Friday, November 21, 2008

Gingrich on Middle-Class Tax Cuts

Bill turned me on to Newt Gingrich's piece on middle-class tax cuts in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. Bill also correctly pointed out that Gingrich proposes no mechanism to pay for his proposal of a massive middle class tax cut. This may be an attempt to find common ground with the Obama administration, but Gingrich can't avoid harping on the same pet peeves that pushed him into the political mainstream once upon a time, and which are woefully out-of-step with American political culture now.

First, Gingrich criticizes tax credits as welfare. He's right, in that they are federal give-aways rather than tax breaks directly tied to work, but if he wants to keep welfare as his favorite political punching bag, he'd better stick to fictitious welfare queens, because if he starts telling the American people that recipients of tax credits are the lazy enemies of a successful economy, he'll be in trouble. The child tax credit is wildly popular, and not just with "welfare queens". That full-time single mom who is also a half-time student uses that credit to keep her children clothed and fed until she can enter the workforce in a more profitable and productive position, and the child tax credit, like the deduction for childcare expenses and the deduction for her tuition, produces a net gain for us all if she finishes school and works as a para-legal or a nurse's assistant or a dental tech. A simple cut to the lowest tax rate would mean she'd keep more of her paycheck from her job at McDonald's, but she'd also need to stay there, and that's a net loss for all of us.

Second, Gingrich falls back on this tried-and-true conservative myth: liberals want the rich to pay what he dubs "hate rates" because the rich "are too productive, work too hard, and earn too much." Gingrich, it seems, does not have a 401K, or he might have noticed that the rich haven't been to productive recently. As to the notion that the rich work too hard, I think that's a pretty tough sell, too. Would he seriously claim that Paris Hilton works harder than the employee behind the counter at one of her family's hotels? Does Gingrich expect us to believe in the vaunted work ethic of the extremely wealthy when our exposure to them consist of shows like The Hills? Certainly there are wealthy people who put in ridiculous hours at stressful jobs, and though they might not sweat as much as their poorer counterparts, they probably have the ulcers to show for their work, but if Gingrich thinks he can push public policy by feeding off sympathy for the wealthy, especially during an economic downturn, he'd better enjoy the scenery in the political wilderness. And liberals do not think the wealthy should pay higher taxes because they "earn too much", but because they need too little. Stealing from the rich is morally dubious, but hoarding while others suffer is universally recognized as immoral behavior. The wealthy recognize this moral imperative, too. That's why they voted for Obama this time around.

So Gingrich's brand of conservatism:

-provides no mechanism to pay for itself, so it's not fiscally responsible. Strike 1.

-maintains its attitude that the poor are morally inferior, but ropes in the middle class folks who like their child-tax credits. Strike 2.

-predicates itself on the belief that the wealthy are better, better, and better than the rest of us, a notion which doesn't even appeal to the wealthy. Strike 3.

I'm not a baseball fan. Perhaps someone can explain some political version of the infield fly rule which explains how this view of taxation gets conservatives on base?

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