Robert Menendez wants everyone to know he's not a wealthy guy.
He has this little studio apartment two blocks from the Capitol. He drove
the same blue Buick "clunker" for 10 years. He says, "materialistic things
are not important to me."
But the poverty plea from this New Jersey Democratic congressman
in the Jan. 5 Washington Post Magazine doesn't impress most Americans.
Menendez insists, "My whole income is my congressional salary. I don't have
any other sources of income, you know, so I watch it." This year, that
translates to a paltry $155,000. This is the fourth straight year that
congressional salaries have risen. (Under a bizarre 1989 law only Congress
could envision, congressmen receive automatic cost-of-living salary
increases unless they vote to reject them.)
By Democratic Party standards, every penny-watching Washington
legislator should be considered a member of the pampered super-rich. After
all, every one of them has an income in the top five percent of American
households. But just days after his Post Magazine act, Menendez was out
accusing President Bush of targeting his tax cut at the filthy rich, as if
he weren't one of them: "The Democratic plan helps all Americans, and the
president's plan helps mostly wealthy Americans." In the party's national
radio address a few weeks ago, Menendez insisted Democrats want to help
"working individuals and families, not more in the hands of those fortunate
enough to only have to worry about how much their fortune has diminished."
The Menendez mendacity is to be expected. This is what Democrats
in Washington do. But should it be equally predictable to find that the tone
and tenor of the media's coverage of the president's economic stimulus plan
carries an identical obsession with the "unfairness" of tax cuts? That
supposedly rich people are somehow unjustly given the "gift" of their own
money, which will "cost" the government in a "massive" and "controversial"
By the liberal media's standards, the goal must not be how best
to stimulate the economy, but how to strike the best pose as the champion of
the little guy, regardless of its economic effect. If it's ridiculous for
congressmen to grouse about the "super-rich," imagine Peter Jennings sitting
on top of his personal mountain of cash kvetching that the Bush plan "has
unleashed a very political debate about whether it will stimulate the
economy or just further enrich the wealthy."
Jennings is right that the debate is very political. But the
condescension sounds a little like the head of a rap music label complaining
that the music is a little coarse. It's the media that are fueling -- and
loving -- this political debate. A policy debate will not do. It's too
boring. It's bad television. It makes an anchorman's head hurt.
That's a shame. The media should host a serious debate, matching
economists and accountants and philosophers. They should explore instead of
just parrot the Left's proposition that it's the government's job to correct
the "maldistribution" of income. They should evaluate how New Zealand's
economy performed after it ended the double taxation of corporate income in
1988. There's so much they could do to return not just civility but
intelligence to the discussion. Instead, they choose to construct a partisan
bomb, indoctrinating the media consumer into the view that Republicans favor
the top one percent of society at the expense of everyone else.
So Harry Smith of CBS hounds Commerce Secretary Don Evans: "By
one calculation, the wealthiest one percent of taxpayers would get 47
percent of the benefit. How would that stimulate the economy?" Smith's
question is designed not to elicit an answer but to leave a negative
impression. It says: Try getting that stain off your shirt, Mr. Secretary.
While Smith and everyone else in the media crib their economic
numbers from liberal outfits like the Brookings Institution, a more
conservative analysis from a group like the Tax Foundation rarely sees the
light of day. Why? Because it balances the argument that the rich will
benefit disproportionately from most tax cuts with the natural counterpoint
that the rich are paid a very disproportionate part of that tax burden. The
top five percent of taxpayers -- that loaded fraction that includes most of
Washington officialdom -- pays 56.5 percent of the tax burden.
Wouldn't it be nice if the media remembered that old proposition
that the news should be balanced? Instead, liberal politics rule, so like a
broken record, the "news" media are again warning Americans they're about to
be shafted by conservatism being enacted. And if Americans making $50,000 a
year object to being considered evil mustache-twirling examples of the
"wealthy," perhaps they should call Robert Menendez or Peter Jennings --
collect. It's not like those two can't afford it.