During the now-forgotten controversy over extending the Bush tax rates, harsh invective ruled the day. The escalating war of words linked the wealthy to financial firms blamed for precipitating the recession, as if anyone making over $250,000 annually was by necessity employed on Wall Street.
President Obama played a pivotal role in keeping the dialogue going, reminding Americans how the wealthy benefited at their expense during the Bush years:
And keep in mind wealthy Americans are just about the only folks who saw their incomes rise when Republicans were in charge.1
From the earliest days of the Obama presidency, the rhetoric that we unfairly advantage the rich has been pervasive (see: Is Obama Inciting Class Hatred To Keep Democrats In Power?). The following statement appears on the White House website:
Restoring Fairness: For too long, the U.S. tax code has benefited the wealthy and well-connected at the expense of the vast majority of Americans.2
Mr. Obama is not the only one who had fun with this. Harry Reid joined in last December during the heat of the tax rate fracas, commenting:
They can pretend giving the rich tax breaks creates jobs, even though we know from the past decade that it doesn’t. If it were the case, given the Bush Administration’s giveaways to the wealthy, the economy would be booming.
They can pretend we can afford to give billionaires another hand out, even though we know we can’t.3
Nancy Pelosi had her say, as well:
. . . the Republicans insisted that $23 billion in benefits go to 6,600 wealthiest families in America—6,600 families holding up tax cuts for 155 million Americans. Is that fair? Does that meet any test of fairness that we have?4
Political might has shifted since December. Republicans rule the House. A congressional rubber stamp no longer guarantees the president’s agenda. As Republicans prepare to use their new might to stage a vote to repeal the health care bill, tragedy provided an opportunity for the president to plead for tolerance:
But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized -– at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do -– it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.5
Barring GOP control of the House, we would be on our way to spending billions to fix a “broken” mental health system and revise our gun laws:
Already we’ve seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health system. And much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.6
In a January 14, 2011 statement, a marginalized Nancy Pelosi called for
“. . . a renewed commitment to the causes championed by Dr. King and embodied by the work of Congresswoman Giffords: hope, civility, and peace among the American people.”7
Peace and civility are short-lived on Capitol Hill. Two days later, Ms. Pelosi resurrected the specter of monolithic big business, and Americans victimized by a scheming Republican party:
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi announced today that the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee will hold a hearing on the impact of the Republican plan to repeal patients’ rights guaranteed to millions of Americans and to put insurance companies back in charge of health decisions.8
Battle lines are being redrawn as you read this. Some things never change.