But Kevin's overall point is a good one. Resentment of the rich and squabbling over who gets what doesn't sell. It isn't the fact that some people have more money that bothers most of us, it's how -- in all too many cases -- they got it. It's not the money, it's the unfairness, the insiders' games, the undeserved advantages, that make people angry. And fortunately for any Democrat trying to sell that message, George Bush is the poster boy for unfair advantages. To everything you already know about Bush's legacy admissions to Andover and Yale, and his Harken dealings, add Kevin Phillips' analysis of the move to end taxation of dividends as one more example of the Bush family motto: "Public service means private opportunity." The Bush family has been in the investment business for four generations. As Phillips says, "When the Bushes start talking about investment, ordinary folks should start circling their Chevrolets." Sort of like when you see "Cheney" and "oil" in the same paragraph. It's "not only unfair, but the policy equivalent of self-dealing." Pretty blatant self-dealing: Bush's tax plan would save him $44,500. To most of us, that looks a whole lot like an annual income. Those figures have an uncanny resemblance to the amount of money we expect to have to work for. It's not fair.
I'd take the argument a little farther. In fact, I don't have to, because someone already did. John Balzar had a great piece in Sunday's LA Times arguing that the biggest problem with the tax-cutting fever is not who gets what, but that it destroys the whole idea of "neighborhood values," and the "understanding that individuals do not prosper apart from the fortune of the nation." Most Americans are genuinely patriotic. They want what's best for their neighborhoods, their cities, their states, and their country. And taxes are our contribution toward making it work. At one time we believed that the more you received from the country (and rich people obviously get enormous benefits from living in this country; if they didn't they wouldn't be here), the more you owed it -- and as a result we had a genuinely progressive income tax. Balzar remembers that time, when tax rates at the highest earning levels were above 90%:
Let's pause and remember that Americans were far less greedy and stressed as a consequence. Our overall standard of living progressed by the years. Along the way we built an interstate highway system. Our public schools were first-rate. Our industries led the world. There was no shortage of innovation or ambition. And we surrounded ourselves with personal comforts. We congratulated ourselves that we were the richest and freest nation on Earth.
Gated communities were not the rage. You never saw lawn signs warning of immediate response by private armed security. And we didn't have to face the unsettling news that two decades of growth in personal income had come to an end.
So what happens to the dwindling middle class in 10 more years? You can guess the answer.
We are fundamentally a middle class society that works together to solve problems. We're not an I-got-mine-and-the-hell-with-the-rest-of-you society.
Don't get me wrong. The Republicans are putting out massive amounts of deliberately misleading "facts" about the "stimulus." That needs to be countered. Lies shouldn't stand. But there's more wrong with their plan than just the fact that it's a "preferential option for the rich." It's also a plan that encourages us all to ask not what we can do for our country, but what it can do for us. It says the hell with what my neighbors and my country need, I want more. And that makes downright unpatriotic.