Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Republican hopefuls wage class warfare on poor

If you had any doubt that the Republican Party is the party of the wealthy, the recent spate of suggested "federal spending cuts" from the presidential front-runners ought to dispel that for you. In an attempt to out-crazy each other, GOP presidential hopefuls have suggested de-funding NPR and PBS (two of the smallest expenditures Uncle Sam makes these days), de-funding the First Lady's activities, making the President fly commercial, and a host of other silly mumblings. None of these are really serious, of course, and the ones aimed personally at the Obamas are plain old white racism disguised as right wingnut bombast.

The fact is, there is a huge segment of conservative America that is just flat pissed off that there's a nigger in the White House, and he ain't serving dinner. Most egregious is the tea-baggers' characterization of Michelle Obama's trip to Africa as a "vacation." Clearly, the First Lady was on a policy mission on behalf of her husband, a tradition of Democratic First Ladies going back to Eleanor Roosevelt, who traveled over 40,000 miles in one three-month period in 1934 while her husband wrestled with dire domestic and international economic problems (sound familiar?) Nobody ever made a peep when Jackie Kennedy, Pat Nixon, or Hillary Clinton made similar trips. Clearly, there is nothing more than racism behind the attacks.

Even worse than the racist attacks on the Obamas, however, are the foaming-at-the-mouth attacks on the poor for not paying any income taxes. I first heard of this newest Republican knee-slapper on "The Daily Show" and so dismissed it as another one of Jon Stewart's send-ups of "See how mean the Republicans are?" There is a bruise on the bottom of my chin from my jaw hitting the top of my desk when I Googled the issue and found out that more than one Republican presidential candidate, goaded on by GOP sideliners and just plain conservative goofballs, actually suggested thet poor people pay more taxes. John Huntsman, Rick Perry, and Michelle Bachmann all have made numerous claims to the effect that if the federal government leaned on the people who are excused from paying taxes because they're unemployed or otherwise poverty-stricken, we wouldn't have to take Warren Buffet up on his clearly empty claim that he wishes he could pay more income tax. (Hey, Warren, have your accountants decline some of those huge tax breaks you're getting -- really, you can do that!) Slate.com's David Weigel had the most comprehensive report on it so far.

This "new Republican orthodoxy," as Weigel calls it, originates with the house organ of the ultra-rich, the Wall Street Journal. As a lifelong journalist, I'll be the first to praise the WSJ for its standards in writing and editing, which it has for generations emphasized at the expense of a decent focus-and-brace layout. The Journal stresses close vetting of what facts it chooses to print. But the Journal doesn't exist and has never existed in the reality of the working man and woman. The Wall Street Journal has always reported from the gilt-edged world of ... well, Wall Street, where America's money is gambled, won, and lost. Weigel even attributes the phrase "new Republican orthodoxy" to to the WSJ and points out that the Journal first sniffed at the tax-exempt poor as "luckie duckies" in 2002 and 2003. I'm especially tickled by Weigel's characterization of the Journal's "outrage" at taxation: "Tax cuts for the rich—tax cuts for anyone, really, but the Journal has always been concerned about tax cuts for the rich—require a broad base of outrage."

Of course, the Wall Street Journal can't be blamed for carrying water for the handful of Americans who hold and trade in the vast majority of America's wealth. I was one journalist who shrugged at Rupert Murdoch's purchase of Dow Jones and, thus, the WSJ. The only difference between the pre-Murdoch Journal and Fox News was that, as I've mentioned already, the Journal tended to research its facts, while Fox News wouldn't know a fact if it waltzed into the studio and plunked its inconvenient ass on the news desk. But just because the WSJ vets the facts it chooses to print doesn't mean it is in any way balanced. It has never been balanced, it has always been avidly pro-wealthy (it was founded by Dow Jones in 1874, for heaven's sake!) and the editorials nearly a decade ago grumping about the "lucky duckies" were probably nothing more than the airing of a rich man's gripe via the editorial board, a flight of fancy that edit boards occasionally allow their members, to be consumed by high-dollar investors and then forgotten. I don't read the Journal daily, but I keep up on the industry, and to my knowledge the Wall Street Journal has never actually waged a class war on the poor.

The current crop of Republican presidential candidates, however, seem to have no qualms about doing just that. Their stump speeches about the priveleged poor put the number of Americans who don't pay any taxes at somewhere between 47 percent and 51 percent. Surely, they crow in high conservative dudgeon, everybody in America can afford to pay one dollar or even ten dollars a year for federal services! Well, for the truth (and I flinch at using that word because I was so routinely flogged in graduate school for using it) one turns to the Christian Science Monitor. While I differ philosophically with CSM on matters of human spirituality, the newspaper is a pillar of rectitude when it comes to balancing its reportage. And the Monitor's July 28 blog, by tax expert Donald Marron, puts into perspective the reality of why so many American families pay no income taxes. That reality is a truly inconvenient truth for the rich man's Republican Party: Half of Americans pay no income tax because they're too poor. That's right, too poor. When the necessities of life are subtracted from their incomes (as they are from mine) they are left with not enough money to pay taxes. I'm proud to say my household (the lovely but fiscally conservative Mrs. Rice, Cocoa the Shi Tsu, Daisy the big yeller dawg, Ebony the cat, and I) paid a fistful of dollars to the federal government last year after all of our deductions were taken into account. The last time I got a tax refund, I paid nearly $14,000 in tuition and fees to further my education in hopes of dramatically increasing my income so I could pay my income taxes without dunning savings. So far the increased income hasn't happened, but we hit the savings account to pay income tax back in April, and I'm not complaining. (Daisy's miffed, but she never really understood about taxes.)

My father, however, struggles to live a life worth living on Social Security, a shamefully inadequate pension, and a modest inheritance left behind by my late mother. And when I say "modest," I mean somewhere south of the $5,000 range. Should this man pay income tax? Well, let me tote up the balance sheet: He wrestled drunks, braved tornadoes, faced guns wielded by desperate people, and otherwise risked his life for the security of people in my town for more than 25 years. In thanks for that, We The People have awarded him a pension that doesn't even pay his mortgage. Social Security buys the groceries and pays the utility bills. The rest he must earn by writing a local newspaper column, occasionally picking up a substitute teaching gig, and whatever he can make selling the pieces of art he's created over the years. Oh, and he's 82 years old and in constantly ill health. His decision to serve and protect the citizens of this ultra-conservative town have left him with two artificial hips, steel rods in his back, low-grade hepatitis, and chronic shoulder problems. Michelle Bachmann thinks he should pay income taxes. Pardon me if I politely disagree.

The irony of my father's situation is that he's a lifelong Republican. He's always hated the patronage that seems to attach to federal service, and being the dreamer he is, he's always believed that keeping government small was the best way to encourage business investment. So the "class warfare" being perpetrated by the current crop of GOP presidential wannabes is more than just a disappointment to him. It's a betrayal. If they have their way, the Republicans would turn Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty into a war on the poor.

Actually, according to the Wall Street Journal, they've already done it.

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