Steve Chapman

Someday, when today's adults are old and gray, their grandchildren will sit down and ask, "What did you do in the class war?" You may not have noticed, but it seems we are in the midst of one.

On this point, Republican candidates and officeholders are in agreement. Newt Gingrich accuses President Barack Obama of advocating "class warfare and bureaucratic socialism." Mitt Romney says he is trying "to divide America." Rick Santorum? "Class warfare." Michele Bachmann? Ditto.

Now a hedge-fund manager has become a Fox News hero for writing the president a letter depicting him as the evil twin of Fidel Castro. Obama, charges Leon Cooperman of Omega Advisors, is engaging in "desperate demagoguery," treating the rich as a "selfish and unfeeling lot who must be subjugated by the force of the state," employing a strategy "that never ends well for anyone but totalitarians and anarchists."

Maybe cold showers are in order. Obama, it's true, has proposed a small increase in tax rates on the wealthy, but nothing draconian by historical standards. His purportedly populous speech Tuesday in Osawatomie, Kan., had his usual quota of dubious data, blame for his predecessor and economic folly. Incendiary, however, it was not.

His stress was not on punishing the rich or getting revenge on those who caused the financial crisis. It was about enlarging the middle class. His rhetoric consisted of lines like, "We're greater together than we are on our own" and "I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot."

If there's class warfare going on, Obama is not going to get any medals. Even when he laments rising inequality, his remedies don't involve punitive redistribution.

His advocacy of higher marginal income tax rates focuses on the need to increase revenue to reduce the federal deficit. And let's face it: If he and Congress aren't going to make drastic cuts in spending -- which they are not -- more revenue will be needed, and it's not going to come from poor people, because they don't have any money.

It's been so long -- blessedly long -- since mainstream Democrats preached class warfare that Republicans have forgotten what it sounds like. Franklin Roosevelt said of business and finance titans, "They are unanimous in their hate for me -- and I welcome their hatred."

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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