Entry from August 31, 2011

Here’s a question that some Tea Party Republicans are beginning to ask about our future as a self-governing people. Is it good that the polity should be divided into two classes: those who pay for the benefits of government and those who only receive those benefits? What are the likely consequences of a political system in which a majority is empowered to vote for itself to be made beneficiaries of the labors of a minority? At the very least, can it be said that such an arrangement is in keeping with the principle of self-government, which would seem to depend on an assumption of equality of citizenship and, therefore, of equality in sharing the burdens and responsibilities thereof? I hasten to add that I do not know the answers to these questions. But I do know — as I would have thought everyone must know — that they are becoming more and more urgent ones as the burdens imposed by government on at least a portion of the citizenry and on their posterity continue to increase at unprecedented rates.

Remarkably, however, for that considerable share of the politically aware which includes the Democratic party and the media who have volunteered themselves as its propaganda arm, these questions simply do not arise. Those who have made the Tea Party (or, often, “tea-baggers”) into a derisory epithet think, or affect to think, that anyone who raises them is self-discrediting, ipso facto. That, of course, saves such people the trouble of arguing with those they disagree with and discrediting their arguments on the merits, but occasionally they try anyway — perhaps by way of pretending to themselves that they continue to engage in rational discourse. That’s what an editorialist for today’s New York Times appears to be doing in an article titled — you may be able to guess where the author is going with this — “The New Resentment of the Poor.”

In a decade of frenzied tax-cutting for the rich, the Republican Party just happened to lower tax rates for the poor, as well. Now several of the party’s most prominent presidential candidates and lawmakers want to correct that oversight and raise taxes on the poor and the working class, while protecting the rich, of course. These Republican leaders, who think nothing of widening tax loopholes for corporations and multimillion-dollar estates, are offended by the idea that people making less than $40,000 might benefit from the progressive tax code. They are infuriated by the earned income tax credit (the pride of Ronald Reagan), which has become the biggest and most effective antipoverty program by giving working families thousands of dollars a year in tax refunds. They scoff at continuing President Obama’s payroll tax cut, which is tilted toward low- and middle-income workers and expires in December.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it — just not the only one. The emotional hyperbole in words like “frenzied”, “offended”, “infuriated”, “scoff” etc. suggests that the Times is engaging, as its writers so often do these days, with a straw man and not with any actually existing opponent. The “Republican leaders” may be wrong, of course, but they are not wrong because they love the rich and resent the poor, even if it were true that they do. The editorialist quotes House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Senator Dan Coats as saying that “everyone needs to have some skin in the game” but then proceeds to assert that “this is factually wrong, economically wrong and morally wrong.”

It would be tedious to rehearse the facts and figures by which the author then establishes a context in which the principle that “everyone needs to have some skin in the game” can be shown to be so comprehensively “wrong.” It does not persuade me, but I am willing to stipulate that its application in these circumstances would be, at least, mistaken. What, however, of the principle itself? About that, the Times has nothing at all to say, preferring to rely on the mere assumption of its wrongness which it presumably shares with its politically like-minded readers. Curiously, the writer may be right to say that “the moral argument would have been obvious before this polarized year,” but he or she apparently thinks it beneath consideration to ask if that is a consequence of the polarization or if the polarization is the consequence of its no longer being so obvious. In any case, polarization itself is not an argument in favor its obviousness or of the supposed clarity with which The New York Times can still see “who should bear a larger burden and who should not.” Such clarity can only be achieved by a resolute closing of the editorial eyes and mind to the arguments of those they find uncongenial.

Discover more from James Bowman

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

Similar Posts