by Todd Jackson
I was happy to vote for Mitt Romney, but until now it had never occurred to me to put myself in his shoes. Now it’s impossible not to, because I cannot for the life of me imagine what he might possibly say to President Obama at lunch. All I can think of is the humiliation. Across the table, mouthing pleasantries, will sit the man who approved the messages that turned Romney into a heartless tax-dodger in the eyes of millions.
The Obama smear campaign was up and running in Ohio and other key states even before the GOP primaries were quite finished. Its height coincided with the prolonged delay on Romney’s part to release his taxes, which led Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to cravenly speculate that he’d paid none. Everything was orchestrated to convince America that Romney is not like us. In the end, America settled for an anemic GDP, soaring debt, and high unemployment while squinting hard enough to convince itself that things were getting better. That was acceptable. The vampire capitalist was not.
Mere weeks after the defeat, the media and its Democratic Party hologram (or was that the other way around? I get confused) is pushing the GOP to break Grover Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, one legislator at a time, till the bird is well plucked of its feathers. There are rumblings of defection from the Pledge, but the rumblings are few and, so far, from all the likely suspects – Lindsey Graham, Jeb Bush. One is reminded of the short-lived spasm of excitement for amnesty as a way for the GOP to secure more of the Hispanic vote. A few heady days, then it became clear that it wasn’t really the 70% of Hispanics that voted Obama that cost Romney the election so much as it was the 3% of the white vote that strayed or stayed home – chiefly because they were working class folk who’d become mesmerized by the vampire capitalist meme.
There are now signs that the Republican spine might be stiffening at the brink of capitulation before any wholesale scramble from the Pledge. Conservatives who reminded us that Ronald Reagan’s amnesty agreement did not help the GOP gain any significant ground in the Hispanic vote are now equally quick to remind us of Reagan’s mistaken agreement to raise taxes in exchange for Democratic spending cuts which never came.
REQUIEM FOR A HALF-MEASURE
Norquist’s leadership of the Americans for Tax Reform, like his promotion of the Pledge, has been fine, honorable work, and it has led to the creation of untold numbers of jobs and generation of wealth. However, as Mitt Romney goes glumly to lunch with the President, we should be aware that there are severe limitations to the value of simply promising not to raise taxes beyond whatever they happen to be at the time.
The problem is that this strategy concedes tax progressivity. If this past election ought to teach conservatives anything, it is that accepting tax progressivity has turned out to be a poison pill leading to class warfare tactics and a cultivated hatred of the rich. An apparently benign practice which even Adam Smith argued for, it has come to be revealed as a Pandora’s Box full of woes.
Once the premise is accepted that the wealthy are to pay a higher tax rate than the middle and working classes, it’s Game Over. There is no limit to the accusations that the rich aren’t “paying their fair share.” It doesn’t matter that 47% of Americans pay no income taxes at all, while that top 1% of earners paid 36.7% in 2009. Why not 45%? Why not 70%? After all, they’re not like us. Just how did they make all that money, anyway? Who the hell do they think they are? Are we not the 99%?
Tax progressivity isn’t just a license to steal, it is clearly a license to hate. It inspires millions of people to feel perfectly justified as they covet what’s inside someone else’s pocket. For the government, it is a license to engineer society. Inevitably, the government is placed in the business of deciding how much wealth is enough for the citizen to have. The presumption to such a decision is a violence in its own right.
Politically, tax progressivity places the most productive – and more important, conservatism – into a defensive, cringing posture. Paying at those high tax rates looks an awful lot like an apology for wealth, if not in fact a form of ransom. Capitalists, of all people, almost inevitably in the business of inspiring unneeded needs, ought to be aware that people’s needs and rights are without limit. Nor will any amount of modern comforts – cell phones, laptops, powered wheelchairs, government cheese – abate their sense of being poor, and therefore, deserving. Poverty is defined not by what they have, but by what they have compared to what you have.
You could be forgiven for not knowing that Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform advocates the flat tax. Their site has very little to say about it. Generally, it’s one of those ideas talked about in the corners of society, like space colonization, or – to pick a left example – slavery reparations.
Some of this is because the flat tax typically has been argued as a dollars-and-cents economic issue, when in truth it is a moral issue. Clearly, Grover Norquist likes clear, hard lines. Let’s try this on for size:
It is immoral to vote to raise another’s tax rate beyond your own.
We could end forever the question of whether our Mitt Romneys pay their fair share. Of course they pay their fair share – the same share everybody else pays. The flat tax makes taxation a nonissue, which is what it ought to be. Envy will always be with us, but it would no longer have a foot-hold in law. If you want Mitt Romney’s money, you’ll just have to get a mask and a blackjack and take it the old-fashioned way.
The flat tax is a perfect cause for the flailing Tea Party, perfect for the flailing Paul movement, and perfect for conservatism. In your heart you know it’s right.