Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Republican message for the next 3 years will be:
Obama's tax plan punishes the successful.
Republicans (especially Andrew Sullivan) love the word "successful" to characterize the wealthy. Why? Because it evades any criteria of merit, although it seems to be applicable in casual use.

For example, was an executive that got stock options in a dot-com company in the 1990s and sold at the peak of the bubble successful? Yes. Was that executive lucky? Yes. Were those dollars merited in the same way that, for example, a surgeon's are? No.

Or look at investment banking. In the past, when the partners retained ownership, they made money but didn't take big risks because they had a vested interest in keeping the bank in business. But with the change over the last decade to public ownership (via stocks) of investment banks, the top executives could - and did - gamble wildly and got mega-paychecks for a while - but ultimately the i-banks cratered. Were they successful? Yes. Was that merited. No, not even by Wall Street standards, now that the mess has been exposed.

Libertarians, by contrast, are more honest. They don't give a damn where the money comes from (hard work, the lottery, rich uncle dies); they think a person should keep all of it. But that's not a philosophy that has wide enough appeal. To succeed in the public arena, the wealthy must be seen as deserving of their wealth. Hence the word "successful" is used.

We could also spend some time on the word "punish", and how that's a loaded term, but the focus here is on the "success" angle.

Democrats will need a quick rejoinder to the charge that they have it in for the successful. Nothing as crude as "Stalin was successful, does that mean we shouldn't have challenged him?" But something that's in the current news, a la Madoff or Thune or Pandit (Citi CEO).

Somewhat related essay at Media Matters.

N.B. Andrew Sullivan has written that he got some dot-com stocks and sold for a nice profit (that apparenly paid for a condo) before the tech bubble popped. Congrats, Andrew! On the other hand, some people lost tons of money at that time. Were they failures?

Broadly speaking, taxation on the very rich to pay for support services for the very poor is a way of offsetting the impact of luck. Framed that way, it doesn't come off as class warfare.


Yes, I think the Republicans are going to run as the "Sherriff of Nottingham" party.

By Blogger riffle, at 2/28/2009 6:31 PM  

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