Crying 'Class Warfare' When Your Frontrunner Is Bashing Elites

Republicans are attacking Obama's millionaire's tax while Rick Perry tries out populism

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"Hedge fund managers," Obama said in a speech Monday, should pay the same tax rates as "plumbers and teachers." That will play neatly into another phrase Rep. Paul Ryan tested out in May -- "envy economics" -- while defending his budget plan -- which would have turned Medicare into a voucher system -- from Democrats' attacks by saying, "Class warfare may or may not be clever politics, but it is terrible economics." (He dropped the "may nots" on Sunday, this time about President Obama's deficit reduction plan.) The thing is, Obama's not the only one who knows populism makes for good politics -- so does Rick Perry, the guy leading the Republican race to replace Obama in the White House.

Perry sees elites everywhere, including his own party. He's been attacking his biggest rival for the 2012 nomination, Mitt Romney, as a fancy effeminate elite, telling Iowa voters Friday, "I was the son of tenant farmers and sure wasn't born with four aces in my hand." It was a play on the line Romney used at a debate to downplay Perry's jobs record: "If you're dealt four aces, that doesn't make you necessarily a great poker player." Perry continued with a bit of down-home populist resentment: "There's some folks back in Texas who are real offended by that. We work hard in Texas. We put good, hard, practical principles into play," The Washington Post reported. It's far from the first time Perry's played that card. When asked how he was different from George W. Bush, Perry said, "I went to Texas A&M. He went to Yale."

Perry's populism isn't just about difference in style (which the uppity National Review called "a little gauche"). Last month, as the Texas governor was making campaign stops in New Hampshire, the Nashua Telegraph's Kevin Landrigan noted Perry had "played anti-corporate populist." Responding to a question about General Electric paying no taxes last year thanks to loopholes, Perry said, "The idea because you have a good relationship with the political world in Washington, D.C., and just because you get chosen to be on the governor's business council, is not a good enough reason for you not to pay your fair share of taxes." Fair share! That sounds familiar. Because Obama said it Monday, and because, as the Texas Tribune notes, Perry said it in 2005:
"I join the leadership of both houses in support of the concept of a broad-based business tax that is fairly distributed, assessed at a low rate and reflects our modern economy ... The goal is to create greater tax fairness, not a greater tax burden on the people of Texas."
And he sounded a similar note in 2003:
"By closing the Delaware loophole, and ensuring businesses render their property, we could generate $400 million more. In my book, it's not a new tax if you should have been paying it all along."
And today, Nevada liberals are pushing for their state to adopt a progressive business tax modeled after one passed in Texas with Perry's support, the Las Vegas Sun's David McGrath Schwartz reports.
Republicans should have mixed feelings about all that populism. NBC News' First Read says that "as congressional Republicans hit the president for class warfare, it's worth noting Rick Perry is playing the class card of sorts against Mitt Romney. Populism usually works in primaries and general elections."
So, why all the GOP cries of "class warfare" now that Obama has played his own populist card? Time's Massimo Calabresi hints at an answer: while polls show Obama's populist plan will appeal to voters, Republicans' fight against class warfare "opens wealthy wallets during campaign season and taps the active, enthusiastic and antigovernment Tea Party movement, which sees socialism under every Democrat’s bed."
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