DES MOINES — Former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum argued Monday that President Barack Obama is engaging in class warfare, a day after the president appeared on national television and advocated for the "middle class."
"If there's anything this president has done, (he has) divided us," Santorum told about 160 employees at the Principal Financial Group, a global investment manager and provider of 401(k) plans, mutual funds, retirement plans and insurance.
Santorum, one of seven major candidates seeking the 2012 Republican nomination for president, said Obama talks about the fundamental unfairness of America, and about those who have and those who "have not." But Santorum said the idea that classes exist in America is "destructive" and is about dividing to gain power.
"You'll never hear the word 'class' come out of my mouth," Santorum told Principal employees, twice making a loud sound expressing his disgust. "Classes? We specifically rejected that. Look in the Constitution. No titles of nobility."
Obama on Sunday night appeared on CBS' "60 Minutes," in which he once again advocated — as Democrats in Iowa and Washington, D.C., have repeatedly done during the past several years — for the "middle class."
"The middle class in America has really taken it on the chin, during this period. They haven't seen their wages go up; they haven't seen their incomes go up," Obama said. "What people have been frustrated about, especially since the financial crisis, is the sense that the rules are rigged against middle-class families and those aspiring to get in the middle class."
Obama advocated for making sure that "everybody's doing their fair share," and for those who've benefited the most during the past three decades "to do a little bit more. "
The president also made that argument last week in Osawatomie, Kan., where he said "this is a make-or-break moment for the middle class." He said at stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home and secure their retirement.
"This isn't about class warfare," Obama said, according to the New York Times. "This is about the nation's welfare."
Santorum said that message from the top is further fueling protests by those in the Occupy Wall Street movement, which advocates against social and economic inequality, high unemployment, greed, corruption and what members perceive as an undue influence of corporations on government.
The protesters constantly chant, "We are the 99 percent," referring to the growing difference in wealth in the United States between the wealthiest 1 percent and everyone else.
"I understand the politics of it. The politics of it is, there are more 'have nots' than 'haves.' The 99 percent, right?" Santorum told Principal employees. "It's easy if you can just appeal to the 99, or even 75 percent. It's good politics. It's destructive. It's not who we are."
Meanwhile, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a multi-millionaire, continued taking heat Monday for a $10,000 bet he offered during a weekend debate that Democrats say proves he is not a member of the "middle class."
During Saturday night's debate at Drake University, Romney offered Texas Gov. Rick Perry this bet to prove he hasn't advocated for a national individual health-care mandate, like the one approved in Massachusetts while Romney was governor from 2003 to 2007.
"It'd be hard for Mitt Romney to have found a way to show that he's more out of touch with ordinary Americans than offering to bet Rick Perry $10,000 ... as casually as if he does it all the time," the Democratic National Committee said in one of dozens of emails sent to the media on the topic since Saturday. "And, to do so in the same debate where he again referred to middle-class tax cuts to the tune of $1,500 for the typical family a 'little Band-Aid,' showed just how much Mitt Romney fails to understand the challenges of middle-class Americans."
Democrats weren't the only ones critical of Romney's bet.
Santorum said there's "no question" that the first edition of Romney's book, "No Apology," advocated for using Massachusetts' health-care plan — which requires individuals to acquire health insurance — as a national model. But Santorum said betting $10,000 is out of his league.
"I was a little taken aback by it," Santorum told IowaPolitics.com. "That would not be a number that I would throw out. I either say a nickel or a dollar … As the father of seven children, nickels and dollars are easier to come by than $10,000 for me."
Romney addressed the issue Sunday in New Hampshire.
"After the debate was over, (my wife) Ann came up and gave me a kiss," Romney said, according to Reuters. "She said I did great, but that betting is not one of my strengths."
Lynn Campbell covers government and politics for IowaPolitics.com, which is owned by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.