Democratic folklore

Posted: Jan 10, 2003 12:00 AM
Editors note: This column was incorrectly attributed to William F. Buckley on Wednesday. The price of tax cuts isn't reductions in federal revenues. The price of tax cuts is having to sit around listening for weeks and months to the Democrats' Pavlovian wails about "the rich" -- if not "the very rich" -- if not, forsooth, "the wealthiest 1 percent." You know -- those to whose welfare and uplift the Republican Party is pledged heart and soul. By now, this perverse and demagogic way of representing sensible tax policy has entered folklore. It's like Margaret Wise Brown's "Goodnight Moon" -- after so many years, you can recite it by heart. "In the great green room, there was a telephone. And a red balloon. And a mob of Republican lobbyists plotting tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of the poor and downtrodden, and so on and so on." Democratic Sen. John Edwards, who is running for President Bush's job, disgorged on cue Sunday on ABC's "This Week." "The president," said Edwards, "is trying to pull a fast one ... to put money in the pockets of the richest Americans over a long period of time while providing very little help for regular people." A pretty ungrateful response, you might say, from a multimillionaire plaintiffs lawyer! Still, Edwards knows the territory he prowls. At tax-cutting time, only "regular people" receive Democratic sympathy. Sigh. It is true that no one since the Garden of Eden -- which the serpent forsook in order to run for higher office -- has imputed to politicians great purity of motive. We know that the whole purpose of political parties is throwing down rival parties. How? By discrediting them. Part of the discrediting process is showing how callous are those you mean to throw down. Nobody expects Democrats to whoop it up for Republican policies that, if successful and popular, would entrench Republicans deeper in power than ever before. On the other hand, the sheer monotony of the Democratic response to tax-cut proposals gets harder and harder to take. Top Democrats (excluding sensible types like Georgia Sen. Zell Miller) think we need daily reminders of how much the rich will benefit. The Bush proposal to eliminate the tax on dividends will have particular resonance for Democratic orators, as it has already for lawyer Edwards. Dividends! Why, who receives these benefits? Right -- the rich do! And how do they spend their windfall? Fixing up the condo at Aspen, likely as not. So goes the argument -- which happens to be wrong, both factually and philosophically. Half of all Americans own stock, either individually or in mutual and other retirement funds. Their dividends, currently, are taxed twice -- once when the company pays taxes on its profits, the second time when the so-called beneficiaries fork over to Internal Revenue Service. We are to regard such an arrangement as reasonable? Nevertheless, the Bush economic program, of which "tax cuts for the rich" is but a part, has even a larger aim than equity -- namely, stimulation of the economy. Most Americans, presumably, agree on the need to do something along these lines. By definition, tax revenues are monies unavailable to the private sector for investment and so on. The idea of tax cutting is to put some of those monies to work in the private sector, according to the needs and challenges discerned by individuals. Ah, but no. By Democratic orthodoxy, too many of these guys are "rich." To "help" them is to "hurt" the poor. (Never mind that 37 percent of Americans pay no income taxes at all.) The likes of lawyer Edwards discourage factoring in such considerations. Why? Because -- no other logical explanation commends itself -- this is politics, and politics forbids the embrace of the other party's ideas, the sensible any more than the absurd. Tax cuts boost the whole economy, as Ronald Reagan proved definitively. You might suppose Democrats had figured this out by now. That wouldn't be the point. Rich people, see, favor tax cuts, and so, well ...