by Mitch Albom
In explaining why it was OK to sock a new 5.4 percent tax on the highest earners in this country -- to pay for health care reform -- President Obama's press secretary. Robert Gibbs, said this:
"The President believes that the richest 1 percent of this country has had a pretty good run of it for many, many, many years."
Ah. So that's it. The old "You've had it good enough for long enough" policy. That's why a family earning a million dollars a year should now cough up
Because, after all, those rich folks have had a pretty good run of it.
Now, it is not that I don't think we need health care reform. We do. It is not that the rich should not pay fair taxes. They should.
But to justify a grossly overweighted tax by saying "You people have had it good long enough" is to engage in the worst and most destructive form of politics: class warfare.
By making a snarky comment like that, Gibbs suggests that the top 1 percent are a bunch of Bernie Madoffs, that they've been scheming their way to riches, evading the system, hiding their money in complicated off-shore deals. You know -- wink, wink -- they've had it "pretty good."
This is every bit as insulting as saying all poor people are lazy welfare cheats. Imagine the uproar if he'd said that. What's the difference?
Both are dangerous lies.
One nation, taxes for all
For a moment, let's take Gibbs and Obama at their words. "A pretty good run of it for many, many, many years." OK. In what way? Did those people earn their money? Yes. Did they work for it? Yes. So in that regard they are no different than a schoolteacher or postal worker. They worked, they got paid.
Presumably, then -- unless he's suggesting they're all crooks -- when Gibbs says "a pretty good run of it" he means in taxes. Hmm. Let's see. Those high income earners currently shell out around 35 percent in income taxes, the highest rate, plus state income taxes, local income taxes, property and other taxes that likely chew up between 45 and 50 percent of their money. If Obama's tax-related plans all go through, it could, for some, approach 60 percent.
How is that a "pretty good run?" It's clearly a bigger chunk than poor people pay. In fact, those evil, scheming, one-percenters pay about 40 percent of all income tax in this country.
So if they've had a pretty good run, so has the other 99 percent of the country that's been using their money.
Look. It would be one thing if we had a flat tax in the U.S, or if you could shelter your income or hide it offshore. But most wealth experts will tell you tax shelters for individuals are long gone, and offshore is a corporate trick that is rapidly disappearing.
For the most part, if you earn a lot of money in America today, you have to pay your taxes on it. Capital gains are taxed at a lower rate, but in most cases, before you have money to buy and sit on stocks, you have to earn it and therefore pay taxes on it.
More than words
On the other hand, would you tell people who pay no taxes that they've had a pretty good run? Would you say it to people who never really look for work, who don't bother in school, who look for ways to live off the state?
Yet all such people, under Obama's plan, will get health care -- paid for by those lousy, conniving rich people. And, please, let's not imagine that all poor people are noble single mothers with two jobs, three kids, good credit and an ailing mother. Unless you're naive enough to believe that all wealthy Americans are greedy pigs.
You don't get a country behind you by pointing fingers. And you don't inspire effort and ingenuity by always milking the rich. Suggesting that if Americans do too well they'll be resented is not how this country became a prosperous nation. After all, the dream of being rich is often being dreamt by the poor.
Mr. Gibbs and President Obama should realize they are no longer only speaking to rooms full of giddy campaign volunteers. It's the nation. All of us are in this together. That means poor and yes, rich -- if there are any left once this is all done.
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