News & Politics

Fox News Is Helping the GOP Disingenuously Rebrand Itself As the Party of the Middle Class

But for years, the network attacked Democratic policies designed to alleviate income inequality as "class warfare."

Fox News is burying Republican policy positions that exacerbate income inequality in order to help the GOP rebrand itself as a party for the middle class. This effort follows years of Fox figures blasting Democratic policies designed to alleviate income inequality as "class warfare."

Fox Figures Spend Years Attacking Efforts to Reduce Income Inequality as "Class Warfare"

Fox Guests Rich Lowry and Jason Riley Call Obama's Proposals "Class Warfare." In a Fox News discussion about President Obama's 2015 State of the Union plan to reduce income inequality by increasing taxes on the wealthy, National Review Online editor Rich Lowry called Obama's rhetoric about bipartisan cooperation "insincere" and claimed that the administration is stuck on "divisive class warfare kind of politics." 

Wall Street Journal editorial board member Jason Riley also dismissed Obama's policies as "just class warfare." [Fox News, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren1/21/15]

Fox's Megyn Kelly: "Did You Hear The Class Warfare Bell Being Sounded Tonight?" On the January 20 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File, host Megyn Kelly responded to Obama's State of the Union address by asking Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) about the economic policies the president introduced in his speech: "Did you hear the class warfare bell being sounded tonight?" [Fox News, The Kelly File1/20/15]

Fox's Stuart Varney Calls Obama "The Class Warfare President." On the January 21 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Fox Business host Stuart Varney smeared the economic policy proposals President Obama introduced in his State of the Union address, and called him "the class warfare president." Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck added that in his address, Obama was "in a state of give-away," and Fox displayed a graphic which stated, "Taxpayers on the hook for WH freebie offers." [Fox News, Fox & Friends1/21/15]

Fox's Monica Crowley: President Obama's Statement on Income Inequality Shows That We'll See "More Class Warfare, More Radical Wealth Redistribution." Responding to President Obama's argument that income inequality is a "fundamental threat" to the American dream on the December 5, 2013 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, host Martha MacCallum highlighted "new claims that President Obama is returning to a class warfare theme." Fox contributor Monica Crowley said Obama's speech shows that "what we'll continue to see is more class warfare, more radical wealth redistribution." [Fox News, America's Newsroom12/5/13]

Fox's Eric Bolling: In Speech Promoting the Buffett Rule, Obama "Kept to His Theme of Class Warfare." During the April 11, 2012 edition of Fox News' The Five, co-host Eric Bolling said that Obama's support of a minimum effective tax rate for millionaires "kept to his theme of class warfare":

BOLLING: [Obama] kept to his theme of class warfare. Here it is, come on down. Day one we find out that Mitt Romney is likely going to be the nominee and right off the bat it's the Warren Buffett tax, it's Warren Buffett's tax that's going to raise taxes on only those evil rich people. Not everyone else, just the evil rich people.

[...]

BOLLING: Warren Buffett does not say that a Warren Buffett tax will solve a darn thing. The only thing a Warren Buffett tax will do is create class warfare. Not help the debt, certainly not help the American economy. [Fox News, The Five4/11/12

Fox's Steve Doocy: "The President Is Talking About Raising Taxes, and, You Know, Effectively Class Warfare." On the September 19, 2011 edition of Fox News' of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy claimed that because Obama's jobs and deficit reduction plan would increase taxes on the wealthy, it was "effectively class warfare." [Fox News, Fox & Friends9/19/11]

Sean Hannity: Obama "Could Not Help But Resort to Using The Same Kind of Class Warfare" Proposals In His Speech on Jobs Bill.During the September 12, 2011 edition of his Fox News show, Sean Hannity said of Obama's speech about his jobs and deficit reduction plan: "And, as usual, the president could not help but resort to using the same kind of class warfare and false choices that we've gotten used to over the past two-and-a-half years." [Fox News, Hannity9/12/11]

Fox News Actively Helps GOP Rebrand As a Party for the Middle Class

FoxNews.com: "GOP Congress Ready to Champion Middle Class." In a January 20 article, FoxNews.com wrote that the GOP Congress is "ready to champion [the] middle class." The article highlighted Sen. Joni Ernst's (R-IA) response to President Obama's State of the Union address as an example, suggesting that, unlike Obama, she is a realist who promises "to champion [the] middle class":

Sen. Joni Ernst hammered home the idea of a new Republican Congress ready to champion the middle class in America as well as go after terrorists abroad in the Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night.

In contrast to Obama's rosy view on the economy, Ernst spoke of the struggle that still exists.

"Americans have been hurting," she said, and cited concerns over stagnant wages, lost jobs and higher monthly insurance bills.

The freshman senator from Iowa, with less than a month of experience in Washington, told Americans during her nine-minute rebuttal that the GOP is "working hard to pass the kind of serious job-creation ideas you deserve" that she said includes building the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. [Fox News.com, 1/20/15]

Fox's Hannity Champions Marco Rubio's Economic Agenda As Plan to Alleviate "Middle Class Squeeze." On the January 21 edition of Fox News' Hannity, host Sean Hannity and network contributor Karl Rove highlighted Marco Rubio's response to President Obama's State of the Union address. Rove praised Rubio for expressing concern "about the middle class squeeze," and argued that while "liberal policies have made it worse, conservative policies will make it better." Hannity also highlighted Jeb Bush's call for "reforms to create economic opportunity for every American."  [Fox News, Hannity1/21/15]

Fox's Chris Wallace: Middle Class and Income Disparity Are Growing Issues for Republicans. On the January 22 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, co-host Jon Scott and network host Chris Wallace championed Republican efforts to alleviate income inequality, claiming that "building the middle class and income disparity" is a "growing issue" for Republicans. Wallace pointed to Jeb Bush and Paul Ryan as examples of Republicans who have been "talking about bringing people up from poverty."  The hosts also used the opportunity to criticize President Obama's plan to address income inequality and blame him for existing income inequality. [Fox News, Happening Now1/22/15]

Dobbs: Republicans "Appear Ready to Lead" on Income Inequality "Where the President Is Not." On the January 21 edition of Fox Business Network's Lou Dobbs Tonight, host Lou Dobbs and Fox News contributor Karl Rove praised GOP efforts to support the middle class, and championed Senator Joni Ernst's response to President Obama's State of the Union address. Dobbs called her comments about the middle class a "breakthrough moment for the Republican Party," and said GOP lawmakers are "succeeding where the president is floundering: turning their focus to the American middle class." [Fox Business Network, Lou Dobbs Tonight1/21/15; Fox Business Network, Lou Dobbs Tonight1/21/15]

But Republican Policies Have Historically Exacerbated Income Inequality

NY Times: Traditional Republican Trickle-Down Economic Policies Haven't Worked to Eliminate Income Inequality. The New York Times reported that while likely 2016 Republican presidential candidates may acknowledge a wealth gap, they "have embraced few policies to address the issue." The Times also pointed out that while "traditional conservative economic theory holds that business expansion creates jobs, tightens the labor market, and pushes up wages," the economy has grown steadily in recent years and still "wealth generated by the growing economy has not trickled down." [The New York Times1/21/15]

NPR: Republican Tax Policies Have Exacerbated Income Inequality. NPR reported that, according to Rolling Stone's political correspondent Tim Dickinson, "the tax policies pursued by the Republican Party" in recent years "have led to greater economic inequality in our country." Dickinson pointed out that "since Republicans began their tax-cut binge in 1997, they have succeeded in making the rich much richer. While the average income for the bottom 90 percent of taxpayers has remained basically flat over the past 15 years, those in the top 0.01 percent have seen their incomes more than double, to $36 million a year." [NPR, 11/16/11]

The New Republic: GOP Has Made "Mobility" Its "New Mantra," But Republican Policies Undermine Mobility. The New Republic's Sean McElwee reported that, for Republicans, "'Mobility' is the party's new mantra--but it's based on a familiar delusion." As McElwee pointed out, Republican proposals are not actually serious about addressing the problem because "being serious about the problem will require doing the one thing that Republicans hate: government spending." McElwee singled out Rubio and Ryan as examples of Republican politicians who have pushed harmful policies (emphasis added):  


[Inequality is] a two-part problem. First, there is opportunity hoarding at the top, wherein the wealthy invest heavily in their children's education and job prospects, while also passing their wealth on to their children. Then there is stagnation at the bottom, caused largely by reverse trends, economic and racial segregation, awful schools, and poor parents without much money to invest in children.

Why does the "land of opportunity" have such low mobility? Laissez-faire economic policies--massive tax breaks, untrammeled free markets, unregulated free trade, deep cuts to the safety net--have widened the income gap. While Republicans have tried to sever the link between mobility and inequality, research shows that the two issues are intimately connected: Societies and communities with high inequality have low levels of upward mobility. Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute estimates that had income growth risen proportionally between 1979 and 2007, the median income would be $19,000 higher.

Republican pundits have their own theories on these problems, of course. They like to point to the disintegrating family and other social factors, even though a large swath of research suggests this is to mistake an effect for its cause. As for solutions, Ari Fleischer has argued for more (straight) marriage, Ross Douthat prefers chastising single mothers, Charles Murray wants the poor to emulate the values of the rich, and David Brooks wants... well, it's not clear exactly. None of these proposals are serious about the problem, because being serious about the problem will require doing the one thing that Republicans hate: government spending.

[...]

The right has to wrestle with a very tricky counterfactual: There has never been a society with a strong and sustained middle class that did not also have a strong government maintaining that middle class. In the U.S., the middle class has been strengthened by what political scientist Christopher Howard calls the "hidden welfare state." While programs that help the poor, like TANF, are explicit, aid for the middle class is hidden in arcane programs like the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction, the employer-provided healthcare tax exclusion, and the Family Medical Leave Act. Programs like Social Security and Medicare, which are no longer considered "welfare" but represent huge government interventions in the market (that primarily help the white middle class) are taken for granted. [The New Republic2/19/14]

Slate: Large Majority of Republican Lawmakers Consistently Block Raising Minimum Wage. In a May 13, 2014 article, Slate explained that the "large majority of Republican lawmakers" see "no reason to raise the minimum wage," -- which would help decrease income inequality -- and have used the "the usual reactionary rhetoric" to block an increase. Slate pointed to several GOP senate members who oppose a minimum wage increase, including Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). [Slate, 5/13/14]

MSNBC's Steve Benen: GOP Policies Aggravate Inequality. As MSNBC's Steve Benen noted, Republican policies have historically exacerbated income inequality:

If the Speaker believes it's a "problem" that only folks at the top are doing well, then it stands to reason he should support policies intended to address this "problem." In practice, that apparently means endorsing an agenda that cuts off unemployment benefits, slashes food stamps, cuts funding for public services, eliminates health care benefits, and rejects minimum-wage increases. 

Indeed, Boehner is a big fan of Paul Ryan's budget plan, which seems to be designed to make the income gap much worse, on purpose, by redistributing wealth from the bottom up.

To be sure, the causes of our contemporary Gilded Age and the roots of such widespread inequalities are complex, but if Boehner actually believes his own rhetoric, and sees "income inequality in America" as a "problem," it seems that he has a responsibility to (a) craft an agenda that at least tries to make things better; and (b) stop endorsing an agenda that would make things worse. [MSNBC, 5/14/14]

CBPP: Paul Ryan's House GOP Budget Plan Would Have Created "More Poverty and Less Opportunity." When Paul Ryan unveiled his 2014 House GOP budget plan, Robert Greenstein, the president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), noted that under the Ryan budget, "Affluent Americans would do quite well. But for tens of millions of others, the Ryan plan is a path to more adversity." Greenstein pointed out that the plan would have left millions without health insurance by repealing the Affordable Care Act and implementing changes to Medicaid funding. Greenstein also criticized the budget for its impact on anti-poverty programs, estimating that it would:

  • Slash basic food aid provided by SNAP by at least $135 billion and convert the program to a block grant. The Ryan budget includes every major benefit cut in the harsh SNAP bill that the House passed in September, which CBO estimated would end benefits to 3.8 million low-income people in 2014.  The budget also would block-grant SNAP in 2019, with further steep funding cuts. States would be left to decide whose benefits to cut -- poor children, working-poor parents, seniors, people with disabilities, or others struggling to make ends meet.  They would have no good choices, as SNAP provides an average of only $1.40 per person per meal.
  • Make it harder for low-income students to attend college. Ryan proposes to cut Pell Grants by more than $125 billion over the next decade.  He would freeze the maximum grant for ten years, even as college tuition costs continue to rise. The maximum Pell Grant already covers less than a third of college costs, compared to more than half in earlier decades. Yet under the Ryan budget, the grant would fall another 24 percent by 2024 in inflation-adjusted dollars. (Some of that reduction is in the budget baseline, but Ryan would substantially enlarge it.) He also would make some moderate-income students who get modest help from Pell Grants today entirely ineligible.
  • Make massive unspecified cuts in a part of the budget in which low-income programs -- including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which Ryan praised in his recent poverty report -- make up a substantial share of the expenditures.  His budget calls for at least $500 billion in cuts to mandatory programs other than Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP, Pell Grants, farm programs, civil service programs, and veterans' benefits.  A substantial share of spending in this category is for low-income programs, including the EITC, the low-income component of the Child Tax Credit, the school lunch and other child nutrition programs, and Supplemental Security Income, which helps very poor people who are elderly or have serious disabilities. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 4/1/14]

The New Republic: No Republican Plan To Solve Income Inequality. The New Republic pointed out that while Republicans have recently "begrudgingly" acknowledged the existence of income inequality, they still don't have a plan to fix it. In a May 13, 2014 article, Danny Vinik cited House Speaker John Boehner's statement that income inequality is an issue in America, but noted that Boehner and his Republican colleagues have argued against raising the minimum wage and have yet to propose policy solutions to "close the gap between the rich and poor":

If Boehner's Republican colleagues come around to his beliefs, that would represent major shift in the party's policy agenda. And once Democrats and Republicans agree that rising income inequality is a problem, then they can debate what to do about it. In Texas, Boehner argued against raising the minimum wage, but was short on specific policy prescriptions for closing the gap between the rich and poor. So I visited the House GOP website for more information.

There wasn't much. The site didn't have a section on income inequality, but under "Middle Class Squeeze" I found a page titled "Increasing Wages and Take Home Pay," which contained only two paragraphs about the "job-killing" effect of Obamacare's employer mandate. Under the health-care reform law, employers with more than 50 workers must offer insurance to any employees who work more than 30 hours a week, or pay a penalty of $2,000 per employee. Republicans want to repeal the mandate because employers may cut their workers' hours to avoid the mandate. It's a legitimate fear, but the mandate was delayed until 2015. In a recent report, the Congressional Budget Office found no signs that the employer mandate was leading to a cut in worker hours.

Repealing the employer mandate doesn't constitute a plan to reduce income inequality. And that's House Republicans' only proposal, far as I could find, to increase wages and take-home pay. [The New Republic5/13/14]

Center for Economic and Policy Research: Republican Policies Deliberately Created Income Inequality. A Center for Economic And Policy Research report argued that conservative policies were deliberately designed to create income inequality through "the upward redistribution of the large majority of the benefits of the economic growth":

Taken together these policies - a low and falling minimum wage; the de- or re-regulation of major industries, the corporate-directed liberalization of international capital, product, and labor markets; the privatization of many government services; the decline in unionization; and other closely related policies - are the proximate cause of the rise in equality.

[...]

I am not simply arguing that the explosion of inequality was a side-effect of these policies. I am arguing, rather, that the explosion of inequality - what is, effectively, the upward redistribution of the large majority of the benefits of economic growth since the late 1970s - was the purpose of these policies. [Center for Economic And Policy Research, October 2009]

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