Cheat-Seeking Missles

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Decline Of The Tax Fighter

The taxpayer, said Ronald Reagan, is someone who works for the federal government but doesn't have to take a civil service examination.

Richard Nixon rallied the GOP troops with his famous line, “It is time to get big government off your back and out of your pocket.”

Tax-fighting has been good for the GOP, bringing us back to majorities in 1946 and 1994, but its clout as a political tool may be changing ... at least by one Dem analysis by Mark Mellman in The Hill, who defiantly proclaims, "The taxman doesn't scare us any more!"

Mellman's point is based on polls so a bit of caution is required, but he's pulled data from numerous polls over a number of years, so his argument is worthy of attention.
While no one wants to pay more taxes, the perceived burden has diminished. Earlier this month, 53 percent of respondents told Gallup the amount they paid in federal income tax was too high. Though still a majority, it represents a significant decline from the two-thirds who thought their taxes were too high in the late ’90s. In 1993, 67 percent of Americans told Harris they “had reached the breaking point on the amount of taxes they paid.” A decade later that figure dropped by 15 points. CBS found 49 percent saying they paid more than their fair share in 1997, but just 37 percent taking that position this month.

While at times the level of taxation has moved to the forefront of public concern, more often voters have been fixated on two other aspects of the issue: the waste of their tax dollars and the failure of big business and the wealthy to pay their fair share.
There's a lot at work in these two paragraphs.

First, globalization and free trade, which are not exactly home runs for the Dems, have lowered the cost of goods, and tax cuts have lowered the tax burdens for most Americans. Together, these two GOP policies have increased spendable income, making the tax burden relatively less onerous. Ironically, rather than thank the GOP and keep the fight up for low taxation, the American people are responding by saying, "Hey, this isn't all that bad after all." An open door for the Dems.

Government waste, long a strong suit for the GOP is now the Dems' game, thanks to the drunken sailor spending of the first six years of the Bush presidency. I have every confidence, as has been borne out in their first 100 days, that the Dems will probably do worse, but for the moment, they own the high ground. (It's comforting to go back and read Mellman's headline. If they're not afraid any more, they're likely to go far too far.)

And finally, their harping on two Americas and CEO salaries has paid off. They've shifted the focus from taxes to those who don't pay taxes. Not the low-end cheats, mind you, but the few, the fabulous, the glitterati tax dodgers. Implication: Republicans.

OK. So there's a new reality and it may have come into being by a Grand Scheme by the Dems; more likely, they're just happy with the happenstance. What we need to really pay attention to is the crux of the new tax reality:
A Fox News poll put the question directly: “What bothers you more — how much you pay in taxes or how your taxes are spent?” Only 12 percent emphasized the amount paid, whereas 71 percent cited waste as the primary villain.

Maldistribution of the burden is taxpayers’ other prime complaint. Two-thirds told Gallup this month that “upper income people” pay too little in taxes, while 71 percent complained about corporations paying too little.
Mellman reads this and says the Dems have "once again wrested control of the tax issue away from the GOP, with Democrats now seen as the party better able to deal with the issue by margins of 8 to 14 points."

The two issues are entirely different, though. I'll concede the first to Mellman; the Dems are very good at convincing the American people, despite all the facts that stand in their way, that upper income people pay too little in taxes, and Republicans are to blame for this "fact."

Our response to this is simple, and it's not numbers. We can say "the top X% pay Y% of the taxes" all day long and lose this battle, because the story has to be humanized, not numerilized (if there is such a word). There are plenty of rich and prominent Dems who are not paying their fair share of taxes. It's the GOPs job to get dirty and drag these people into the limelight, so the Dems lose their ability to make a credible argument on the point.

The other point, waste, has until the last six years been the GOP's strong point. As fighters for small government and perpetual challengers of waste, we could always tackle a donkey or two at election time by pointing to pork.

The Dems are in power in large part because the GOP lost focus on this core value, but the core value is still there. The GOP is the small government party, and it's time to elect people who will stand by the small government pledge. It will be much easier for us to find and elect candidates who believe in small government than it will for the Dems.

Then the Dems can be as unafraid of the taxman as they want, as they get drubbed by that other public servant, the waste collector.

hat-tip: Real Clear Politics

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