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Whenever President Obama explains the massive economic inequality in the United States, Republicans like Rep. Paul Ryan accuse him of “class warfare.” But many Americans, even Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, realize that the United States is a very unequal society. E. J. Dionne writes in his latest column, “Why Paul Ryan Is Unhappy”:

Ryan offered the classic defense of inequality, arguing that what really mattered was upward mobility, and that the United States had more of it than those horrible welfare states in Europe. “Class is not a fixed designation in this country,” he declared. “We are an upwardly mobile society with a lot of movement between income groups.”

The only problem is that upward mobility has declined as inequality has grown, and social mobility is now higher in Europe than it is in the U.S. That’s shameful. And don’t believe me on this: Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum brought this up at a recent debate, backed by a study from the Economic Mobility Project.

It’s hard to justify more tax cuts for the wealthy in a country that is becoming more rigidly stratified by class. And if it is class warfare simply to acknowledge the facts, does this make Santorum a class warrior?

All of which explains why efforts to taint Occupy Wall Street as nothing more than a bunch of latter-day hippie radicals haven’t worked. It’s also why Obama, by sharpening his arguments about what’s fair and what’s unfair, has finally stopped his slide in the polls.

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