These criticisms may or may not have merit, but they’re entirely unrelated to the “class warfare” frame—if anything, the logic of Boehner’s complaints about broad-based tax increases implies he would have preferred more of a soak-the-rich approach. To put it another way, “class warfare” and “tax-and-spend,” both favorite conservative epithets, are not synonyms. If politicians are going to advance two lines of attack that are mutually exclusive, it would be nice to see the media force them to pick one.
Raum’s piece, though, is a model of intellectual lucidity compared to Emily Friedman’s March 2 article from ABCNews.com. Friedman was apparently operating under the belief that once you earn enough to qualify for the top tax bracket, all your income is taxed at the top rate, and she found a few high-income individuals who harbored the same delusion. As Jon Chait has noted, Friedman sticks with this narrative framework even though she quotes a financial adviser who understands, and explains, what “marginal” means. By Tuesday evening, the mistake had apparently been brought to the attention of Friedman’s editors, and the story had been modified to make it somewhat less misleading. But though much of the piece’s premise had been undermined, the last section heading was left in place: “Does Obama Tax Plan Promote Class Warfare?”
That’s not to say that it’s impossible to use “class warfare” in a smart and helpful story about Obama’s budget. In a recent article for the Los Angeles Times, Maura Reynolds addresses the struggle among Obama and his opponents over how to frame the spending plan, and introduces both expert opinion and historical context to give the reader enough information to make an independent evaluation. Reynolds notes the sharp drop in top marginal rates since the 1970s, the further cut during the Bush administration, and the rise in income inequality. And she even finds a critic, Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation, who is willing to be quoted attacking the Obama plan as “class warfare.”
To the barricades!