Joe the Plumbers
Beyond the predictable defenders of privilege, however, many average Americans still support Reagan-esque tax cuts even when those policies have amounted to "class warfare" against the middle- and working-classes as well as future generations who are getting stuck with the bills.
This is where "Joe the Plumber," a mid-30-ish Ohio man named Joe Wurzelbacher, comes in. Though Wurzelbacher wasn't even a licensed plumber last year, he became Sen. John McCain's symbol of an American everyman, someone whom the 72-year-old McCain called "my role model."
In the closing days of Campaign 2008, Wurzelbacher launched his strange rise to national stardom by chatting along a rope line with Barack Obama about his tax proposals, specifically Obama's plan to lower taxes on middle-class Americans and raise them on people earning more than $250,000.
Wurzelbacher said he was considering buying his boss' company, which he thought might make slightly more than $250,000 and thus might see a rise in taxes under Obama's plan.
Obama responded by noting that any tax increase in that case would be slight and arguing that his tax plan would help America's embattled middle class because it would "spread the wealth." (Later, Obama noted that the vast majority of small businesses don't clear $250,000 and almost no plumbers do.)
Nothing in the Obama-Wurzelbacher exchange was very remarkable. In effect, Obama was reiterating the century-old case for a progressive income tax that assesses higher rates on the well-to-do than on those with modest incomes.
It was a concept famously advocated by McCain's earlier Republican role model, President Theodore Roosevelt, who in his New Nationalism speech of 1910 sounded far more radical than Barack Obama.
"The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size, acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means," Roosevelt said.
"Therefore, I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes, and in another tax which is far more easily collected and far more effective, a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion, and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate."
However, McCain "" who apparently had swapped his old role model (Teddy Roosevelt) for his new one (Joe Wurzelbacher) "" accused Obama of "socialism" because of Obama's support for rolling back tax cuts for the rich.
McCain's campaign began labeling Obama the "redistributionist-in-chief," a charge that the Democrats finessed during the final days of the campaign but appear to still fear. The Obama administration has shied away from seeking outright repeal of Bush's tax cuts, instead favoring letting some of them just lapse next year.
That reluctance to tackle the issue of tax increases "" and Obama's practical political decision during the campaign not to aggressively defend his "spread the wealth" idea "" meant that the argument about the need for a greater government role in diverting some wealth from the top downward has been deferred.
However, it may be the most important debate for the future of the United States and the health of the American Republic. If the government doesn't intervene through its taxing authority to redistribute some wealth that now is concentrating among the ultra-rich, programs aimed at protecting the environment, improving education and providing health care likely will fail.
The American public already is resisting the idea of expanding the federal debt, which translates into passing on the bills to future generations. Obama also has promised not to raise taxes on hard-pressed, middle-income families.