Obama’s “Class Rage Speech” in Osawatomie

The president finally gets it:

This is not just another political debate. This is the defining issue of our time. This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and for all those who are fighting to get into the middle class. Because what’s at stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, secure their retirement. Now, in the midst of this debate, there are some who seem to be suffering from a kind of collective amnesia. After all that’s happened, after the worst economic crisis, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, they want to return to the same practices that got us into this mess. In fact, they want to go back to the same policies that stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for way too many years. And their philosophy is simple: We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.

There’s a reason that “we are the 99%” has such resonance. Republicans, in their turn, are crying “class warfare” because it worked back in Reagan’s day–when, not coincidentally, Newt Gingrich first emerged from the back benches of the House.

Thirty years ago, millions of members of America’s working and clerking classes, buoyed by unions and the legacy of the New Deal, were naive enough to believe that they shared the same class interests as bankers and lawyers and business executives: that deregulation and privatization would benefit them no less than they did people who live off their investments; that they had more to fear from the poor than they did from the rich.

Now that the unions are busted and the housing bubble has burst, poverty itself seems like a more immediate threat. Under those circumstances, it’s a lot harder to keep up the pretense that they have a stake in the fight against capital gains taxes, that they’re losing out by not being allowed to invest their social security accounts with Merrill Lynch, and shop for their Medicare coverage on the private market. This time around nostalgic “Morning in America” commercials will only go so far.

The one thing that does stand to get real traction for the Republicans is hate–and no one knows how to wage class and culture warfare like Newt Gingrich does. As Charles P. Pierce wrote in his Esquire blog yesterday, Gingrich “has not changed, no matter how much water the princes of the Church have poured over his head. We’ve had plenty of time to get to know Newt Gingrich, and what happens if you let him anywhere near the levers of real power.” And then he offered up a few samples of Gingrich’s “transcendently, magnificently, oughta-be-career-killingly nutty” soundbites:

“I think that the mother killing the two children in South Carolina vividly reminds every American how sick the society is getting and how much we need to change things. The only way you get change is to vote Republican. That’s the message for the last three days.”

He was referring, of course, to Susan Smith, whose stepfather Beverly Russell was a Republican fundraiser, a local organizer for the Christian Coalition–and an accused child molester.

“I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time [my grandchildren are] my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.”

“The secular socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.”

The New Hate indeed.

The only chance Obama has is if he can show the voting public who the real class warriors are. If Gingrich continues his rise, he just might make Obama look like Eisenhower did, when he was holding back the tides of McCarthyism and the John Birch Society in the 1950s.

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