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Obama Refutes False “Class Warfare” Attack in State of the Union

January 25, 2012, 1:15 pm | Posted by Dan Nejfelt

State of the Union addresses err toward the formulaic. The laundry lists of policy proposals, the obligatory proclamations that we’re the greatest nation ever, the media gossip about who sits next to whom, and the endless applause always strike me as rather trite. But once in a while a speech includes simple yet substantive moral arguments about the ideas driving our political debates. Among several important points last night, President Obama’s unapologetic rebuke of “class warfare” rhetoric stood out as one of those moments:

Now, you can call this class warfare all you want. But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense.

We don’t begrudge financial success in this country. We admire it. When Americans talk about folks like me paying my fair share of taxes, it’s not because they envy the rich. It’s because they understand that when I get tax breaks I don’t need and the country can’t afford, it either adds to the deficit, or somebody else has to make up the difference – like a senior on a fixed income; or a student trying to get through school; or a family trying to make ends meet. That’s not right. Americans know it’s not right. They know that this generation’s success is only possible because past generations felt a responsibility to each other, and to their country’s future, and they know our way of life will only endure if we feel that same sense of shared responsibility.

For years, conservative cries of “class warfare” have shut down the crucial debate about building a just, moral economy that ensures opportunity and basic security for all. As long as I’ve been paying attention to politics, faith leaders have never been deterred by this, but too many politicians have. The President’s direct confrontation of those who stifle the debate with cheap (but effective) rhetorical tools marks a turning point that has been years in the making.

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