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BORN TO LOSE (PART 2 OF 2)! Clinton showed Democrats how to win—but a Times pundit knows how to lose: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 2004

WHAT IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN ALL ABOUT: With re-election safely in hand, the Bush Admin is letting us know what it has always been all about. In yesterday’s Post, Jonathan Weisman described the Admin’s second-term tax-cut cogitations:
WEISMAN (11/18/04): The Bush administration is eyeing an overhaul of the tax code that would drastically cut, if not eliminate, taxes on savings and investment, but it is unlikely to try to replace the existing tax code with a single flat income tax rate or a national sales tax, according to several sources familiar with ongoing tax deliberations.
Down with taxes on investment! Bush has always been about one thing—handing free dough to the super-rich. Pundits like to pretend they don’t know. But now it will get fairly obvious.

Read Weisman’s report for details. But one part of the scribe’s report needs to be put in some context. Just after the recent election, Bush “reiterat[ed] his pledge to name a bipartisan panel to draft a fundamental tax reform proposal,” Weisman writes. “But before the tax panel is even named, administration officials have begun dialing back expectations that they will move to scrap the current graduated income tax for another system.” That reference to our “graduated income tax” deserves a bit of framing.

How does our current tax system work? It’s true, our federal income tax is “graduated;” high earners pay more of their income under this tax than low earners do. But even before Bush hands more free money to his friends, we already have a largely “flat” overall system, David Cay Johnston says in Perfectly Legal. Very few people know the following, largely because it’s almost never discussed:

JOHNSTON (page 94): The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, in its annual consumer expenditure survey, looked at the burden of local and state taxes as well as federal levies...For 2001 the government found that all taxes at all levels of government consume 19 percent of the incomes of the best-off fifth of Americans, those individuals and families whose average income was $116,666 that year. Down at the bottom the poorest fifth, whose average income was $7,946, paid 18 percent.
Say what? According to Johnston, when local and state taxes are included in the mix, the top fifth and the bottom fifth pay essentially the same portion of their income. Johnston explains what this means:
JOHNSTON (continuing directly): What this means is that the entire tax system at all levels amounts to a flat tax, one that is crushing the poor and one that does not extract the harsh levies [on high earners] so often cited by politicians who owe their allegiance to the political donor class. This leveling of tax burdens between those most able to pay and those least able to pay reflects the regressive nature of sales taxes on merchandise, excise taxes on consumer goods and the high rate of property taxes in poor communities. The burdens of these taxes diminish as incomes rise.
According to Johnston, the top fifth pay 19 percent of their income; the poorest fifth pay 18 percent. Bush’s reaction to this? What else? Let’s take less tax from the rich!

Michael Lind’s Made in Texas tries to explain the origins of this plantation world-view. Johnston’s book attempts to explain the way our current political class creates the situation he describes. But we’ll bet the farm on one key point—you’ve rarely seen these topics discussed by your mainstream press corps. As Johnston notes (see page 93), most people think our system takes big chunks of dough from the rich—and few pundits ever get around to discussing the actual facts.

When Daniel Altman discussed this situation in the New York Times, we discussed the need for more data (links below). But let’s return to Weisman’s report. With Bush, it has always been all about handing sacks of free dough to the rich—and now we’ll see these values in action. Readers must insist that their favorite writers discuss the real facts about our current tax burdens. Indeed, maybe Andrew Sullivan can lay out some of those facts in between his heartfelt pleas for a flatter and fairer tax system.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Say what? We puzzled over Altman’s piece—and wondered why facts are so hard to obtain. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/27/03, for part 1 of a five-part report.

BORN TO LOSE (PART 2): Bill Clinton understood a key point about how you win; you don’t deride people who aren’t just like you are (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/18/04) Why did Clinton win the White House? Over at the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani was rolling her eyes about the “pointless digressions” in Clinton’s big book. But this key paragraph helped explain how Bill made his way to the White House:

CLINTON (page 251): Far more important than what I saw the Pentecostals do were the friendships I made among them. I liked and admired them because they lived their faith. They are strictly anti-abortion, but unlike some others, they will make sure that any unwanted baby, regardless of race or disability, has a loving home. They disagreed with me on abortion and gay rights, but they still followed Christ’s admonition to love their neighbors.
“I liked and admired them,” Clinton says, although “they disagreed with me” on certain issues. As we noted, Clinton went on to describe the way he was able to reach agreement with Pentecostal ministers about a tangy political issue. On Manhattan, Kakutani was at wits’ end as she was forced to endure all the tedium. But these passages help Dems see how a decent, wise man reached the White House.

Yes, Bill Clinton knew how to win, and Dems should study and learn from his book. But if Dems would rather know how to lose, there are road maps for that outcome also. As we noted on Wednesday, this week’s flap about Monday Night Football gave each Dem an early chance to test his thoughts about “moral issues.” And in yesterday’s Times, Alessandra Stanley helped show Dems what to do if they just live to lose.

No, Stanley isn’t running for office, but her attitude spoke loud and clear. She rolled her eyes at all the rubes who found that Monday night skit out of place. But who’s the Monster Rube in all this? As usual, the seer from the Times:

STANLEY (11/18/04): Unless the network was apologizing for not having allowed the actress to turn around, then the mea culpa is baffling: women's nude spines are shown on commercials for body lotion and shaving cream all the time.
Try to believe that a Times TV reviewer can be so completely illiterate. After all, “women’s nude spines” are also shown when we watch Olympic swimming. But is it true that a Times TV critic can’t distinguish a swim race from that skit? That she’s “baffled” when people distinguish that skit from a lotion commercial? Sadly, yes, it may be true. After all, she went on to type this:
STANLEY: If anyone should apologize, it is the National Football League: the organization actually had the nerve to say the skit, which was also a promotional spot for ''Desperate Housewives,'' was ''inappropriate and unsuitable for our 'Monday Night Football' audience.'' Unless the ''Monday Night Football'' audience is made up of small children and nuns. In which case, of course, I apologize.
Unless the audience is made up of children? Duh! Of course the audience is made up of children!! By the time Stanley typed her piece, this point had been made, again and again, by people complaining about the skit—none of whom were making broader complaints about ABC programming, or asking that shows be removed from the air. Over and over, the complaint was made perfectly clear—we don’t want this sort of thing when we sit down to watch a show with our children. Stanley, apparently typing from Neptune, still didn’t seem to have heard.

But then, that’s the nature of the cohort! Kakutani cries in pain when Clinton describes the real lives of Arkansans. And Stanley’s so eager to mock the rubes that she can’t seem to figure that children watch sports. By the way, did you have any idea, until this week, that so many pundits don’t yet know that the United States has this thing known as “time zones?” In the first few days of this flap, we heard an amazing number of east coast seers ask how many kids could be watching football at 9 o’clock on a Monday night. But readers, when it’s 9 o’clock in New York, it’s only 6 o’clock in L.A.! (Many scribes had learned to say this by Thursday morning.) Stanley shows no sign of ignorance about time zones, but three days after the flap began, she still seemed to have no clue about who is in front of those sets.

Readers, Monday night’s nonsense gave all Dems a chance to test their DNA. Are you born to win—or born to lose? Clinton—liking and admiring a range of people, even those who aren’t just like him—shows Dems how consensus is formed. In a million years, Clinton wouldn’t have mocked the parents who complained about that skit. Are you born to win—or born to lose? Events of the week give all good Dems two models they can select from.

HIM TOO: On yesterday’s Imus, Jeff Greenfield played “mock jock” too, offering a dumb but Standard Reaction—those who complained are just big fakes. “If you staged a Hypocrisy Bowl, and tried to figure out whether the networks, the league or the viewers were more hypocritical in this, it’d be a tie,” the pundit opined. Everyone was a fake—except Greenfield! Here’s what was wrong with the viewers:

GREENFIELD (11/18/04): In the Hypocrisy Sweepstakes, it is, I think, an even tie. For instance, you do have plenty of people who protest, outraged by what the television networks put on, appropriately so, and then they and their buddies lie to their wives and drive to a topless bar.
You do? You do have “plenty of people” who do that? But who exactly are these people? Surely, Greenfield must know plenty of names, given the excessive numbers involved. Sadly, the pundit forgot to name any names, choosing to paint with a broad, sweeping brush. Perfectly normal, sensible people didn’t like that Monday night skit. But Greenfield? He had them in topless bars—after calling them liars, of course.

Incredible, isn’t it? Last week, Greenfield’s tribe was scorning Kerry because “it was clear he didn’t know anything about the red states of the country” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/6/04). One week later, Greenfield revealed what he knew about “red” values. And what exactly does Greenfield know? He knows that red men are sleazy and hypocrites. Dems, if you feel you’re Born to Lose, you may have a perfect role model.