Guy Benson

What you're about to see is eight minutes of pure propaganda, produced by the people whom taxpayers pay to educate their kids, and narrated by millionaire actor Ed Asner.  It's unpleasant to watch, but it's worth it -- if only to see what proud, demagogic ignorance looks like (via The Blaze):
 


Two possible responses: Laugh it off as run-of-the-mill lefty idiocy, and simply present it as the conservative outrage du jour, or explore in depth why this video is so insidious, false and ironic. Against my better judgment, I'll select the latter option. Let's begin with the ironies: (1) The clip has garnered most of its negative attention because of its unclever and gross "golden shower" imagery.  Though I find the whole thing offensive on many levels, I can't get too worked up about the urine thing, even though it's puerile and disgusting.  But facing criticism over the video's scatalogical element, a spokesman for the California Federation of Teachers has been reduced to arguing that the cartoon -- which is written in the style of a children's storybook and produced on behalf of a group that educates children -- is not intended for children.

(2) Another dark irony is that the video was released after passage of California's Prop 30, which hikes taxes on "the rich" by $6 Billion per year.  Yet the state's debt still stands at an atmospheric $200-300 billion, according to various estimates.  As soon as the targeted tax increases passed public muster, California's Treasurer was bombarded with gimme requests from countless interest groups.  He immediately became the bearer of bad news:
 

The election wasn’t even over Tuesday when state Treasurer Bill Lockyer’s phone started ringing. Activists of all stripes had the same message for him: With voters apparently poised to approve billions of dollars in tax hikes, it was time to spend more money. “They had to be reminded the money has already been spent,” Lockyer said.  


So the windfall from California's latest soak-the-rich gambit has already been gobbled up by its rapacious politicians' collective appetite for spending.  Perhaps it will go to help fund the state's infamous (not so) high speed rail boondoggle, which is little more than a hugely over-budget, deadline-missing train to nowhere.  Democrats now control a super-majority in California's legislature, so Republicans lack the power to put the brakes on any of this madness.  And unions like the California Federation of Teachers are among elected Democrats' top benefactors and (coincidentally) beneficiaries.  This goes unmentioned when the cartoon accuses "the rich" of buying politicians.  

Up next, the misleading impressions and flat falsehoods: (3) The whole piece is premised on a caricature of wealthy Americans as selfish, greedy, and even criminal.  The rich are presumed to have attained their wealth through sinister means; their all-encompassing avarice leading them to treat others with inhumane contempt.  Liberals always adamantly deny that their "tax the rich" rhetoric is "class warfare."  How else could one possibly describe this cartoon?  It is a blatant and unfair attempt to 'otherize' an entire group of people, employing envy-mongering from start to finish.  And I quote: Rich people "love their money more than anything in the whole world."

(4) The piece states that only in the good old days did "the rich" pay "more than the others" in taxes.  Today, nearly 50 percent of US households pay zero in federal income tax, while the top one percent is responsible for paying roughly 37 percent of that pie.  The upper twenty percent of American wage-earners pay 70 percent of all federal taxes.

(5) CFT's video falsely implies that rich people, and rich people alone, commit the crime of tax evasion.  Throughout the presentation, we're also informed that "the rich" pump money into overseas sweatshops, buy elections, suppress votes, and brainwash people through (ahem) the media.  Private schools and other private industries are demonized for undermining underperforming State-run monopolies.

(6) Hello, tired "widening wealth gap" arguments

(7) We're told that because rich people are supposedly hoarding all of their money and withholding their "fair shares," schools are terribly under-funded and the nation's roads and bridges have fallen into disrepair.  In reality, US spending on education has tripled since the 1970s, even as student outcomes have flat-lined.  And why are our roads in bad shape?  Didn't Uncle Sam just spend $825 Billion in borrowed money on "shovel-ready" projects?  We were assured that those endeavors would give average folks jobs and fix our infrastructure problems.  I guess we just need more government.  Time to call China again.

(8) Much of the overall message is constructed upon the asinine premise that rich people almost single-handedly caused the economic crash.  While some on Wall Street made terribly irresponsible bets that dangerously inflated the problem, the core issue -- the explosion of subprime mortgages -- was explicitly mandated by the federal government.  After the crash, some of the most culpable actors (both on Wall Street and in the halls of Fannie, Freddie and Congress) skated away with no accountability.  Also, the notion that the bailouts didn't help any "ordinary people" is simply wrong.  States used bailout money to keep the public employee gravy train chugging just a little bit longer, and the auto bailouts violated bankruptcy laws by prioritizing unions over creditors.

(9) The clip stupidly asserts that millionaires spent tons of cash to elect manipulative politicians who somehow managed to trick people into blaming the financial crash on teachers and firefighters.  Strawmen galore.  No one is suggesting that.  But the crash did expose the absolutely unsustainable state of our public obligations.  Unfunded pensions and other liabilities are squeezing the life out of states like California and Illinois; deep blue states where rich people have curiously failed to elect many slippery plutocrats (read: Republicans), and where groups like the California Federation of Teachers have extraordinary clout.  California, strangely, has the worst credit rating of any state in the union, even though Democrats reign supreme.  How would our cartoon explain that?

(10) The visual near the end of "ordinary people" holding a sign that reads, "Tax corporations!" is especially sad.  Our corporate tax rate is already the highest in the industrialized world.  Some big companies -- some of which happen to donate heavily to the unions' preferred political party -- exploit numerous tax loopholes to lower or even eliminate their tax liabilities (see: GE), while evil Republicans are fighting to simplify the tax code and close those loopholes.  The film simultaneously (a) advocates for more burdensome taxation on businesses, and (b) complains about companies moving jobs overseas, as if the two are totally unconnected.  Sheer economic illiteracy.  

(11) The bit concludes with the promise of a cheerful ending, wherein "the 99 percent" force politicians to punish the rich, and everyone lives "happily ever after."  The union bravely refuses to allow realities like this stand in the way of its compelling fairy tale fiction: 
 

When the accrued expenses of the government's entitlement programs are counted, it becomes clear that to collect enough tax revenue just to avoid going deeper into debt would require over $8 trillion in tax collections annually. That is the total of the average annual accrued liabilities of just the two largest entitlement programs, plus the annual cash deficit. Nothing like that $8 trillion amount is available for the IRS to target. According to the most recent tax data, all individuals filing tax returns in America and earning more than $66,193 per year have a total adjusted gross income of $5.1 trillion. In 2006, when corporate taxable income peaked before the recession, all corporations in the U.S. had total income for tax purposes of $1.6 trillion. That comes to $6.7 trillion available to tax from these individuals and corporations under existing tax laws. In short, if the government confiscated the entire adjusted gross income of these American taxpayers, plus all of the corporate taxable income in the year before the recession, it wouldn't be nearly enough to fund the over $8 trillion per year in the growth of U.S. liabilities.  


Finally, on the insidious nature of this cartoon: (12) Its content either betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of our nation's challenges, or reveals a deliberate attempt to distort reality for political purposes.  Neither choice is especially heartening, considering that it was produced by people who are employed by taxpayers (including, disproportionately, the very people who were endlessly vilified in the film) to inform and educate the children of California -- the country's largest state.  That is scary.

(13) Even though the clip is self-consciously dramatic and over-the-top, it actually serves as a fairly useful distillation of the attitudes that animate a sizeable portion of our populace, particularly the professional Left.  The fact that this agitprop was released after passage of a major tax increase in a state that is already dominated by public sector unions goes to show that class warfare will be used as a bottomless well for years to come.  The rich will never pay a fair enough share.  Untenable fiscal realities will always be one more tax increase on the rich away from being "fixed."  Whether they intended to or not, the CFT just served notice that the Left's class warfare demagoguery is only just beginning.  Brace yourselves, and hold on to your wallets.


UPDATE - The originial version of this video has been taken down.  I wonder why.  The embedded version above is exactly the same, however.  Bonus: Here is Lee Doren's video critique of the cartoon, which hits on some additional points with more data.  Very well done:
 


Guy Benson

Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Senior Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography