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Jewish World Review Feb. 16, 2001 / 23 Shevat, 5761

James Lileks

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Consumer Reports

The Politics of Personal Reduction -- ANOTHER week of Bush successes. Unthinkable. Why, the Democrats have assured us is that Bush is an spine-free, dry-drunk unelected dunderhead who doesn't know whether to trip over his tongue or his puppet strings. And they have the real thing. For charisma, they have the weepy bleats of Honest Joe Lieberman; for warmth they have Dick Gephardt; for brilliant political imagery, they have Tom Daschle, who's summed up the Bush tax program by waving auto parts around. Yet every time one of these fellows starts sniping at Bush, an odd thing happens: they seem small and silly.

It's the politics of personal reduction.

Which brings us to the fight over Bush's tax cut. There is no fight, really. There'll be broad, basic rate reductions for all. No strings attached - except, of course, you must actually pay taxes to qualify. That's what infuriates the hard left: tax relief should be for people who don't pay taxes. People who do pay taxes, by definition, HAVE money; it's obscene to let these rich swine gobble extra truffles.

Who are the rich, exactly? They're those folk who, by some odd and arbitrary set of events, managed to stay in school, chose a field that paid a living wage, started a career, got married, stayed married, and invested their money instead of sitting in front of a Video Poker machine for hours on end. How did they do it? No one knows! But since they won't share their secret chants or handshakes, we must trust our elected representatives to wrest their booty from their miserable hands, and give it to the people who truly deserve it - i.e., us. Gimme!

Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Leningrad) has denounced Bush's proposal as "Robin Hood in reverse." Interesting theory, this taking-from-the-poor; he seems to think that poor people excrete gold coins in their sleep, which the rich take while the poor slumber, exhausted from their daily toil. In truth, the average "rich" family in America is a professional couple making their money from intellectual, legal, or managerial endeavors. They're too busy to steal from the poor. They leave that job to the state, which imposes hefty cigarette and liquor taxes on the very poor it so noisily proclaims it protects.

In Wellstone's world, however, inequality of any sort can be redressed by feeding more money into the system's Best Intention Machine. (The dials go up to eleven!) This world intersects nicely with Tom Daschle's Land of Envy, where "fair" tax cuts are "fair" only if those who've paid the most taxes don't get more than the Democrat's warmest personal regards. Why give them their money back, anyway? According to Daschle, they'll just spend it on a Lexus. He even had his minions drive one up to the Capitol so he could stand by the evil machine and make his point. Well, Let's look at this Lexus argument, then.

1. Democrats want their constituents to believe that the rich will take the tax cut, have the butler gild the check, and use it to feed caviar to the poodle. Sorry. The "rich" will probably invest the money, so they can be even richer later. They don't dare say that, of course. Nowadays if you announce at a dinner party you want to be richer tomorrow and richer next year, people will look at you as though you supported slavery, or worse, ordered veal.

2. So what if the "rich" do buy a Lexus? It would be refreshing to see a group of well-heeled taxpayers come out and say "yes, dagnabit, I have every intention of buying a Lexus. The silver one with the vibrating seat and the airbag filled with pure, filtered Alpine air, and a horn that plays Herb Alpert tunes. I'm old and I've worked hard and I want one. I might even get two. If one gets a ding in the door, I'll pay someone to drive it into the bay, and drive the other."

This needs to be said: it is not the job of the government to take money from someone so they cannot buy a Lexus. If you're bothered than someone can buy a Lexus, then that's your problem. Do not confuse your teeth-grinding resentment of your miserly father with national economic policy. If you want to keep people from having nice cars, then at least be honest. Forget about your accomplices in Congress. Get a mask, set the alarm for three AM, and go steal one yourself.

JWR contributor James Lileks is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


02/09/01: In search of the the first ashtray thrown by a member of the First Family
02/06/01: Can you say 'Ayatollah Bush'?
01/24/01: The new Executive Orders
01/22/01: Hey, Dubya: Wanna save Ashcroft? Teach him to rap!
01/09/01: Bubba gets his last licks
01/05/01: The low-down on the coming recession (What those snooty economists won't tell you)
12/23/00: Memo to Dubya: Wanna show who is boss? Nuke 'em!
12/06/00: The Count of Carthage
At the Sore/Loserman Transition HQ
12/01/00: The Count of Carthage
11/28/00: Clinton knows history isn't written by the victors anymore
11/17/00: Chad's the word
11/08/00: The strangest political night
11/07/00: Get ready to return to the Dark Ages

© 2000, James Lileks