Politics & Policy

CNN vs. the Tea Parties

Principled opposition to big government does not compute.

When thousands of people in all 50 states assemble to protest government policy, you might suppose that this is news. Not according to the coverage on the front pages of the Washington Post, the New York Times, or the Wall Street Journal. The “tea party” rallies went unmentioned. In Washington, D.C., despite temperatures in the 40s and a driving rain, about a thousand demonstrators assembled across from the White House on April 15. The front page of the Times the next day found space for a big story with accompanying pictures of public demonstrations in Kabul, Afghanistan, but not a word about the American protestors.

Perhaps this snub was intentional. Fox News (becoming a participant itself and not merely a recorder of events) had been beating the drums for these rallies for days, and some pressies clearly regarded them as therefore necessarily illegitimate. One reporter, Susan Roesgen, who “covered” the Chicago tea party for CNN, was downright confrontational with attendees she interviewed, challenging a protestor who referred to Abraham Lincoln with “What does this have to do with taxes?” The man attempted to explain. But the reporter interrupted him. “Did you know that you are eligible for a $400 rebate? Did you know that your state, the state of Lincoln, gets $50 billion from the stimulus? That’s $50 billion for your state.” She then tossed back to the anchor, remarking, “This is clearly not family viewing.”

What Ms. Roesgen and others like her do not understand is that some people are interested in more than their own narrow self-interest. Perhaps the protestor she interviewed, who was holding his two-year-old son, is eligible for a tax rebate. And perhaps his state will get a juicy piece of the stimulus money. It is possible, just possible, that such bribes do not influence him. Perhaps they don’t buy his support because he is skeptical that his taxes can remain low when the federal government is embarked on a record-shattering spending spree. He may be offended by the bailout culture, in which it seems that every irresponsible borrower, failed car company, and free-spending state is being rescued by the federal government. Additionally, he may be dubious that the government will spend the money wisely. It has been rumored that government spending has produced waste, fraud, inefficiency, and corruption. But he also may simply believe that engorging the government and enfeebling the private sector — no matter who is writing the checks — is not good for the economic or spiritual health of the country.

The tea parties demonstrated that resistance to big government persists in the hearts of many Americans. And yet, Roesgen has a shadow of a point. When the vast majority of Americans are getting benefits from the government but not paying the bill, the constituency for tax reform does shrink. As Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam note in their book Grand New Party, “Just before the Reagan tax cuts, a median-income four-person family paid about 12 percent of their total income in federal income taxes. Reducing that burden, predictably enough, yielded a political windfall for Republicans . . . Today the bite the federal income tax takes out of working-class and middle-class paychecks stands at roughly half the pre-Reagan level.”

A recent Gallup poll found that only 46 percent of Americans say their taxes are “too high.” Fifty-two percent of those earning between $30,000 and $75,000 said their taxes were “about right.” IRS data show why this should be so. Those earning more than $388,806 in 2006, the top 1 percent of earners, paid about 40 percent of the taxes. The top 5 percent, those earning above $153,542, paid 60 percent of the taxes. And the top 10 percent, those earning more than $108,904, paid more than 70 percent of all taxes. Some, including President Obama, argue that the wealthy were disproportionately benefited by the Bush-era tax cuts. But as the American Enterprise Institute’s Kevin Hassett has pointed out, the tax share shouldered by the wealthy increased more than the share of income going to that group during the past decade.

Still, the numbers suggest that income-tax reductions are not going to be the royal road back to popularity for the Republican party. The path to political viability will have to be found elsewhere. More on that in future columns.

Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist.

© 2009 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

 

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