Over the last three decades, changes to federal tax policy have decreased the tax burden on the rich (as a percentage of income), while increasing the burden on the middle class (mostly through a shift toward regressive state and local taxes). Every so often, the over-squeezed middle class reacts meekly to these changes and asks Congress to consider tax increases on the affluent. Unfortunately for the middle class, conservatives can successfully silence their critics by crying "class warfare."
It reminds me of a story that I just made up. A man named Jerry walks up to a complete stranger named Bill and smacks him in the face. Bill is flabbergasted. Just as Bill is about to protest, Jerry kicks him in the knee. Bill falls to the ground, writhing in pain. He exclaims to Jerry, "Why did you do that?" Jerry responds, "My goodness! Watch your tone." Several onlookers rush to comfort Jerry after Bill's vicious verbal lashing.
Conservatives (like Jerry) have helped create a problem through the aggressive reduction of tax rates on the rich. That problem is income inequality. They love tax cuts for the rich. It's their holy grail. Conservatives joyfully defend these cuts with pseudo-economic theory (trickle down, the Laffer curve), political rhetoric ("job creators"), and misleading statistics ("51% of Americans pay absolutely no taxes whatsoever!").
More power to them, I say. And that's the beauty of our democracy. Conservatives should feel free argue for their cherished priorities and ideas. But that is not what is happening. Instead of a robust debate about taxation policies between two sides, we have one side championining tax cuts for the rich, and the other side being shouted into submission. Instead of addressing arguments about tax policy and engaging in a debate, conservatives regularly argue that the entire subject is out of bounds (but only for their critics!). They shut down the debate completely by defaming their critics as "class warriors."
Apparently, it is perfectly fine to advocate for tax cuts for the rich, but it is against the rules to argue for tax policies that would directly favor the middle class. Conservatives have rewritten the rules of discourse so that their victims are not allowed to lodge complaints about the victimizers. Worse yet, those who advocate for the tiniest of tax increases are labeled as an anti-American socialists.
It is bizarre. Politicians can propose veterans benefit cuts, teacher and firefighter layoffs (excuse me: "union thug" layoffs), Social Security cuts, Medicare cuts, Medicaid cuts, and a variety of other policies that would take thousands of dollars out of the hands of middle class families. These policians are lauded as "brave" by the Washington deficit scolds who don't collect Medicaid, but (you guessed it) would be marginally impacted by a tiny increase in the top tax bracket. But if someone compliments the rich and then meekly proposes that they accept some tax increases, then they are accused of using divisive and inflammatory rhetoric.
The middle class isn't asking for much here. We're not expecting actual policy changes. We're too cynical to expect that. All we're asking is to join the debate. So how about it, conservatives? I thought you were tough. Can we join the debate? Can you handle it? Can your ideas handle it? Or will you continue to argue that it is out of bounds for the middle class to articulate their economic interests?
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