One of America's most liberal talk show hosts, Bill Maher, struck a death blow this week to a painstakingly honed class war that has been dangerously dividing this country for the past four years.
"Rich people ... actually do pay the freight in this country ... like 70 percent," Maher said. "In California, I just want to say: Liberals -- you could actually lose me. It's outrageous what we're paying - over 50 percent. I'm willing to pay my share, but yeah, it's ridiculous."
It was a serious blow to the American Left, which has been relentlessly banging the drum for higher taxes on the rich. But no one could have felt the pain of Maher's remarks as acutely as former chief campaign adviser to President Barack Obama, David Axelrod. It is he after all -- and not Obama -- who is the father of the 21st century class war in this country.
Axelrod, if you'll remember, was the top campaign adviser to 2001 New York mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer. Ferrer had long been considered a political moderate as Bronx borough president, but he took a sharp left in his mayoral race under Axelrod's tutelage, wrapping his campaign under the divide-and-conquer umbrella theme, "Two New Yorks."
Ferrer paid a price for his divisiveness among editorial writers, and even fellow Democrats. Former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, a Queens Democrat, accused Ferrer of being racially divisive during the contest. Ferrer lost the primary to Mark Green, who in turn lost the general election to Republican Mike Bloomberg.
In the 2005 mayoral campaign, Axelrod's theme was tried by Ferrer again, but this time he was careful to make clear that his "Two New Yorks" were divided solely along economic lines. "We don't want a city that's an island of the vastly rich surrounded by a struggling mass of working poor desperately trying to get into the economic and social mainstream," Ferrer thundered in an interview.
But Axelrod's Two New York's message fell on deaf ears again. Mayor Bloomberg easily cruised to a second term.
Axelrod, the son of a prominent 1940s left-wing journalist, then began advising an ambitious first-term North Carolina senator with strikingly good hair. And what was John Edwards theme in his 2004 Democratic primary for president? You guessed it: "Two Americas."
Edwards actually began to get some traction with Axelrod's strategy, but as his mustachioed Chicago consultant put it, the North Carolinian just couldn't "close the deal." (In politics anyway.) He got 19 percent of the vote, ironically losing out to an uber-wealthy Massachusetts patrician, John Kerry.
So Axelrod ditched Edwards in 2008 -- it turns out wisely -- to run another political upstart's campaign: a one-term Illinois senator named Barack Obama.
This time, the tumblers of history for Axelrod's class war clicked into place. Financial markets had seized up because dumb, greedy investors had securitized ill-advised housing loans sold to people who couldn't afford them. Americans watched their life savings halved in the blink of an eye -- followed by taxpayer bailouts for the parties responsible.
Justifiable rage was in the air, and Axelrod and Obama pounced on it.
"Two Americas" by then belonged to John Edwards, but the class warfare rhetoric was fair game. It poured forth from Obama, and it hasn't stopped since -- "the 1 percenters"; "the super rich"; "the millionaires and billionaires"and "the corporate jet crowd" are all direct descendants of two New Yorks.
David Axelrod's class war was ahead of its time in 2001 New York. And now it's run its course. How do we know that? Because even Bill Maher says so.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant.