows that drug testing food stamp recipients is useless as a matter of public policy and that it is not a conservative measure by any definition. It remains amazingly useful, however, in allowing him to consolidate support of the wealthy and the middle class by demonizing the poor. It will likewise make the middle class far more ripe for the picking when, as he did a few years back, he pursues policies that hurt working people. It’s textbook class warfare. It’s dividing and conquering, with the ultimate goal of doing the bidding of the wealthy people who support him and who, ultimately, will provide his living both while he remains in office and afterward. 

Once you start looking at politics in these new terms, it’s not hard to see how it all lines up. It’s likewise not hard to see how it can be combattedIn order to combat it, of course, we must fully recognize it for what it is and convince voters that they are being played in the way in which they are being played. 

To that end, as time goes on, I’ll continue to point out examples of this, under the heading “Class Warfare Update.” If you see examples of it yourself, by all means, drop me a line and I’ll highlight them here. 

*While I’ve been casting this as a new political alignment, it’s only new to us. Looking back it’s fair to say that, if anything, it’s a reversion to a political alignment that has far more often been the norm in our history than the exception. From colonial times through 1929 Wall Street crash and the early days of the Great Depression, there were clear haves and clear have-nots and the former asserted regular dominance over the latter. We all just happened to come of age, however, in a time when those class distinctions and its attendant class warfare were at an all-time ebb by virtue of the New Deal and America’s post-World War II dominance and prosperity, each of which allowed our country to ignore class distinctions in ways most countries don’t. Now, however, we’re returning to that ages-old divide. 

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the author of the daily baseball (and other things) newsletter, Cup of Coffee. He writes about other things at He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.