November 15, 2012
Practical Controversialism 002 -- Take Me To the Fairness
It's vital that we recast core Republican principles in a way that makes them attractive and easy to understand for voters, while fitting them with our basic American impulses of fairness, decency, justice, and protecting what's ours.
This does not mean we should be intransigent, demanding "all or nothing." If Reagan is the model, then consider his "half a loaf" thesis (via Ted Cruz):
Reagan used to say, "if they offer you half a loaf, what do you do?" And his answer was, "you take half a loaf and then you come back for more."
But at the same time, Cruz understands that some compromises are more equal than others: "I’m willing to compromise and accept less than 100% if we are moving forward.... The problem is some of the Republicans in Washington compromise, moving backwards." Like a Victorian tart, Republicans seem to have round heels.
It's vital we stand up for our core principles, clearly and cleanly. But if we muddy them up with complicated exceptions and demurs, shackle them to unpopular and divisive side orders, or allow the Democrats to redefine them into absurdities or offensive assaults on the body politic, we'll lose votes rather than gain them.
Cases in point: Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin. With what principles were they identified on election day(s)? I don't mean (or care) what they meant to say; I'm interested in how they actually came across to the voters:
- Akin: Abortion is wrong and also God has a secret ejection seat for zygotes produced by rape.
- Mourdock: Abortion is wrong and also God's plan is for rapists to impregnate their victims.
Odds are pretty high that those "and alsos" gave away two Republican Senate seats for nothing, seats we should have won. Now this may seem an extreme position, but maybe they should have left off that second clause!
I agree with my favorite blogger on my favorite blog:
If questioned about abortion, conservative candidates should focus on the areas where liberal positions are extreme. Thus, for example, a candidate could say:
I have always been opposed to abortion on moral grounds. Frankly, however, my opinion isn’t very relevant since the Supreme Court has held that there is a constitutional right to abortion. But there are a few areas that are still open for discussion. One of them is infanticide. It seems to me that no matter how we feel about abortion, we ought to be able to agree that babies that are born alive shouldn’t be killed. And yet the Democrats haven’t been willing to join us in opposing infanticide. President Obama voted against a bill that would have outlawed infanticide when he was a state senator in Illinois, and most Democrats, including my opponent, are in favor of partial-birth abortion, which is nothing but infanticide under a different name. So I suggest you ask my opponent: is he willing to buck his party and come out against infanticide, including partial birth abortion?
But that's not what I'm here to talk about. Rather, let's talk taxes, growth, and Republican economics. President Barack "I didn't tax that -- yet!" Obama sees his narrow reelection as a "mandate" to raise taxes -- but only on "the rich" (anybody making $250,000 per year or more); while not raising them on the less successful. (And allowing a very large number of people who are not on military pensions and not on welfare nevertheless pay no income taxes whatsoever.)
I reckon there's a word for this, and we Republicans oughtn't shy away from it: "Unfairness." Here's how we baldly tie our Republican principles, unadorned and uncluttered, to the inherent human desire for economic fairness:
Democrats say they want successful people to pay their "fair share;" but when they say fair, they really mean separate and unequal.
It's simply unfair to single out our most productive citizens -- or any other group -- for punitive taxation just to divide Americans against each other for political gain. This punishment tax would raise only $20 billion per year, a droplet in this administration's firehose of deficit spending.
Real fairness is treating everybody the same under the law: If we need to raise taxes, it should be raised fairly across the board. But before raising taxes, let's first see how far we can get by cutting spending instead; because there aren't enough rich people to tax our way out of this bottomless hole.
(There's another apropos word we could use, likewise perfectly accurate, though it's somewhat harsher: "unAmerican." It's unAmerican to punish families just because they've managed to find the American dream. "UnAmerican" is a word that makes some uneasy; but when used with care and caution, I think it can also be deployed. After all, Democrats call Republicans "unAmerican" all the time!)
Voters have shown time and again that fairness -- the gut feeling, not the legal word-soup -- is a powerful golden thread in American national philosophy and electoral politics. Why should we cede the entire concept to the Progressivist Left? To requote Winston Churchill -- hey, I just read this in another Power Line post by Steven Hayward:
"All men are created equal," says the American Declaration of Independence. "All men shall be kept equal," say the British Socialist Party.
...And the American Democratic Party as well.
There's a possibility that cunning Democrats might taunt us that fairness, as we're defining it, should really mean having only a single tax rate, which everyone paid (which, come to think, is not a bad idea). Again, the comeback writes itself:
I agree with you a hundred percent, Mr. Democrat; ultimately, that should be our goal, because we're the party of true fairness -- equality of opportunity, but not equality of outcomes. And I'm glad to hear that you agree with us about making the tax system fairer for everyone.
But we're not the party of radical changes; that's your sour brand. So why don't you join us in a wonderful down payment on the tax fairness we all agree on: Let's return to Ronald Reagan's tax reform, which had only two brackets -- 15 and 28%; not the six brackets we have today -- 10, 15, 25, 28, 33, and 35%.
Two brackets is not ideal, but it's darn close; and we mustn't let "best" become the enemy of "better."
As actual legislation, it won't work; the Democrats in the Senate won't let us go back to the Reagan tax plan -- in part because it is the "Reagan" tax plan, and Democrats don't want to admit he even existed. But it's not intended to bowl over the Left; the point of applying generic fairness to our tax code is to draw a line of distinction between us and them; between Capitalism and liberal Fascism; between growing a bigger pie and slicing and dicing a shrinking pie into ever more, ever thinner pieces; between a bright future and a slough of despond.
Sadly, suspicion of Mitt Romney and a residual legacy of hope from four years ago torpedoed our chances this time. As Paul Mirengoff notes elsewhere, voters generally give each party in the White House at least eight years to make things better. Note that we're talking parties, not individuals: George H.W. Bush had only one term, but he was preceded by two Republican terms of Ronald Reagan; similarly, Herbert Hoover's one term was directly preceded by Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, both Republicans. The pattern holds with Carter as the lone post-Civil War exception.
In 1868, voters turned out impeached President Andrew Johnson after only one term in office; since then, it has happened only once more: Jimmy Carter, bracketed by Nixon/Ford before and Reagan after. So it's not surprising that voters gave Obama another four years; it would have been unusual had they not.
But from this point on, I believe Americans will blame Obama, not the fading memory of George W. Bush, for a continued lousy economy and for any future terrorist attacks on the United States. I believe that two years from now, voters will finally admit they were snookered (twice!) by glib words divorced from corresponding actions, and the electorate will shift into trash-removal mode. And there we'll be, with our clear principles and mature governance. That is, if we can speak with clarity, consistency, precision, and persistence, coupling broad premises like "fairness" and "justice" to our national creed of individual (not collective) liberty.
And if we can find a way to muzzle the tongue-twisted gorillas in our midst.
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, November 15, 2012, at the time of 2:34 AM
The following hissed in response by: snochasr
Obama has been pitching his tax-the-rich scheme as the only solution needed for the deficit problem, when he admits to a deficit problem at all. So, the obvious solution is to offer to give it to him, IF he accepts $1 TRILLION in deficit reduction THIS YEAR. That would still leave a deficit! But it would make the point that his math doesn't add up, and math facts are hard to argue against.
The following hissed in response by: Darthcirrocu
Quote: "(And allowing a very large number of people who are not on military pensions and not on welfare nevertheless pay no income taxes whatsoever.)"
I'm not 100% sure if the implication in that statement is that retired military don't pay income tax. I'm retired USAF and every single small pension payment has "FITW." Now, I don't pay FICA or Medicare or anything on it, but income tax is most definitely in play.
Don't know where this "military members rarely pay income tax" myth comes from, but the *only* time that happens is when the serviceman is serving in a designated combat zone. And even then, it's only income tax that doesn't apply. Medicare and Social Security are still yanked out.
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