Make no mistake: In 2012 Obama fought and won the election by waging class war. He directly engaged a battle being waged by the 1 percent against the rest of the country.
To be sure, President Obama is a reluctant class warrior. That is why the class war aspects of his victory have been largely underrated. Moreover, conservative Democrats – New Dems and Blue Dogs alike – constantly rail against class warfare, which may have more to do with their financial backing than their electoral acuity. So do the talking heads, who for the most part would prefer to gloss over class conflict.
But the facts are clear. He took on the 1 percent on taxes, on government spending, on Wall Street regulation and the role of government. He was particularly aggressive when it came to the issues affecting the swing states in the Midwest—Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin – he needed for victory.
Obama’s campaign built its message on class war battles that broke out in the Republican primary, as challengers sought to bring down “the main from Bain,” Mitt Romney. As Mike Huckabee put it in 2008, Mitt Romney, who launched and ran the private equity firm Bain Capital, “looks like the guy who fired you.” In fact, he was the man whose decisions led to the firing of thousands of workers, and as the GOP was still licking its wounds from a savage and desperate primary fight, Priorities USA Action made sure the public knew that through a series of blistering attacks on Romney based on his time as head of Bain Capital.
In the end, the keys to Obama’s reelection were his calls for raising the taxes of the wealthy and his support for reinvesting those revenues in education and jobs to rebuild the middle class and to protect programs like Medicare from cuts. By repeatedly portraying Mitt Romney as a walking example of the out-of-touch elite, an opponent of the auto industry bailout that saved an entire manufacturing sector, and a 1 percenter who would jeopardize social programs, education, and Medicare in order to cut taxes on his rich friends, the Obama campaign and its allies were able to drive Romney’s negative up high enough to seize victory from his grasp.
With this race, Obama’s reelection sets the stage for class warfare as a potent and necessary tool to promote rebuilding the economy from the bottom up, rather than perpetuate the right wing’s failed trickle-down policies.