Bob Fyfe: “I saw a Bush campaign ad last night on TV which showed that a person currently earning less than $35,000 would pay zero income tax under Bush’s economic plan. This is probably true — most people currently earning less than $35,000 will be out of work due to the recession caused by Bush’s plan being put in effect.”

☞ Well, that’s a bit strong. But at the end of the day, a majority of Americans are not going to vote to go back to the Reagan/Bush economics of much lower taxes for the wealthy — that resulted in a tripling of the national debt. An extra $4 trillion in debt that you and I and our children have to pay interest on.

Voodoo economics, some called it. Trickle-down economics others called it. It didn’t work terribly well. The current balance has worked much better. It features a top tax bracket (39.6%) that is much lower than the 90% and 70% brackets that prevailed under Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter, but somewhat higher than the top bracket under Reagan/Bush. And it’s served us pretty well.

No one is proposing that we raise the top bracket. I, for one, think it’s plenty high enough. But I wouldn’t lower it much, either. I think we’ve found a pretty good balance.

Governor Bush sees it differently. He understands the plight of high-income people. He feels their pain. He knows what a rough eight years it has been for America’s elite. (“You folks are the haves and the have-mores,” he told the well-heeled assemblage last week at a charity dinner in New York. “Some call you the elite. [Long pause.] I call you my base.” It was funny and charming and well-delivered. And not far from the truth.)

As Time wrote September 4 in sizing up the two plans, “Bush’s tax cut is almost three times as costly as Gore’s and heaps most of its benefits onto wealthy Americans.”

That may be fair in theory. The rich pay more in taxes, so why shouldn’t they get more back? The estate tax is, at least partly, “double taxation.” We know the arguments. So it may be that the minimum-wage busboy is really exploiting the overtaxed restaurant patron he serves (and should perhaps not be guaranteed a minimum wage at all).

But common sense suggests that the gap between the private-jet-set and the Texas farm worker, with his $3.35 an hour minimum wage, may be just about as wide as we want it. (And common sense suggests that the projected surplus is hardly assured . . . and that once we eliminate the estate tax on the rich, it will be hard to reinstate. So in a recession, we’ll probably just cut back on things that aid the middle class and the poor, or go deeper into debt.)

The truth is, compassionate conservatism seems to generate more and more compassion as the income and wealth of the object of that compassion rises. In the case of Bush’s famous “waitress Mom,” earning $22,000 a year, his tax cut provides nothing, because she pays no taxes to cut. No compassion there. (Vice President Gore would expand her earned-income tax credit several hundred dollars, and help her with day care and health insurance.)

Time estimated that the average middle class American family would get the equivalent of about two cans of Diet Coke a day from Bush’s tax cut.

But look at all the compassion for the truly wealthy. Someone like Dick Cheney, who earned $20 million over the past decade as an oil industry CEO — roughly $2 million a year — would see his taxes cut not by a couple of diet Cokes each day but by a brand new color TV.

Plus, at his death, his heirs would get a further multi-million-dollar tax break, as Governor Bush would totally eliminate the so-called death tax.

Two diet Cokes a day for low-income families desperate to make ends meet; a Sony a day for Dick Cheney, plus total elimination of the estate tax. (That latter little change might save the Forbes family $250 million or more. Which would be fine — I like the Forbes family — except there are just more crucial things that need doing with that $250 million, like paying down the debt and improving the schools and helping seniors afford life-saving drugs and shoring up the military.)

Cheney, being a model of compassionate conservatism, and blessed with the aforementioned $20 million in income (and no state income tax where he lives), gave away fully 1% of his income — one percent! — to the various charitable, educational, environmental and social-justice causes that so deeply animate him.

It is this kind of private generosity to which the disadvantaged can look once Republicans get government out of the ill-advised business of lending a hand.

I’m sorry for the sarcasm, but I think it’s appalling — especially for a guy who by all accounts is smart and decent and well-meaning, as I truly believe he is. Yes, it’s his $20 million, not mine. I know that. Yes, he is fully entitled not to give a dime of it to things he cares about — and, for that matter, fully entitled not to care about things. I know that, too.

But what kind of example does this set, and what does it say about compassionate conservatism?

Anyway, I think we’re going to win.

Here is Molly Ivins’ take on all this, as usual, much better than mine.

 

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