There was a striking outbreak of honesty in the last several weeks of Campaign 2000, and it came from the Republican division of Amalgamated Politics. The division’s publicity arm, dispensing with the double-talk that usually accompanies its announcements on fiscal priorities, made the case for George W. Bush’s tax-cut plan in words so candid they should inspire admiration. Rather than insist that Mr. Bush just can’t wait to reduce the tax burden on hard-working, patriotic, child-rearing, credit-card-loving middle-class wage-earners, some Republican commentators have dared to utter the unspeakable: Yes, they are saying defiantly, the Bush plan will reward the rich. Because, after all, they deserve it. Because, they say, the rich work harder and are smarter than average Joes and Janes.
This is a breathtaking departure from campaign gibberish, and those who put forward the argument ought to be congratulated for their courage. In the past, Republicans have thought it prudent to acquit themselves in the language of equity when discussing multibillion-dollar tax cuts. Oh, sure, they would argue, it may seem like Peter Plutocrat and Zelda Zillionaire are getting an unwarranted reduction in their tax obligations, but under the Smith-Jones Enhancement of Great Wealth Bill, middle-class taxpayers will realize an annual tax reduction of $1.47! That’s a buck forty-seven that those bastions of the American economy can spend on shoes, clothes, shelter and food!
This time around, there is little of this kind of nonsense. A headline writer for the New York Post put it plainly in summarizing columnist Irwin M. Stelzer’s justification of the Bush tax plan: “Reward the Rich,” the headline read.
Now, as political argument goes, this is as candid as it gets. Imagine a propagandist for the Democratic division of Amalgamated Politics asserting that, yes, Al Gore wants to rid the nation’s interstates of sport utility vehicles, and he will do so by slapping a gas-guzzler tax on them. That Mr. Gore loathes SUV’s is a fair assumption. Likewise, it is fair to guess that Mr. Bush really believes the rich ought to be rewarded for being rich. The difference, however, is that Mr. Gore doesn’t dare lash out at that most egregious symbol of baby-boomer self-indulgence, the SUV (perhaps because, in Hollywood and elsewhere, so many liberals have traded in their limousines for Lincoln Navigators), while Mr. Bush seems content to allow his publicists to state plainly the purpose of his tax-cut plan.
Reward the rich!
I’ve heard several variations of this argument during the last few weeks, but Mr. Stelzer’s New York Post essay was the boldest, the most brutally honest. The new high-tech rich, Mr. Stelzer says in defense of Mr. Bush’s tax plan, are “better educated” than average Americans, and they “work harder” than the rest of us, so they deserve to be rewarded with a big tax break. Writing in a newspaper that circulates among subway riders and other laggards, ne’er-do-wells and slackers, Mr. Stelzer summons the courage to assert that the top 1 percent of the nation’s earners are not only different from you and me, but are better people, too. Why, not only do they work longer hours than any of us and have more to show for their efforts, but they are wonderful parents-70 percent of executives say their long hours do not interfere with a satisfying family life! (Of course, that depends on your definition of “satisfying.”) These admirable folks take less than two weeks’ vacation per year (what wonderful, well-rounded, interesting people!), they are smart and they give scads of money away to charity. All they ask, Mr. Stelzer says, is “a reasonable chance of keeping most of the money they earn with the sweat of their computer mice. Bush would increase the incentive to stay in the office on weekends by letting these creative drivers of the economy keep more of what they earn.”
Reward these wonderful, productive people before they start feeling unappreciated! Reward them before they start taking vacations!
It’s about time somebody stated what so many of us know but are too timid to put into words: The rich work hard for their money, much harder than the rest of us, and therefore deserve the thanks of their fellow Americans. Yeah, some non-wealthy people may work 50 or 60 hours a week (the coffee-cart guy around the corner who rises at 1:30 a.m. and finishes his workday at 11 a.m.; the homicide detective; the young adjunct professor at City University; the rookie newshound), but let’s face it: They’re losers. Imagine working all those hours and not being rich! Why should we reward such stupidity? The tax code should punish such indolence!
With any luck, all those salt-of-the-earth Post readers now understand why they deserve only $1.47 or so in tax cuts, while the rich are entitled to billions.
They are unworthy.