It’s truly amazing. The ism labels are back in vogue. Obama tells Joe the Plumber that “spreading the wealth” is good for everyone, but Joe interprets his comment as “socialism” or “redistribution of wealth” and Palin’s crowds invoke the isms of socialism, Marxism, and communism.
These are right-wing buzz words, cues for some permutation of the New World Order that members of the right-wing fringe are sure is coming to take over the government and rescind the Bill of Rights (particularly the much coveted 2nd Amendment). Progressive taxation has been part of the US income tax code since 1913, but Joe would have none of it. Joe doesn’t think Obama’s plan is fair: “It’s my discretion who I want to give my money to. It’s not for the government to decide if I make a little too much and I need to share it with other people.”
In Joe’s mind, progressive taxation is simply a Robin Hood scheme designed to steal from the rich to give to the poor, not a means to running a government that presides over 300 million people. I’d like to know what math class these folks missed because they don’t seem to grasp the concept of progressive taxes, which are proportional to income. Fair, in Joespeak, lies in everyone paying the same rate; in doing so the wealthy get pinched but the middle class get beat unconscious. Does Joe think that a 6-foot 200-pound man needs to lose the same amount of weight as a man who is 5’6” and weighs in at 200? If they both lose 20 pounds, the taller man is in good shape but the shorter guy is still a heart attack risk. Both shed 10 percent of their weight.
This commitment to irrational thought, or at least a truly peculiar definition of “fair,” is how the Republicans soak the poor and the middle class. Guys like Joe believe that it’s OK for the rich to pay less. He’d rather pay more now when he has little or no discretionary income; instead of preserving the little capital he might have, he wants to preserve the principle in case he ever gets wealthy enough to be in the same envious position of soaking the less well-off. So Joe-six-pack doesn’t begrudge the rich for being able to keep more of their money than he can, he aspires to be just like them – greed and all. It’s like the 5’6” man thinking he’s going to grow 6 inches so he won’t need to lose more than 20 pounds.
This explains a lot of the ostensible disconnect in the thinking that pervades the base. Joe doesn’t care if the rich didn’t come by their money fairly. The “fair” part of the equation applies to the tax, not how one earns the money. He’ll keep paying disproportionately until he too can cash in on the greed. While he may be angry if his house is foreclosed or creditors are harassing him, at the same time, he admires the wealthy CEO of a failed public company who managed to walk away with $100 million bonus. It’s the finesse that he reveres.
Thus, Joe keeps voting for those whose policies actually ensure that he stays where he is by taking more of his earnings. Never mind that he can’t pay his bills now.
The right wing has been all over Obama’s statement, using it as “proof” that Obama is a “socialist,” or “Marxist,” or “communist” who wants to pick your pocket (another racist image) and bring at least one of the evil isms to this country. Whatever the label, coupled with the portrayal of Obama as an outsider, it makes for an instant chant that riles the crowd into a revivalist-like frenzy, or depending on your point of view, it energizes the base. The image: scary black guy Muslim foreigner who wants to take over the government. Extend Halloween through November 4th. Maybe even bring in the Wasilla witch doctor from Palin’s church.
The McCain campaign seems to be channeling all of the worst politics of our history: McCarthy tactics, racial smears and innuendos, and denial of any culpability. In 1970, President Nixon during his first term announced the bombing of Cambodia as a strategy to end the war and defend against the rise of the communism in Vietnam, invoking his own version of terror:
"My fellow Americans, we live in an age of anarchy, both abroad and at home. We see mindless attacks on all the great institutions which have been created by free civilizations in the last 500 years. Even here in the United States, great universities are being systematically destroyed. Small nations all over the world find themselves under attack from within and from without.
If, when the chips are down, the world's most powerful nation, the United States of America, acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world."
Substitute “my friends” for “my fellow Americans” and “terrorism” for “totalitarianism/ anarchism” and McCain could take it to the stump right now. These isms don’t roll off the tongue quite so easily so they’re harder to throw around as epithets, and anarchism has so many facets and versions. But in Nixon’s day anarchism was used to draw parallels with the “lawlessness” of protestors, particularly those of the “hippie generation.” If the base is bent on drowning the government in the bathtub, to use Grover Norquist’s infamous phrasing, anarchism would be a tough sell to make stick to your opponents while simultaneously accusing them of favoring big government.
During the Reagan years, Norquist and other conservatives proposed various flat tax plans. But a flat tax is not revenue neutral and is estimated to wind up draining anywhere from $40 billion to more than $210 billion from the treasury (these estimates are taken from the latest serious proposals, which are at least a decade old). Russia and the former Soviet satellite countries have adopted a flat tax. Their rationale: tax cheating had been so widespread during the old regimes, which in theory had progressive tax laws, that they were extremely unsuccessful in collecting the revenue. A flat tax is simpler and easier to collect. Great role model.
Ironically, Nixon, in the same 1970 speech, said that he would put his country first: “I would rather be a one-term President and do what I believe is right than to be a two-term President at the cost of seeing America become a second rate power and to see this Nation accept the first defeat in its proud 190-year history.”
We all know how that one came out. McCain has a different plumber working for him and his country-first cause. He has adopted the old Nixon policies and at least some of the same tactics. And he has Palin to rally what’s left of the old silent majority. They just haven’t figured out which of the isms will stick.