Saturday, December 22, 2012

J.R.R. Tolkien on ending the Bush tax cuts for the top 2%

As we all know, for four years now one key focus of political gridlock in US national politics has been the absolute, intransigent refusal of the Congressional Republicans, along with the wider Republican right, to accept any tax increases at all for the wealthiest Americans.  The Bush tax cuts have been scheduled to expire (as a by-product of the procedural tricks used to pass them in the first place).  Obama's proposal, reiterated steadily ever since his first run for president in 2007-2008, has been to accept a continuation of the Bush tax cuts for 98% of taxpayers, but to allow those cuts to expire for the top 2%—whose federal income tax rates would go up a few percentage points on their (adjusted, taxable) annual income over $250,000, back to the levels that prevailed during the Clinton administration. (As I'm sure you remember, the Clinton years were a time of economic decline, technological stagnation, skyrocketing unemployment, and exploding federal deficits—just as right-wingers confidently predicted when Clinton's first budget was passed in 1993.)  This extremely moderate, reasonable, and unambitious proposal has encountered a solid wall of immovable, often hysterical, Republican opposition, accompanied by a noisy chorus of plutocratic whining..

After Obama's re-election this November, even some unimpeachably hard-right Republican figures began to muse aloud that the Republican Party's (well-deserved) reputation as the Plutocrats' Party was beginning to turn into an electoral liability, and perhaps they should do something to change this image.  One notable statement along these lines came from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal on November 12, less than a week after the election:
“We’ve got to make sure that we are not the party of big business, big banks, big Wall Street bailouts, big corporate loopholes, big anything,” Jindal told POLITICO in a 45-minute telephone interview. “We cannot be, we must not be, the party that simply protects the rich so they get to keep their toys.”
It's not clear whether Jindal was recommending an actual shift in the Republicans' substantive policies or just some cosmetic public-relations adjustments (as Jonathan Zasloff and others noted skeptically at the time). But either way, it seems clear that Jindal had put his finger on a real problem.

Since then, as the showdown over the so-called "fiscal cliff" began to loom, some Congressional Republicans and right-wing pundits began to get a bit wobbly about mounting a last-ditch, all-or-or nothing fight to preserve lower tax rates for the wealthy.  But so far those voices have turned out to be marginal.  The political maneuvering of the past month and a half, capped by the fiasco of Republican House Speaker John Boehner's attempt at a Plan B, have made it clear that the great bulk of Congressional Republicans still refuse to consider raising tax rates for the top 2%.  Maybe some of them will feel differently after the Christmas recess, or after the Bush tax cuts have automatically expired on January 1.  But for the moment, at least, the Republicans remain overwhelmingly determined to make sure that the rich get to keep their toys, whatever that takes.

=>  Is it purely a coincidence that I just happened to run across the following passage from J.R.R. Tolkien?  A film based on The Hobbit is coming out, and at one point the review in the New Yorker quotes directly from Tolkien's book.  When the dragon Smaug discovers that one cup has been removed from his vast golden hoard, how does he respond?  He falls into
the sort of rage that is only seen when rich folk that have more than they can enjoy suddenly lose something that they have long had but never used or wanted.
Now, why should that remind me of the right-wing reaction to the possibility that tax rates for millionaires might go back to Clinton-era levels? Your guess is as good as mine ...

—Jeff Weintraub

P.S. Thanks to James Wimberley for providing us with Tolkien's drawing of Smaug: