- The Washington Times - Monday, August 26, 2002

The curtain is about to rise on a new morality play this September. Penned by the Democratic Party, it casts corporate America in the role of high-powered thieves so corrupt they make Gordon Gekko seem almost benign. In this campaign drama, Republicans get a major supporting role as the willing accomplices of business in a systematic rip-off of ordinary Americans' hard-earned savings.
With a working title of "For the People, not the Powerful," the play has opened to decidedly mixed reviews this summer in tryouts from Boston to Vegas. As the economy continues to get star billing in the November elections, Democratic leaders from a preachy Al Gore to a rabid Terry McAuliffe have taken the national stage to blame the president and Republicans not just for the corporate accounting scandals but for a slowed economy and a sinking stock market as well.
Class warfare is nothing new to the Democrats. It was the central strategy of Al Gore's losing campaign. Yet, in their latest public analysis, we hear three of the Democratic Party's top operatives and founders of the Democracy Corps, James Carville, Bob Shrum and Stanley Greenberg, cling to this cliched class warfare script.
"We will win this battle … if we really shift the country on who stands up for the ordinary citizen and who genuinely pursues the public interest particularly on the economy," they wrote.
I would argue, and I suspect Joe Lieberman would agree with me, that the Democrats' cynical portrayal of corporate America as an evil symbol of the prosperous class is flawed thinking at best and a bankrupt strategy at worst. But don't take my word for it. Look at the Democrats' own data.
In the Democracy Corps' late July survey, voters were asked whether the corporate scandals are "a sign of broader problems in our economy resulting from widespread efforts to decrease regulation of corporations at the expense of ordinary Americans" or are "the result of illegal behavior by a handful of individuals and should not decrease our confidence in the ability of markets and corporations to govern themselves."
By a margin of 53-43, voters preferred the second statement. The survey also found that the economy was the No. 1 issue at 24 percent. The bad news is when asked which party could best handle the issue of the economy, voters chose Republicans by a margin of 5 points. Even worse news for the Democrats, relying on a class warfare strategy this fall, corporate abuse came in dead last as an issue at 2 percent along with the environment, so often touted as a crucial issue by Mr. Gore and other Democratic leaders.
Perhaps the most fascinating data, however, came from the Democracy Corps' "thermometer test" in which voters were asked to rate their feelings from one to 100 toward a number of groups or things. George Bush received a 61, the second-highest favorable rating just behind the Internet. Republicans and Democrats were close as 54 and 53 respectively. The NRA and pro-life organizations were ranked at 49 and 48.
But it was Ralph Nader's Green Party ranking near the bottom at 39 that should serve as a wake-up call for Democratic strategists, because those "evil" big corporations that Mr. Nader and his Democratic Party compatriots love to hate came in four points higher at 43.
So, while Democrats continue to talk down American business to further their class warfare strategy, Americans rank corporations ahead of the party that not only symbolizes anti-business environmental activism but is led by the most virulent anti-capitalist, class warfare proponent on the political scene today.
What Ralph Nader, Al Gore, and the rest of the Democratic leaders don't get is that the American people don't hate business or the individual success it generates. Quite the contrary. They know business creates jobs; and with nearly 70 percent of voters invested today in the stock market, Americans have a vested interest in business doing well, and they are optimistic about the country's long-term future.
A recent Pew study also found that 83 percent of employees surveyed believed the people who ran their company were honest, and ethical and 69 percent felt their leaders were worth the money they earned. Seventy-four percent rated their own company's financial situation as excellent or good showing workers remain positive when assessing their individual economic situations despite endless negative media coverage and a barrage of Democratic criticism.
More important in a political context, people believe our economic system offers every American an opportunity to succeed, and most aspire to join the ranks of the prosperous which poses a real disconnect for class warfare proponents who like to paint the successful as only greedy and selfish.
Clearly, the American people are concerned about the revelations of serious abuses some unethical, some criminal by corporate executives and believe they should be punished for their wrongdoing. But that demand for justice should not be seen as a rejection of either our free market system or the inherent virtue of the individual striving to succeed.
Unlike most Americans, Democrats seeking political advantage cling to the notion that the gains of one group can only be made at the expense of another.
And they believe that Americans will buy that narrow, self-centered philosophy this November. It didn't work in 2000, and in this new post-September 11 political environment, it is even less likely to produce the victory they so desire.

Richard N. Bond is a former national Republican Party chairman.

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