'Morning Joe' Panel Plays Class Warfare Card, Warns Wealthy To Listen to Envious, Frustrated Middle Class

Tuesday's "Morning Joe" panel on MSNBC played the class warfare card, highlighting tension between the American middle class and the richest Americans who profit from the global economy. Impassioned co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski gave credence to middle class frustration at the widening gap between them and the ultra-rich.

The Atlantic magazine's editor-in-chief James Bennett referenced a poll touting that 60 percent of Americans advocate higher taxes for the wealthy as the best solution to the budget crisis. "I think part of that is a response to the sense that they're being left behind by these people," Bennet explained.

Bennet pointed out top hedge fund managers making over a billion dollars a year, and suggested Americans would like to see more of that money back. "You'd think," huffed Mika Brzezinski. "Good luck getting it from them," Joe Scarborough warned. Scarborough was a critic of the recent tax deal between Obama and the GOP, arguing that millionaires did not need the tax cuts as much as the country needed their tax revenue to pay down the deficit.
 

The story by Reuters global editor-at-large Chrystia Freeland – subtitled "How the Global Elite is Leaving You Behind" – focused on the recent rise of the global elites and how their accumulation of wealth is multiplying. The panel focused on the tension between the middle class and this rising class of elites, who apparently don't listen to or care much about the middle class.

Columnist Mike Barnicle mentioned what he saw as "social rage, increasing social rage toward the rich." He warned that "this rage that's simmering in this country, it's evidenced in the polls...they don't listen to it, the rich don't listen." Mika Brzezinski also issued a warning. "Don't underestimate that tension," she glowered.

Increasing indifference of American millionaires and billionaires toward their own country was another subject of the story. Those successful in a global economy are "a little less concerned" with the American middle class and domestic issues, noted James Bennet. "Is that an understatement, 'a little less concerned'?" an impassioned Joe Scarborough scoffed.

A partial transcript of the segment, which aired on January 4 at 8:49 a.m. EDT, is as follows:

CHRYSTIA FREELAND: So my story was basically based on the observation – which you talk about a lot on your show – that we're seeing this two-speed U.S. economy and a two-speed world economy. And the people at the very, very top – not even the top one percent, the top 0.1 percent –

DONNY DEUTSCH: This is 0.0001 percent.

FREELAND: Right. They are doing incredibly well. And there are lots of arguments about why is it? Is it because of the technology revolution? Is it about financial de-regulation, is it about globalization? But the statistics are, they show, irrefutably, that you're seeing this group pull away. And what I wrote about in my piece is who are they, what are they like, and what is the impact of this community they're forming on everybody else.

(...)

JOE SCARBOROUGH: James Bennett, what's the impact of this on the rest of us?

JAMES BENNET: Well it's – the consequences are huge. Chrystia does, I think, a beautiful job in the piece of who these people are and what this kind of emerging culture is like. But she also really wrestles with what the effects of this are. And as these people hit kind of separation velocity, you're seeing that they can find middle-class workers and middle-class consumers anywhere in the world now. They're a little less concerned about the American middle class than they might have been in the past. And so they become a little less concerned with issues like domestic education –

SCARBOROUGH: Is that an understatement, "a little less concerned"?

BENNET: Chrystia, do you want to take it away?

FREELAND: Well, I think it's –

SCARBOROUGH: I mean let's be blunt.

FREELAND: I will be blunt. The thing is, I am pro-capitalist, and I understand why these guys want to make the most money possible and are looking for where the best opportunities are. But the real political consequence is, they are operating – they have, as James says, reached escape velocity. They are operating in this global economic space, and the reality is they aren't as concerned about finding jobs for the people who they live with.

SCARBOROUGH: Because they don't see boundaries, James. These are people who – and we know them – these are people who are probably up, if they are in New York, at 2 in the morning, and they're looking at Asian markets. And they're seeing how money moves across boundaries; there are no borders anymore for these people, there are only billions to be made.

BENNET: That's exactly right. And Joe, you were wondering earlier though, the flip side of this – you were wondering earlier how could 60 percent of Americans be advocating higher taxes on the wealthy as a way to deal with the budget crisis. I think part of that is a response to the sense that they're being left behind by these people. You know, they hear, as Chrystia writes in this piece, the top-25 hedge fund managers made more than a billion dollars each on average last year, and they kind of think maybe those people should be kicking a little more of that money back.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Huh, you'd think.

SCARBOROUGH: Good luck getting it from them.

BRZEZINSKI: You'd think.

MIKE BARNICLE: One of the elements of both these pieces – what Jim was talking about, what Chrystia was talking about – is a combustible element that is at large in our culture, I think and around the world, actually – social rage, increasing social rage toward the rich. Nobody, nobody gives birth to a child and says "Oh, I hope this baby grows up to be poor." Nobody wants to live in a one bedroom home by the side of an expressway with six kids packed in the house. And this rage that's simmering in this country, it's evidenced in the polls, and it's unheard – they don't listen to it, the rich don't listen.

BENNET: One of the really great points I think Chrystia makes here, and why this disconnect is so deep is that these people, a lot of these really successful people are merit-ocrats. I mean, they're first and second generation immigrants who made it on their own. And so they really feel like they kind of deserve what they made on the one hand. On the other hand, they sort of think "Well why didn't you make it, too?" You know, if I made it – so there's a little less of a sense of, maybe in the old days of noblesse oblige, or there's a kind of sense of legitimacy to their success that makes them feel aggrieved when other people start complaining about how much they make.

SCARBOROUGH: And again, this is so interesting Mika, because this is not, as Chrystia points out, this is not old money.

BRZEZINSKI: No. No no no.

SCARBOROUGH: And as Donny points out, this is the newest of new money, and a thing I found out – because I've never been around wealthy people until I ran for Congress the first time, and I found that when you went to somebody that did a paper route, and they were 8 or 9, and they saved that money, and then they built a small company, and then they became very wealthy – they had very little use for people with whining stories. Whereas you get old money – they want to write checks, and feel good about themselves.

BENNET: 'Cause there's guilt.

FREELAND: I totally agree with that, but Mike is right, that the problem is there is this huge tension, and if you have this two-speed economy, which we have, people who didn't make it into the billionaire class are saying "Wait a minute –"

BRZEZINSKI: Don't underestimate that tension.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014