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Forum Post: This Was the First Class Warfare Election of Our Gilded Age — and the Middle Class Won Big

Posted 7 years ago on Nov. 16, 2012, 1:01 p.m. EST by WSmith (2698) from Cornelius, OR
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By Robert Borosage

This Was the First Class Warfare Election of Our Gilded Age — and the Middle Class Won Big

“God, guns and gays” didn’t work this time. The tricks used to divide working people and counter populist appeals backfired.

November 15, 2012 |

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney arrives on stage on election night November 7, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts. Romney, in his first remarks since an unexpectedly lopsided election loss to Barack Obama, blamed his defeat on "gifts" showered by

In 2012, class warfare broke out in American politics. And from the president to key Senate races, the middle class won.

When the 2012 campaign began, the lousy economy made President Obama vulnerable. Republicans were favored to take back the Senate, given retirements in conservative states. Republican billionaires — the Koch brothers, Adelson and others — put up big money in the effort to have it all. Instead the president swept to victory, and Democrats gained seats in the Senate and the House.

Many factors contributed. Republicans learned once more the shortcomings of a stale, male, pale, Southern-based party in a nation of diversity. The GOP “legitimate rape” caucus helped give away two Senate seats. But too little attention has been paid to the new emerging reality. This was the first class warfare election of the new Gilded Age — and the middle class won big.

The Republican nominee Mitt Romney was inescapably the candidate of, by and for the 1 percent. He came from the world of finance and carried their agenda. He won the primaries, as Newt Gingrich complained, because he had more billionaires than anyone else. And the rich right were on a wilding, not only funding the Romney campaign, but also filling the coffers of superPACs and their offspring with hundreds of millions of dollars.

The class war, ironically, broke out in the Republican primaries. After Romney’s victory in New Hampshire, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry savaged Romney as a “vulture capitalist,” the “man from Bain” who profited from breaking up companies, shipping jobs abroad, and leaving a broken carcass behind. Romney’s negatives soared, reaching the highest on record.

And of course Romney reinforced the impression with revealing moments that exposed his yacht club cluelessness: “Corporations are people, my friends”; “I like firing people”; elevators for his cars; the $10,000 bet; $375,000 in speaking fees “isn’t a lot of money”; trying to appeal to Bubba because he knows a lot of NASCAR owners. He secreted his past income tax statements, while the one he revealed exposed a 14 percent tax rate on over $20 million in income, with, in the imitable phrase of former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, his money “wintering in the Cayman Islands and summering in the Swiss Alps.”

Needless to say, Obama is neither by temperament nor predilection a populist class warrior. But faced with potential defeat, he turned to what works. The depths of the Obama presidency came in the summer of 2011 after the debt ceiling debacle, in which the president was roughed up by Tea Party zealots, and emerged looking weak and ineffective.

Obama came back by deciding to stop seeking back-room compromises with people intent on destroying him and to start making his case. In the fall, he put out the American Jobs Act and stumped across the country demanding that Republicans vote on it. His standing in the polls began to rise. Then Occupy Wall Street exploded, driving America’s extreme inequality and rigged system into the debate. In December, the president embraced the frame: He traveled to Osawatomie, Kansas, revisiting a campaign stop Teddy Roosevelt had made in the first Gilded Age. He indicted the “you’re on your own” economics of Republicans while arguing that “this is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and for all those who are fighting to get into the middle class.”

In the run-up to the election, the president’s campaign employed two basic strategies. First, the president consolidated his own coalition. He defended contraception and pay equity while his campaign attacked the Republican “war on women.” He reached out to Hispanics by ending the threat of deportation for the Dream kids. He not only ended “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but also moved to embrace gay marriage. Widely described as socially liberal measures, these were also profoundly bread-and-butter concerns. Could women choose when to have children? Could Hispanic children be free to pursue the American dream? Could gay people gain the economic benefits of marriage?

At the same time, the president’s campaign made a risky but remarkably successful decision. Their opinion research showed that painting Romney as a flip-flopper had little traction, but the attacks on vulture capitalism hit home. They decided to spend big money early in such key states as Ohio on a negative ad barrage defining Romney as the heartless vulture capitalist from Bain. Both campaigns believe that Romney never recovered.

But rhetoric and attack ads alone would not have sufficed. In critical Ohio and the Midwest the president was buoyed by one of his most activist — and controversial — interventions: the rescue of the auto industry. Unpopular at the time, opposed by many of his advisors, the auto rescue was risky, painful and messy. But it became the president’s closing argument, for workers knew that he had their backs when they were in trouble.

And when Romney put Rep. Paul Ryan on his ticket, Medicare became central to the debate. Republicans labored to portray themselves as the defenders of Medicare, attacking the president for cutting “$716 billion out of Medicare to pay for a health care plan no one wanted.” But in the Democracy Corps/CAF election night poll, the president had a greater margin on who would do better on Medicare than on any other issue.

And of course, perhaps the most telling bit of class attack was self-inflicted: Romney’s infamous scorn for the “47 percent” of Americans who are “victims” who “don’t take responsibility for their lives.” Many Americans took the comments, uttered in a private setting before deep pocket donors, as revealing Romney’s true feelings. The Obama campaign took full advantage and opened up the largest lead of the campaign going into the first debate.

The president’s listlessness in that debate showed how vulnerable he was.Voters wanted change. They overwhelmingly think the country is on the wrong track. The president’s campaign — from its slogan “forward!” to its closing argument — perversely refused to offer anything than more of the same. As Bill Clinton pled at the Democratic Convention, his policies just need more time.

That left Romney an open field to be the candidate of change. But the Bain attacks countered his central argument, “I’m a businessman; I can fix this.” His agenda — a warmed over stew of conservative staples — let Obama argue that we can’t go back to what got us in this mess. The Republican convention, with its disingenuous “we built this” thematic, gave Romney no boost. In the end, voters gave Romney a small edge on who would do better on the economy, but they gave Obama a big edge on who better understands “people like me,” or who will do better restoring the middle class.

Most important, “God, guns and gays” didn’t work this time. The socially divisive tricks that political operatives Lee Atwater and Karl Rove perfected to divide working people and counter populist appeals backfired. The Republican effort to suppress the vote aroused insulted African American and young voters. The harsh anti-immigrant posturing of the Republican primaries drove Hispanics and Asians into Democratic arms.

Class warfare also benefited Democrats in Senate races. Elizabeth Warren, the scourge of Wall Street, used a powerful economic populist message to beat Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, a popular incumbent and Tea Party poster boy, running a smart campaign that sought to label her an elitist “professor” who manipulated affirmative action to get ahead.

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown faced over $30 million in outside negative ads, as Karl Rove made him his leading target. He won as a consistent champion of working people, for the auto rescue, against corporate trade accords, for taking on the big banks. Tammy Baldwin, the only openly gay woman in the Congress, took down the favored former governor of Wisconsin, Tommy Thompson, largely by painting him as a lobbyist for special interests divorced from the concerns of working people. And Heidi Heitkamp produced the biggest upset of all in North Dakota, running an old-time plains populist campaign, for Medicare and Social Security, against corporate trade deals, while savaging her opponent for mistreating tenants in his housing projects.

America’s growing diversity and its increasingly socially liberal attitudes played a big role in this election. But looking back, we are likely to see this as the first of the class warfare elections of our new Gilded Age of extreme inequality. A besieged middle class is increasingly aware that the rules are rigged against them. They are increasingly skeptical of politicians and parties, and believe — not incorrectly — that Washington is largely bought and sold. But they are looking for champions.

For years, conservatives in both parties have warned against class warfare. Americans, we’re told, don’t like that divisiveness. They see it as the politics of envy. Inequality should, as Mitt Romney said, only be talked about in back rooms.


More and more of our elections going forward will feature class warfare — only this time with the middle class fighting back. And candidates are going to have to be clear about which side they are on. Politicians in both parties are now hearing CEOs telling them that it is time for a deal that cuts Medicare and Social Security benefits in exchange for tax reform that lowers rates and closes loopholes. Before they take that advice, they might just want to look over their shoulders at what will be coming at them.



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[-] 3 points by TrevorMnemonic (5827) 7 years ago

When will there be a push for minimum wage increase?

Are any of the people you voted for working on that?

[-] -1 points by WSmith (2698) from Cornelius, OR 7 years ago

Let's put it this way, all REPUBLICONS are not!!!!

And fewer of them are in office!

[-] 0 points by TrevorMnemonic (5827) 7 years ago

You're all talk. Nice way to dodge my question.

I already know republicans won't push for minimum wage increase. Why won't the democrats you voted for push for minimum wage increase?

[-] -2 points by VQkag2 (16478) 7 years ago

Dems are the only ones who ever have fought for minimum/living wage, And will! Repubs are the only ones who ever fight against it and will again.

Take off your partisan glasses.

[-] 2 points by TrevorMnemonic (5827) 7 years ago

You didn't even read what I wrote. Or you you have no mind to understand.

Direct quote "I already know republicans won't push for minimum wage increase."

But why aren't the democrats pushing for a minimum wage increase when it's so desperately needed? Why do so few join the likes of Dennis Kucinich who have been working for the 99% and opposing war the entire time?

I dare you to try and answer my question

[-] -2 points by VQkag2 (16478) 7 years ago

You don't know what you're talkin about. Like Kucinich (who is great) is alone.

Sanders, James, Rangel, Louis, and many many more progressives have made real efforts.

Once again you criticize dems for not doing something that repubs have blocked.

Why do you never criticize repubs by name, by action. THEY are the problem.

You want minimum wage increase? You should be denouncing the repubs who always block it!

But you don't. THAT is what make you a partisan.

[-] 2 points by TrevorMnemonic (5827) 7 years ago

I've called my republican congressman's office so many fucking times they don't even send me the bullshit response letters anymore.

Want a name "Lee Terry"

You don't know me you party hack. You turn every topic into "You're a republican"

You're a fucking joke.

Give me more propaganda about how Libya is now liberated and perfect.

Keep preaching for war. THE war profiteers love that.

[-] -1 points by VQkag2 (16478) 7 years ago

Lee Terry? Please, The right wing guys who are creating the fear mongering war on terror propaganda.!! You don't even know who they are because all problems begin and end with one politician in your bizarro partisan world.

I denounce Pres Obama for these failures, freely with no hesitation.

You can't beyond him! You are silent on the right wing neocons who created and continue to nurture this war machine/atmosphere.

You bring up Libya as a distraction from your failure to denounce the right wing propagandists.

Haven't they criticized our weakness in Libya, "leading from behind", "letting the people decide for themselves" Yout right wing very unhappy that a cabinet has finally been approved by the legislature in Libya.

Do you disapprove? Do you know what is happening there?

[-] 2 points by TrevorMnemonic (5827) 7 years ago

The problem is every single person who voted for

the patriot act

the NDAA's

the FISA bills

the AUMF

the GLB act


it's HUNDREDS OF NAMES. it's not fucking 10 or 20 it's hundreds. It's almost the entire fucking congress and the people they employ and share in corruption with.

i've been saying this forever. you are the one who constantly turns the subject into Obama by suggesting he has no role in what is mentioned. Which of course it being a conversation I shed light on.

In the simplest form I have said "if they supported the patriot act, they do not truly support you." It's the simplest litmus test to get out corruption. Of course more must be researched but it's a great start to weed out corruption.

[-] -2 points by VQkag2 (16478) 7 years ago

Yes you are clearly a simpleton. All the failures you mentioned are right wing neocon policy that some dems supported.

I denounce all these policies, all those who support them as well. You brought up Obama. (as always)

I continue to maintain that our only difference is that YOU ignore the right wing fear mongering propaganda roots to all these catastrophes.

Fear is what the right wing always uses! They know people get more conservative when they are scared.

Your silence on the people perpetrating that propaganda serves them and facilitates all these disaster policies you rail against.

Smarten up. Propaganda always COMES 1st and always must GO 1st!

[-] 1 points by TrevorMnemonic (5827) 7 years ago

When I speak out against the wars and challenge the government's official stories... I am speaking against the propaganda.

Maybe you didn't see the entire summer where I've been calling the campaign ads and super pac ads propaganda. I said the elections are sponsored by billions in pirvate interests.

I said things like "the 2012 elections brought to you buy billions in propaganda."

When I say things like "They lied about Iraq and they're lying about Iran" - that's me speaking out against propaganda.

"They said there are men in caves that want to kill us." - speaking against propaganda.

I use the term "lies" more often than the word "propaganda"

Do you just want me to use the word "propaganda" more?

[-] -2 points by VQkag2 (16478) 7 years ago

I want you to recognize the people who spew hate by trying to conduct witchhunts for muslims, or who continually scare the population by pushing the Al Qaeda threat, who use the 'war on terror' as a means to further the rights violations, who refuse to acknowledge that the terrorist threat is not existential.

That is happening, that is the propaganda that is employed by specific politicians to scare the people into submission.

You have only ridiculed that reality, you have never mentioned it, you have no idea who is doing it because it isn't Obama. You don't see past beatin Obama over the head.

So let's beat up Obama. No more war, End the drone strikes!

But if you continue to ignore the propaganda roots then you are just attacking one politician and not addressing the problem of war & rights violations.

[-] 1 points by TrevorMnemonic (5827) 7 years ago

I've recognized it this entire time and have been saying their war plan is still underway.


It's not just a few "specific politicians"

Only ONE senator voted NO on the Patriot Act.

Obama approves of the CIA's drone strikes. So does Romney. That should tell you a lot about the "reality"

Romney worse. But the fact that they agreed on this issue and still being at war this year is ridiculous.

The president holds a ton of power in regards to war. You must understand this.

This is why in regards to war... just like Bush... presidents face the most criticism.

THEY play the world like a game of chess. Think about that and remember the elections have been run by money in politics and massive dollars spent on propaganda. All elections. CONGRESS especially.

Yes I think private interest run the government. You caught me... I'm a conspiracy theorist. LOL

[-] -1 points by VQkag2 (16478) 7 years ago

And your facebook link didn't work.

[-] -1 points by VQkag2 (16478) 7 years ago

Romney lost the election! Are you in some kind of time warp or you some kind of fuckin moron!

The entire congress? NOT!!!! It is absolutely specific politicians! If we aren't simpletons!

You mentioned Lyndsey Graham, his Pal McCain, & Lieberman of course, there is Peter King, and of course the Muslim witch hunting Bachman & her 4 supporters in the house.

We do a disservice to those pols who refuse to take part in the frenzy of anti muslim fear mongering when we generalize and pretend it's all ofthem, or their all the same. And we serve the fear mongerers by providing cover with those inaccurate generalizations.

We can't be simpletons, this is too important. All guilty pols must be denounced regardless of party. But we must go after the specific fear mongering comments & those spewing them.

[-] 1 points by TrevorMnemonic (5827) 7 years ago

Lol now you're accusing me of covering for Michelle Bachman

[-] -2 points by VQkag2 (16478) 7 years ago

I didn't accuse you of "covering for Bachman" that's you lying as a distraction from the issue I AM bringing up.

You remain silent on the cause of the military actions/rights violation you complain about.

THAT is our disagreement!


[-] 1 points by TrevorMnemonic (5827) 7 years ago

Go here


That is my view of these people and has been for a long time.

Accusing me of thinking otherwise is not only false but ignorant as fuck.

[-] 0 points by RedDragon (-161) 7 years ago

The Republicans have all the jobs; where are these Dem jobs for which you intend to pay higher wages? You can't pay higher wages without a job to offer - where is it?

Ok, I'll help you out - they are all owned by big business which is traditionally Republican.

[-] 1 points by VQkag2 (16478) 7 years ago

Please. Big business needs the worker & the customers who may not be repub.

[-] 1 points by RedDragon (-161) 7 years ago

Nah... not the case. All big business is Republican; that's why they call this the "GOP." The Democrats have nothing to offer us, other than perhaps - and this is a big perhaps - a subsistence allowance.

[-] 1 points by VQkag2 (16478) 7 years ago

Sounds like wishful thinking.

[-] 3 points by Underdog (2971) from Clermont, FL 7 years ago

Yes, unfortunately it is not a skirmish. Not a battle. It IS a war that shows no sign of ending (in fact it has always existed, just not as openly as it now is). It is a war as old as time. Why is anyone surprised to see it being played out in front of them now? If anyone thinks it is something new then they are incredibly naive. Funny thing is, the Rich are usually always the winner.

But not this time.

[-] 0 points by WSmith (2698) from Cornelius, OR 7 years ago

It's a battle, we have to cream them!!

Don't be a stupid victim!!!!

[-] 2 points by Underdog (2971) from Clermont, FL 7 years ago

I don't have a victim mentality. But people are a bit shocked and disgusted to see this class warfare attitude coming into clear view. They shouldn't be. It's as old as time. It was just disguised better during our lifetimes until recently, and that is why people are so shocked that the Rich are fighting back at having to give up one stinking dime of their booty. People are naive. But at least now they are seeing the true nature of the Beast coming out. And that arrogant, selfish, "I got mine, go get yours and leave me alone" mentality will leave a lasting impression in the mind of the "little guy/gal" for generations to come. If the Rich would just do the right thing, they might gain some favorable PR and respect among the 99%. But NOOOOOOO. They want to fight this war because they truly believe it is a war that they will win by buying up everything required to win it. Well...we will just see about that!!!!

Pay up assholes!!!

[-] 2 points by DKAtoday (33802) from Coon Rapids, MN 7 years ago

It is hard to miss the lack of solidarity from the wealthy - when they hide/hoard over 30 trillion dollars off shore.

[-] 0 points by WSmith (2698) from Cornelius, OR 7 years ago


[-] 0 points by RedDragon (-161) 7 years ago

Oh yea, we won alright. Interest rates for depositors are still artificially low; inflation outstrips the depositors return... we have been forced into government bonds, which have also been lowered... it's bad enough we're paying more in taxes but we have to also subside government debt, which means less disposable income for us, less money to service industries, consumer goods, more eating at home and less traveling.

No one creates jobs under these conditions, no one.

Can you name one area - any area - where the working and middle classes have gained? Any area at all where veracity cannot be challenged? I am listening. And so is the rest of Middle America.

[-] -1 points by Shayneh (-482) 7 years ago

I don't know how you can say the middle class won when the middle class is shrinking.

You can also expect there to be be another four years of "middle class" shrinkage.

But hey, Obama knows how to solve the problem - tax the "evil rich and wealthy" and dole it out at the cost of $250,000 per job per person receiving a $38,000 wage

[-] 0 points by WSmith (2698) from Cornelius, OR 7 years ago

After decades of public neglect we can expect a lot of trouble to come from the Greed-Addled 1%. But the middle class won't be executed by their RepubliCon foot soldiers quite as much as they would have, and THAT'S A VICTORY!!

This is only another chance to fight, not the end of the war.

It's Class War, we won a battle, we're still losing, FIGHT BACK!!

[-] -1 points by 1sealyon (434) 7 years ago

Obama lost the middle class (income: $ 50k - $100K) by six points.


[-] -2 points by hchc (3297) from Tampa, FL 7 years ago

Actually in this current system the middle class will stay right where they are already- getting crushed.


[-] 0 points by WSmith (2698) from Cornelius, OR 7 years ago

Another beginning: like '06,' 08, but not '10!?!

We lost it in WI!!!

But we got it together in '12.

NOW THE WORK BEGINS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

[-] -1 points by VQkag2 (16478) 7 years ago

keep informing, creating confidence that change can com. All positive efforts by ows provides this. Even if ows take no official role in politics they encourage people to be active in their communities and that leads to more voting.



[+] -4 points by Zophim99 (12) 7 years ago

For once, the American middle class did not let their own interests and greed cloud their judgment; this truly is a victory for the middle class. We were listening when Mitt Romney tried to accuse China of manipulating their currency to gain a competitive edge. More than 300 million Chinese middle class, our global brothers and sisters, would have been at risk of losing jobs or suffering pay cuts under strict Republican reforms. However, the American middle class stepped up to the plate and showed the world, China and India especially, that we realize we have hoarded industry and jobs for too long. We have expressed our willingness to the world to accept less and sacrifice some of the freedoms that brood corruption in our society. We have voted to protect the interests of our middle class counterparts across the world and march toward a new Gilded Age of equality. The per capita income in China is now US$5,445 and rapidly rising at an average of 14% per year, income in the United States is currently $41,560. From 2000 - 2008 per capita income rose in the U.S. from $30,319 to $40,947 an increase of 35%!. However, from 2008 to 2011 per capita income in the U.S. only rose 1.5% and even decreased in 2009 by 6%. We have managed to gain and maintain control of once obscene and unfair income distribution over the last 4 years. Our Democratic victory has ensured we will continue this course and likely even slow our growth-rate to allow the rest of the world to catch up and share the wealth.

[-] 5 points by jrhirsch (4714) from Sun City, CA 7 years ago

A new age of equality? Income for the lower 90% of Americans hasn't grown in 40 years. All of the increase has gone to the upper 10%, and the majority of that to the upper 1%. The gap between the rich and poor continues to increase, here and in China.



[-] 1 points by notaneoliberal (2269) 7 years ago

Good call jr. Why do I feel like I just read a release straight from DNC headquarters? "new Gilded Age of equality"? WTF?

[-] 2 points by jrhirsch (4714) from Sun City, CA 7 years ago

My hunch is that this was straight from the propaganda ministry of the Chinese government.

[-] 0 points by WSmith (2698) from Cornelius, OR 7 years ago

Instead of abortion, all parents ought to be punished for dropping kids on heads!!