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Jewish World Review
April 17, 2009 / 23 Nissan 5769
CNN Versus the Tea Parties
When thousands of people in all 50 states assemble to protest government
policy, you might suppose that this is news. Not according to the
coverage on the front pages of the Washington Post, New York Times, or
the Wall Street Journal. The "tea party" rallies went unmentioned. In
Washington, D.C., despite temperatures in the 40s and a driving
rainstorm, about a thousand demonstrators assembled across from the
White House. The front page of the Times found space for a big story
with accompanying pictures of competing public demonstrations in Kabul,
Afghanistan, but not a word about the American protestors.
Perhaps this snub was intentional. Fox News (becoming a participant
itself and not a recorder of events) had been beating the drums for
these rallies for days, and some pressies clearly regarded them as
therefore necessarily illegitimate. One reporter, Susan Roesgen, who
"covered" the Chicago tea party for CNN, was downright confrontational
with attendees she interviewed, challenging a protestor who referenced
Abraham Lincoln with "What does this have to do with taxes?" The man
attempted to explain. But the reporter interrupted him. "Did you know
that you are eligible for a $400 rebate? Did you know that your state,
the state of Lincoln, gets $50 billion out of the stimulus? That's $50
billion for your state." She then tossed back to the anchor noting that
"This is really not family viewing."
What Ms. Roesgen and others like her do not understand is that some
people are interested in more than their own narrow self-interest.
Perhaps the protestor she interviewed, who was holding his 2-year-old
son, is eligible for a tax rebate. And perhaps his state will get a
juicy piece of the stimulus money. It is possible, just possible, that
such a bribe does not influence him. Perhaps it doesn't buy his support
because he is skeptical that his taxes can remain low when the federal
government is embarked on a record-shattering spending spree. He may be
offended by the bailout culture, and worried that the obligations of
taxpayers cannot remain low when it seems that every irresponsible
borrower, failed car company, and free spending state is being rescued
by the federal government. Additionally, he may be dubious that the
government will spend the money wisely. It has been rumored that
government spending has produced waste, fraud, inefficiency, and
corruption. But he also may simply believe that engorging the government
and enfeebling the private sector no matter who is writing the checks
is not good for the economic or spiritual health of the country.
The tea parties demonstrated that resistance to big government persists
in the hearts of many Americans. And yet, Roesgen has a shadow of a
point. When the vast majority of Americans are getting benefits from the
government but not paying the bill, the constituency for tax reform does
shrink. As Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam note in their book "Grand New
Party": "Just before the Reagan tax cuts, a median-income four-person
family paid about 12 percent of their total income in federal income
taxes. Reducing that burden, predictably enough, yielded a political
windfall for Republicans … Today the bite the federal income tax takes
out of working class and middle-class paychecks stands at roughly half
the pre-Reagan level."
A recent Gallup poll found that only 46 percent of Americans say their
taxes are "too high." Fifty-two percent of those earning between $30,000
and $75,000 said their taxes were "about right." IRS data show why this
should be so. Those earning more than $388,806 in 2006, the top 1
percent of earners, paid about 40 percent of the taxes. The top 5
percent, those earning above $153,542, paid 60 percent of the taxes. And
the top 10 percent, those earning more than $108,904, paid more than 70
percent of all taxes. Some, including President Obama, argue that the
wealthy were disproportionately benefited by the Bush era tax cuts. But
as the American Enterprise Institute's Kevin Hassett has pointed out,
the tax share shouldered by the wealthy increased more than the share of
income going to that group during the past decade.
Still, the numbers suggest that income tax reductions are not going to
be the royal road back to popularity for the Republican Party. The path
back to political viability will have to be found elsewhere. More on
that in future columns.
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