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Lou Dobbs' Class Warfare Crusade

By Ruben Navarrette

SAN DIEGO -- We really are two Americas.

The divide shows up in a recent CNN poll that asked people if they thought the American Dream was now impossible to reach. Fifty-four percent said yes, while 45 percent said no.

How depressing.

There are Americans who believe that this is still a country of unlimited opportunity for those who work hard and sacrifice. And there are others who are convinced that the deck is stacked against working men and women.

There are those who believe that what works against some folks are not the bad breaks, but bad choices such as dropping out of high school or ambling through life without ambition. And there are others who believe that human beings are at the mercy of sinister forces beyond their control.

If you fall into the first category, you're part of my America. If you're in the second, you're part of Lou Dobbs' America.

Having raged against illegal immigration and the outsourcing of American jobs, the television commentator is now fuming over what he considers a "War on the Middle Class," the title of his new book.

As Dobbs sees it, the middle class is under siege by "political, business, and academic elites'' who "along with compatriots in the government and the media ... are using their newfound status to keep the interests of the middle class from getting in the way of their own.''

The weapons are "greed and self-interest in our nation's executive suites and boardrooms'' and the casualties include the loss of jobs, a decline in educational standards, and rising health care costs. We have become a "divided society ... of haves and have-nots, educated and uneducated, rich and poor.'' And, says Dobbs, the folks who suffer are those who "built this country'' and who now struggle with "uncertain job prospects, insecure financial futures, and the likelihood of a severely reduced standard of living.''

This is scary stuff. Not that all this is really happening, mind you, but that Dobbs -- who describes himself as a liberal Republican who believes in free enterprise -- nevertheless has decided to brazenly stoke the flames of class warfare.

What else do you call it when one harps on the fact that "median family income has risen by 18 percent while the income of the top 1 percent -- the very wealthiest families -- has gone up by 200 percent?''

So what? The reason class warfare never works is because most middle-class Americans don't so much resent the wealthy as want to join their ranks.

The U.S. Census divides income levels into fifths and puts the top income bracket at families earning more than $150,000 per year. The folks in the bottom 20 percent make up the working poor. The people in between -- families making between $26,000 and $150,000 per year -- loosely comprise the middle class, the folks against whom war is supposedly being waged.

The people who gathered in Kansas City last week for a CNN special hosted by Dobbs sure seemed embattled. It resembled one of those Democratic town halls during the run-up to the New Hampshire primary where people spill out their problems and then demand to know what government is going to do to solve them.

Dobbs does get some things right. I've argued with him in the past over what I contend is the diminished work ethic of Americans today, especially the young. Now he is coming around. He writes: "There was a time when Americans respected work, no matter how menial, no matter how low the pay, whether it was digging a ditch, picking strawberries, cleaning restrooms, or collecting garbage. I'm afraid there's too much evidence that this is no longer the case.''

Say, Lou, I know where you can find people who still respect that kind of work. They're coming across the border, and they're not blaming anyone for their plight. They're just working like mad and doing without many of life's comforts to improve it. And, all the while, they're maintaining their optimism.

Maybe Dobbs ought to think about whether there isn't a connection between this lost appetite for labor and the economic anxiety that some Americans are feeling. And maybe Americans who are struggling should try making different choices, doing without some comforts, and taking responsibility for improving their lot instead of waiting for government or corporations to do it for them.

Or, if they prefer, the folks in that other America can just throw in the towel and keep blaming the well-off, and those who aspire to be well-off, for the fact that others aren't doing as well as they would like.

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CORRECTION: In a recent column, I wrote that a majority of Democrats in Congress voted in 2002 to give President Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq. While a majority of Senate Democrats voted for the war, most House Democrats did not.

(c) 2006, The San Diego Union-Tribune

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