The reason why tax reform is so complicated is that reformers seek out jungle leaves writhing for the sunlight, toward such rays of justice and equity as are discernible at any given moment in American politics -- the moment when the action freezes, as for a photographer, for just long enough to permit one set of claimants to overshadow another. Thus a tax reform is born, and for that brief moment we have a new law that is taken as expressive of social policy. It is an assertion of justice understood as a blend of considerations: the necessities of the state, the toleration of the body politic, the relationships of power among the affected interests.
Some critics fault President Bush for not pushing harder to raise corporate taxes. At present, corporate taxes account for between 7 percent and 11 percent of all the revenues taken in by the federal government. This is down drastically from the 1950s, when corporate taxes brought in 30 percent of federal revenues. It is, however, not the tax one wants immediately to contemplate raising when we are running the largest trade deficits in history.
Bush attacked directly the so-called earmarks, and he did so persuasively. But earmarks, while the least defensible federal spending, do not account for a large proportion of the federal budget.
George W. Bush tried -- flirted with -- doing something about Social Security. Ronald Reagan tried --flirted with -- doing something about Social Security. But real reform ran up against political walls, and so the underlying problem remains, getting worse every year. President Bush is framed by these realities -- with 1 1/2 wars going on. Some of us dare to say that his sheer decency shines through even the tangle he has to account for, and for which he bears a substantial share of responsibility.