Smart Bombs: Tax insult added to injury
You are one of the 8.8 million people who were tossed out of work during the Great Recession. It wasn’t your fault, you were told. It’s just that business was bad. You paid your mortgage, and all your other bills. But greater forces conspired to bring you down.
Maybe you found a new job. If so, it’s likely that it pays less. Maybe you haven’t found work, because employers aren’t interested in hiring the unemployed. Only those with a job need apply. You thought employers might relax that lazy rule and look a bit deeper at your work history, while keeping in mind that this recession zapped more jobs than the last four combined.
But, no. As the New York Times reported last year, being unemployed is a deal breaker. Prospective employers, by and large, treat your joblessness as your fault. Apparently, they believe that the rapid doubling of the unemployment rate represents a sudden epidemic of laziness and incompetence.
So, you’ve cobbled together unemployment benefits, help from family, food stamps and other assistance to keep your household afloat in the dim hope that a thoughtful employer might throw you a lifeline. Then last week, you learned that presidential candidate Mitt Romney grouped you with all Americans who pay no income tax, and he assigned your motives to malingering and mooching. This, by his definition, made you an automatic vote for President Barack Obama.
He wasn’t feeling sorry for you; he was feeling sorry for himself.
How can he win you over with an income tax break when you’re not paying that tax at this time? To put it in the terms of an obnoxious Wall Street Journal editorial, this makes you one of the “lucky duckies.”
Now that’s not to say that Romney was singling you out. He was also dismissing the rural poor, the unemployed who vote on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, troops in certain combat zones and millions of elderly people. According to his analysis, they will certainly vote for Obama because they pay no income tax.
You imagine this headline as you roll your eyes: “Rural voters turn out for Obama.” After all, that’s where the highest poverty rates are in many states, including Washington.
But, as you know, Republicans win big in rural counties across the country even when they insult the poor, the elderly and those who are unemployed through no fault of their own.
They built that. The phenomenon of 47 percent of people paying no federal income tax has been routinely invoked in political debates but, thanks to Mitt Romney, the media finally gave it a thorough examination. As it turns out, a large share of that group will be voting for him, not exclusively for President Obama.
Cynical people built that myth. Their favorite candidate tore it down.
The history of the tax credits and loopholes that produced the current tax code was a bipartisan effort. Presidents Ford, Reagan and the younger Bush all signed legislation that brought us to this moment. The earned income tax credit was championed by conservatives as a tradeoff. Rather than have poor people collect welfare without working, they decided it was better for them to take low-wage jobs and let them keep more of their money. Increased tax credits for children were seen as pro-family. Plus, some of the tax breaks for low-income families were offered as tradeoffs for relief for the rich.
I hate to crash the tea party, but Romney has no plans to roll any of that back. Whining in private doesn’t count. So we will continue to have a progressive income tax structure, which redistributes the wealth.
Relax, red-staters, you’re getting the best of this deal. Eight of the 10 states with the highest percentage of people not paying income taxes vote Republican in presidential contests. In fact, the Republican grip on these states has tightened as the share of tax “malingers” has grown.
It’s almost as if it were deliberate. But I’m not one to assign motives.
Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at email@example.com or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.