Friday, October 05, 2012

The "47%" meme

The "47%" meme is kind of a desublimation of the real meaning of the main Republican low-tax mantra since around 1978. The whole idea was to cut taxes for the wealthy. But to make it acceptable and even appealing to a wider public, they had to include some kind of tax cuts for the lower brackets, as well. As Andrew Hacker writes in Can Romney Get a Majority? New York Review of Books 09/27/2012 (accessed 07/21/2012):

Since the close of Reconstruction, the GOP has been seen as the party of the top bosses — there’s really no other way to put it. Theirs is a long lineage of the one percent. So its candidates try to amass majorities by diversions ranging from race and firearms, to abortion and immigration. The party also makes a place for persons below the median in income who seek to enhance their status by allying with the well-to-do. This is no small pool, as can be seen from the following of Rush Limbaugh listeners on his six hundred stations.
But the "47%" complaint brings the argument full circle: it good for the wealthiest to pay low taxes and even have them lowered more; for everyone else, paying low taxes is bad. Even if the reason is because you're poor. Or old. Or disabled. Or a student.

The "47%" meme is Republican ideology, and facts won't stop true believers from believing it. But there has been some good reality-based commentary around it for those of us who care about such things. Paul Krugman looks at the age component in Taxes Over The Life Cycle 09/18/2012: "even aside from the fact that there are other taxes besides the income tax, even aside from the larger point that lower-income working Americans are hardly grifters, the fact is that the vast majority of Americans do pay income taxes at some point in their life."

Claude Fischer looks at the unwholesome background of this way of thinking in The 47% Charge in U.S. History Made In America 09/18/2012: "Whatever the facts may be, the charge that huge numbers of shiftless moochers live off hard-working taxpayers feels true to many Americans – and has felt true to many Americans for centuries. It is a sentiment rooted in Americans’ exceptional emphasis on individual self-reliance and insistence on conditioning help upon virtue." Because it's not all about facts. He concludes, "Whatever the economic, sociological, or political logic of Mitt Romney’s statements, they resonate emotionally and morally with many Americans, even with many in that very 47 percent." But the crassness and obvious contempt in Romney's comments surely resonate negatively with some significant portion of the independent voters to whom Romney needs to appeal in key swing states. Because it's basically an ugly sentiment.

The history of how this particular "47%" position evolved is interesting and revealing is recounted by Mike Konczal in Four Histories of the Right's 47 Percent Theory Rortybomb 09/20/2012. The four items he discusses are a 2002 Wall Street Journal editorial about "lucky duckies" who don't pay income taxes - and they didn't mean moochers like Mitt Romney; carefully nurtured "culture war" fears that a third or so of the population are quasi-Bolsheviks (that famous ghost which the Communist Manifesto of 1848 spoke of still haunts right-wing think-tanks whose entrepreneurial income is provided by conservative billionaires); a Randian 2001 Paul Ryan speech at the Heritage Foundation complaining how the laxy masses were resting in hammocks; and the rightwing producerist notion that hard-working people are being sucked dry by poor people and immigrants, though Konczal doesn't call it "producerism" in his piece.

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