Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 3, 2009

MUSHY, MEANINGLESS MODERATION.... During last year's presidential campaign, President Obama presented voters with his vision of fundamentally changing the way the federal government does business. He won, and his vision is reflected in his first budget outline to Congress.

David Brooks is "sympathetic" to the president's ambitions, and "likes" Obama's ideas for investment, but opposes the budget anyway. Apparently, it's not "moderate" enough.

Reading his very frustrating column, it seems clear that Brooks would be far more inclined to support the administration if only the president would tackle crises one at time, instead of addressing multiple challenges at the same time: "There is evidence of a party swept up in its own revolutionary fervor -- caught up in the self-flattering belief that history has called upon it to solve all problems at once."

The notion that multiple problems -- healthcare, energy, education, infrastructure, economic growth -- may be inter-connected seems to elude Brooks entirely.

The U.S. has never been a society riven by class resentment. Yet the Obama budget is predicated on a class divide. The president issued a read-my-lips pledge that no new burdens will fall on 95 percent of the American people. All the costs will be borne by the rich and all benefits redistributed downward.

Please. Not only is the Obama tax plan identical to the one endorsed by the electorate, but the top rate will simply return to the level it was at when the economy was strong.

The U.S. has always had vibrant neighborhood associations. But in its very first budget, the Obama administration raises the cost of charitable giving. It punishes civic activism and expands state intervention.

This is silly. There are already limits on charitable deductions for the wealthy; the administration would raise them slightly higher. This is a sound approach to progressive taxation; the money would be invested in a stronger safety net; and yet Brooks suggests "neighborhood associations" would somehow be at risk. It's nonsense.

Those of us in the moderate tradition -- the Hamiltonian tradition that believes in limited but energetic government -- thus find ourselves facing a void. We moderates are going to have to assert ourselves. We're going to have to take a centrist tendency that has been politically feckless and intellectually vapid and turn it into an influential force.

It is, in other words, time for moderation for moderation's sake. There's precious little in Brooks' "manifesto" about problem solving, or even criticism of the president's policy agenda. The NYT columnist simply wants to go slow for the sake of going slow, pursuing incremental changes for the same of incrementalism. It's not so much a philosophy or approach to governing, so much as it's a desire to drive with one foot on the brake.

Ed Kilgore, who has a terrific response, put it this way: "The 'moderation' Brooks is championing seems to represent little more than an instinctive reaction against any coherent plan of action, and a horror of following through with the logic of progressive -- and actually, 'moderate' -- analysis of why the economy has collapsed and what, specifically, needs to be done to revive the country."

What's more, Joe Klein argues that Brooks' approaches also lacks context: "We are at the end of a 30-year period of radical conservatism, a period so right-wing that many of those now considered 'liberals' -- like, say, Barack Obama -- would be seen as moderate pantywaists in the great sweep of modern political history. The past 30 years have been such a violent departure from the norm, such a profound destruction of the basic functions of government, that a major rectification is called for now -- in rebalancing the system of taxation toward progressivity, in rebuilding the infrastructure of the country, not just physically, but also socially and intellectually. So it's not surprising that the President would feel the need to move on all fronts, rather than prioritizing, as Brooks would want.... In almost every case, Obama has chosen a moderate path of government activism."

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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Comments

joe klein snapped out of his long-term funk somewhere a year or so back. as far as i'm concerned, he still needs 4 more years on probation, but he's got a chance.

as for brooks: let him sell his ideas to the republicans.

Posted by: howard on March 3, 2009 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

It's fun to watch all the Republicans publicly demonstrate what clueless dickwads they are.

I for one can't wait for November 2010. This time, they don't get to keep their guns and horses.

Posted by: TCinLA on March 3, 2009 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

Imagine if our founding fathers decided to take things slow, take a more moderate approach to dealing with England.

Imagine if Lincoln had taken a slow, more moderate approach to dealing with secessionists.

Imagine of Teddy Roosevelt took a slower, more moderate approach to trust busting.

Imagine if FDR took a slower, more moderate approach to the great depression and WWII.

Get the picture yet? Enormous problems call for enormous solutions. History has proven this time and time again.

Posted by: citizen_pain on March 3, 2009 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

I'm sure that, if President Obama were to take his time addressing America's myriad problems, Brooks and other conservatives would be very patient and understanding and give the president the benefit of the doubt.

Posted by: Chris S. on March 3, 2009 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

It has been said many times many ways, David Brooks is a pimple on a cockroach's ass.

Working on one problem at a time? If engineers/scientists tackled projects the way David Brooks wants Obama to run the government, we would be still working in the Manhattan project.

I suspect that it's because poor David is overwhelmed and needs some time to process it all. Considering the multiple massive headaches W left for Obama, Obama has no choice but to tackle multiple issues.

I suspect that Obama knows the universe and time don't wait for no one, even you, David Broosk.

Posted by: Former Dan on March 3, 2009 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

Former Dan, you're right. Brooks has always struck me as a simple-minded guy who gets by regurgitating anodyne phrases that play well to, to, to, ...?? Other simple-minded types, I guess.

Posted by: Greg Worley on March 3, 2009 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

as for brooks: let him sell his ideas to the republicans.

With his "Those of us in the moderate tradition" bullshit, Brooks is really about -- has always been about -- selling conservative ideology to moderates.

Posted by: Gregory on March 3, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

Lemme see - Both offensive and defensive lines are shot - No linebacking corps, no secondary - Running backs have pulled fetlocks and QB needs a hearing aid and glasses - So, David wants the GM to select a punter in the first round or even trade down so they won't have to pay first round prices.

Posted by: berttheclock on March 3, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, Former Dan, I don't think we'd still be working on the Manhattan Project. We would have been taken over by the Japanese, who would have finished the Manhattan Project in about two weeks and then proceeded to reduce Fat Man and Little Boy to the size of a microchip.

Posted by: The Fabulous Mr. Toad on March 3, 2009 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

Brooks wrote: "The U.S. has never been a society riven by class resentment."

Perhaps not, but the Republican Party is driven by class resentment: the resentment that America's Ultra-Rich Ruling Class, Inc. feels towards everyone else. The ultra-rich resent the fact that they only own almost everything, when it is their divine right to own absolutely everything.

Which is why for the last 30 years the Republican Party has successfully waged relentless, ruthless, rapacious class warfare on behalf of its ultra-rich corporate owners, against the American people.

Brooks wrote: "Yet the Obama budget is predicated on a class divide."

There is a very real "class divide" in the USA -- a greater class divide than in any other developed nation. The concentration of wealth in the hands of the ultra-rich ruling class is more extreme in the USA than in any other developed nation.

Brooks wrote: "All the costs will be borne by the rich and all benefits redistributed downward."

This is called "returning stolen goods to the rightful owner".

Brooks himself is nothing but a bought-and-paid-for liar and shill for the ultra-rich corporate ruling class that he pretends doesn't exist. That's the reason that his dishonesty, idiocy and vapidity "grace" the op-ed pages of a major newspaper.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 3, 2009 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

It has been said many times many ways, David Brooks is a pimple on a cockroach's ass. -Former Dan

So it was Brooks who got Rush the deferral. I knew it!

Posted by: doubtful on March 3, 2009 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

If, not for that deferral, just think of all the disinfectant that would have had to be used at Fort Lost in the Woods. But, General Zit could have been such a "contender".

Posted by: berttheclock on March 3, 2009 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

Brooks' "manifesto"

His "daily screed" is more like a destined-for-extinction pterodactyl scraping its talons across a yet-to-be-invented chalkboard. He knows his time is done; he knows he's destined for the junkyard of journalistic history (except as maybe a prima-facie example of what NOT to do when writing an editorial piece).

Posted by: Steve W. on March 3, 2009 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

It seems to me the whole point of Brooks column is to try to capture the term "moderate" for the traditionally conservative point of view. Of course, he presents no substance because that is not his point, his point is politics not policy.

I think there is a political battle to be had over what is the "center." Barack Obama is the center, David Brooks is a conservative, but if Brooks can use smoke and mirrors to present his positions as "moderate" it will benefit conservatives politically.

Many people look favorably on "moderation" in politics so its a hill worth capturing for he conservatives. No one should let them do it.

Posted by: Vicki Linton on March 3, 2009 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Everyone above has said it, but I feel the need to step forward and be counted: David Brooks is a wolf in sheep's clothing who makes a living by trying to convince sheep that wolves really aren't so bad.
"EAT you? C'mon, we've had our disagreements, but aside from a few unavoidable bad apples, wolves are mostly like me, happily chomping grass."
He then goes home and the other wolves pay him handsomely, in mutton.

Posted by: richard greenslade on March 3, 2009 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist your point is precise and describes the current situation well. Class warfare has been going on for centuries. the fact that a large majority of republicans don't understand this is the only thing keeping the repub party in existence right now.
Nobody's saying you can't make money. Nobody's saying you can't make lots of money. But it's not required to put the country back into feudalism while your doing it.

Posted by: Gandalf on March 3, 2009 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

The U.S. has never been a society riven by class resentment. Yet the Obama budget is predicated on a class divide.

Dude, what happened to your "conversation stoppers"? Those two sentences alone are enough to brand Brooks high king of wanking douchebaggery.

Brooks is in point-and-laugh territory here. This post is is like reading the red marks on a second graders math homework. Obvious.

Posted by: inkadu on March 3, 2009 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

For several years, Larry Kudlow was the only right winger yelling about "Class Warfare". So many would yawn and move on - About time for the American people to start realizing this warfare has been around for generations. Up until November, Krudsolow's side was, not only winning handily, but, running out the clock. Look at the history of the South, for one. Pre-Civil War, slavery with the slave owners being the elite in their various counties and parishes. Following the war, this changed to the large land owners and share croppers. Not much different from the two tier mining and timber towns of the West and Northwest. The reason those at the bottom were so afraid to bring up the inequities of this class warfare was a fear of losing what income they had. The loss of our post WWII created middle class has turned this nation into a large two tier society heading rapidly for third world status. Yes, keep "Class Warfare" in the minds of the populace and let them know who was responsible for their losses.

Posted by: berttheclock on March 3, 2009 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

The theory of Intelligent Budget Design holds that some budgetary decisions are irreducibly complex. But some people are just radical evolutionists.

Posted by: Ross Best on March 3, 2009 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

Quoth Brooks:

The U.S. has never been a society riven by class resentment.

This isn't really true historically. Its fairly true in the post-WWII period (not that there weren't enough non-class social divisions in that period) because of what Krugman refers to as the "Great Compression" during WWII and lasting effects, which only have really evaporated in the last generation, but intense, visible class resentment can take several generations to build and explode.

Obama's policy aims to restore some measure of the economic balance that has been eroded by the policies shifting the burden to the poor and middle class from the wealthy in the last few decades (particularly under Ronald Reagan and Bush the Younger.)

Brooks would have us wait until the continuation of policies favoring the wealthy has driven us to a state of literal, rather than merely figurative, class warfare before we do anything about the policy orientation that causes class conflict. And he would have us believe, I suppose, that the reason for this delay isn't a beneficiaries of the current policy who is hopeful that any reckoning can be delayed long enough that it doesn't personally affect his privilege.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 3, 2009 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

Joe Klein was so worthless a few years ago, but he's finally started talking some sense. The last couple years of the Bush-Cheney nightmare must have awakened him from his stupor and slapped some sense into him.

Posted by: nemo on March 3, 2009 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

Brooks wrote: All the costs will be borne by the rich and all benefits redistributed downward.

Every tax break that the rich have been given in the last 30 years was a transfer from the middle class retirement fund, Social Security. It's time for the rich to start paying back those funds.

Posted by: Wapiti on March 3, 2009 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

Heard the same thing from Gergen and Walker last night on CNN. Slow down, not so fast, fix economy first. . . . Let the hand wringing begin. . .

Posted by: Scott F on March 3, 2009 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

Let me put on my cardboard armor and say...in general, I like David Brooks. But every third column or so, he stuffs Eminently Reasonable David in the closet and Whiny Wingnut David jumps out.

This column was clearly written by WWD.
#1 - I would love to read a "Moderate Manifesto." That column was nothing of the sort. It was, as other posters have pointed out, a lot of hand-wringing, whining and conservative bellyaching.

#2 - There is nothing wrong with honest disagreements with what the President is doing. We're seeing an amazingly radical shift in policy here - nothing wrong with talking it through. But trying (once again,) to slip in some Stealth Reaganomics ain't gonna work right now.

Why?
From the New Republic via Sully:
"...will the country really stick with Obama as he attempts to enact his stunningly ambitious agenda? They just might. But not because the 44th president has reawakened the liberalism that's been slumbering in their souls since the summer of 1968. As National Review's Rich Lowry noted in a brief post last week, Obama is defending his agenda not in ideological but in pragmatic terms -- saying, in effect, "Hey, I'm not a big-government guy; it's just that the Republicans made such a wreck of the place that I have no choice but to do some big things to clean up the mess." And as Lowry recognizes, that's an argument that just might just persuade the American people to go along for the ride, shifting the political spectrum to the left for a generation, while also managing at long last to bury Reaganite conservatism.

Welcome to the realignment."

P.S. The GOP is the Taliban. Rush Limbaugh is their Mullah Omar. Also, he's a big, fat idiot.
Carry on.

Posted by: Cazart on March 3, 2009 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

Wapiti

Government workers pension plans, in particular teachers in the state of Illinois who are not subject to Social Security, are a transfer of wealth from the middle class retirement fund, social security and it's time thtat teachers start paying back those funds. Government workers, teachers, and union plans that return about 75% of their salary on retirement at age 55, are defined benefit plans, which have been disappearing in private industry since the advent of 401Ks. Government pension plans all have COLAS, which don't exist in private industry pension plans.

I have a relative who retired as a Physical education teacher at $150,000 annual salary. He started receiveing a pension at age 55 in the amount of 96,000 which will increase in 10 years to 124,000. This is absurd. Democratic party policies which cater to specific voting blocks and campaign contributors are as egrigous theft of money from the social security fund as any tax break to higher income workers. At least the higer income workers are supporting 42% of the federal budget. I would like to know why 50% of citizens pay no federal taxes at all and how years of programs such as the war on poverty have not workeed to expand the number of federal taxpayers and may in fact have the opposite effect.

Please don't accuse me of being a wealthy wingnut. I have been a democratic voter all of my life, but am now seeing how their catering to sub segments of the poplulation, such as teachers, attorney's, and others are resulting in a redistribution of tax dollars without the desired impact.

Posted by: Mary OK on March 3, 2009 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

Rebranding. Didn't Brooks describe himself as a conservative until recently ? Now he is advocating the same positions and describing them as centrist.

His claims that "The U.S. has never been a society riven by class resentment. Yet the Obama budget is predicated on a class divide." contradict each other. If a more progressive tax code is class warfare, the vast majority of US citizens are class warriors.

Polling is clear (and has been for decades) the vast majority of US citizens want taxes on the rich and corporations to be increased and taxes on the poor to be cut.

pollingreport has mixed taxes in with budget but click here http://tinyurl.com/awszh and search for "fair share".

Brooks claims that he knows what the US people think better than we do.

Of course, what he means is that the political and media elite decided that any effort to increase progressivity is un-American.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on March 3, 2009 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

The U.S. has never been a society riven by class resentment.

What?????? Brooks is an idiot who quite obviously doesn't know his history. The US has always had a strong streak of class resentment and conflict. See, for example, the entire labor movement of the mid-19th to early-20th centuries, the Tompkins Square riots, the Molly Maguires, Joe Hill and the Wobblies, the Thibodeaux Massacre, the Homestead strike, Cripple Creek, Mother Jones, the Ludlow Massacre, etc.

Posted by: Stefan on March 3, 2009 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

"The U.S. has never been a society riven by class resentment."

I could barely stop laughing after reading that.

I suspect that this is the fundamental myth that guides the thinking of the villagers. They honestly have bought into the idea that America is a classless society.

Posted by: Chris Andersen on March 3, 2009 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

'The U.S. has never been a society riven by class resentment.' - Brooks

That's a flat out lie. I was amazed at how much class friction and fraci(the plural of fracus) there were even prior to the Declaration. The relative quiet times are only since the New Deal and WW2, as catloged in Howard Zinn's 'Peoples History of the United States'.

Long term relative prosperity and serious, unrelenting propaganda, has lead people to forget what lying, thieving bastards the rich and powerful are when left to their own devices. They are no better than we are!!

Posted by: Michael7843853 on March 3, 2009 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

Robert Waldemann

This statement "Polling is clear (and has been for decades) the vast majority of US citizens want taxes on the rich and corporations to be increased and taxes on the poor to be cut." is a reflection of the "tyranny of the majority" that Alexis de Toqueville warned against. Of course, since most people aren't rich, they want taxes increased on some other group. That's no surpise. As I understand it, tax cuts have been granted to the poor to the point that 50% pay none at all. There have been massive great society programs which have tried to open opportunity to more citizens and they have resulted in the opposite just as sure as policies which benefit the rich.

Posted by: Mary OK on March 3, 2009 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

"...P.S. The GOP is the Taliban. Rush Limbaugh is their Mullah Omar. Also, he's a big, fat idiot.
Carry on...."

Correction, he is a big, fat, eastern European gangster looking sleazeball idiot.

Tip to Letterman last night. If you haven't seen him cracking on Rush you need to, it's awesome.

Posted by: citizen_pain on March 3, 2009 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

maryok, you obviously don't understand what you're talking about: you appear to have the standard right-wing confusion that sales taxes, FICA taxes, and other state and local taxes don't count when we discuss "paying taxes."

in reality, when you aggregate the total tax burden, national, state, and local, we have pretty close to a flat tax system.

you also need to explain to us how it is the gdp growth was so strong in the '50s, when marginal tax rates were much, much, much higher on the high income than they are now. surely you've got an answer....

Posted by: howard on March 3, 2009 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

Mary OK wrote: "Of course, since most people aren't rich, they want taxes increased on some other group. That's no surpise. As I understand it, tax cuts have been granted to the poor to the point that 50% pay none at all."

Under the Clinton-era tax rates, the after-tax incomes -- and let me repeat that, the AFTER-TAX incomes -- of the richest Americans skyrocketed. Not only did the rich get richer than any other sector of the population, they got richer faster than any other sector of the population.

Those are the tax rates that Obama wants to restore -- by allowing the huge Bush tax cuts for the rich to expire on schedule. And that scheduled expiration was written into the law by Republicans when the tax cuts were enacted.

The idea that Obama is some kind of socialist wealth-redistributor is laughable nonsense.

Obama simply wants the Bush tax cuts to expire exactly as Bush and the Republicans originally proposed they should, which will return the USA to Clinton-era tax rates for the richest Americans, tax rates which were already lower that those that existed in the Reagan administration, and under which the richest Americans' AFTER-TAX incomes skyrocketed.

And your complaint about the poorest Americans -- people who are struggling just to survive -- paying no taxes at all would be more "fair and balanced" if you also mentioned that some of the richest and most powerful corporations in America pay no income taxes at all.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 3, 2009 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Keep in mind the real need for a more progressive tax code.

The CBO thinks that we already have such a tax code, but how they define taxes and income (thus an effective tax rate for a group of taxpayers) is very important:

1. Taxes paid by corporations are considered as both income and taxes for the corporation's owners. This is a 100% tax rate. The effect is to increase the effective tax rate for people who own corporations.

2. Payments into FICA are considered as both income and taxes. This pushes more people into higher income brackets. This also dilutes the "average" income in that bracket, and makes the tax rate look higher for that bracket. Remember that those just below the threshold for the next bracket pay a much lower effective tax rate than those who just make it into that bracket.


It may not be obvious why these two definitions of taxes and income distort the concept of a progressive tax system, but consider that corporate profit (divided into taxes paid, dividends paid and retained earnings) could just as easily be considered as a tax on the employees of that corporation (and income). The money could just as easily be spent to increase wages. Corporations can always close out the year with zero profit by paying their employees. The IRS would love it since they would make more money.

Posted by: tomj on March 3, 2009 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

I read Brooks' column this morning and was left scratching my head. Why is he addressing this drivel at the President? The President has already consulted with the "loyal" opposition (that are endorsing the views of those who openly root for him to fail), and watered down his stimulus bill to address some of their concerns. So what did he get? Three votes in the Senate and none in the House. BFD. When Grover Norquist pronounced "bipartisanship" to be another word for date-rape, none of these good Republicans that I know of denounced him and now they are playing out their hand...good for them.

If Brooks really wants to see the moderate view advanced he needs to work on getting his own party to start playing ball with the President. Obama has already amply demonstrated that he is no chump.

When I read these words:

Those of us in the moderate tradition -- the Hamiltonian tradition that believes in limited but energetic government -- thus find ourselves facing a void. We moderates are going to have to assert ourselves. We're going to have to take a centrist tendency that has been politically feckless and intellectually vapid and turn it into an influential force.

all I could think was, who is this "we" he speaks of? Three friggin Republican Senators? Given the united opposition of the Republican minority in both the House and the Senate, there is no incentive for any Democrat to moderate his views in any respect, and every incentive for them to present an equally united front in steamrolling the "loyal" opposition.

Posted by: majun on March 3, 2009 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

See, for example, the entire labor movement of the mid-19th to early-20th centuries, the Tompkins Square riots, the Molly Maguires, Joe Hill and the Wobblies, the Thibodeaux Massacre, the Homestead strike, Cripple Creek, Mother Jones, the Ludlow Massacre, etc.

The Bonus Army. The Grapes of Wrath. Woody Guthrie. Sacco and Vanzetti. Thugs like Dillinger cast as folk heroes for robbing banks....

Posted by: Gregory on March 3, 2009 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

MaryOK:

I don't know how pension laws in Illinois work, but I would be very surprised if teachers did not pay into Social Security as well as into pension funds.

Here is Arizona, city, county, and state employees (teachers are part of that category) both pay Social Security, AND pay into either the state retirement system, or if in the education field at the college/university level, pay into TIAA-CREF, a pension plan especially geared toward university professors and other academic professionals such as librarians. This plan is not university-specific so that professors etc. can move from university to university without losing pension benefits.

But I assure you that as a retired librarian, I paid into BOTH Social Security and a pension plan. So now I'm collecting on WHAT I PAID. It's true that if I live long enough I will outlive the amount I paid into both systems, but who knows? Moreover, I helped support people older than myself while I was working (37 years as librarian, 4 years doing other things).

Retirement is not welfare. And yes, those who made a higher salary while working collect higher pension benefits. Do you think that's unfair?

Posted by: Wolfdaughter on March 3, 2009 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Here’s the real problem, in what must make Krugman shake his head. Geithner and Summers fought, and won, inside Team Obama, to put a cap on the stimulus amount. The Dems’ top two neolib economic minds going neo-Hooverite. Gotta love it.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on March 3, 2009 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist:

Thanks for your comments. More civil than most who comment on this site.

I don't disagree with you. I haven't called Obama a socialist. Still, I don't understand how the fact that the income of the wealthy rose in the Bush era was totally due to tax cuts. Perhaps it was due to global competition, which they were in a better position to take advantage of because they are not blue collar workers or because they are better educated. I don't understand how their growth in wealth made the poor more poor, other than the fact that there were less tax dollars to spend on entitlements or programs designed to help them acquire job skills.

You spoke about rich and powerful corporations. I thought the discussions here were about taxes on individuals. I don't know which rich and powerful corporation pay no income taxes at all. I used to work for a large insurance company that did not pay income taxes based on legitimate tax laws, but that was changed with the alternate minimum tax. Large companies pay all sorts of taxes and surcharges on their products for some sort of social goals as well as charitable donations, including matching funds for the donations of their employees. They not only have to deal with government regulation, but the surcharges on their products to fund the regulators. They employ people, provide severance when they have to lay them off, and have to compete in a global world that changes daily.

Also, I didn't complain about the 50% of people who don't pay taxes. I merely observed that it is so. I don't really understand how raising or reducing the taxes of the rich is going to change this, given all the government programs dedicated to supporting this group of citizens. Is the plight of the poor really the exclusive fault of the rich? Many of the posters on this board sound like they think it is.

As someone who is neither rich nor poor, and who has supported the democratic agenda for most of my adult life, I am focussing on the traditional constituencies of the democratic party to see if they are getting disproportionate advantage based on their relationship to elected officials. Teachers in the state of Illinois have a pension plan that is as obscene as it is underfunded. Education has gotten more expensive, but not better, despite lotteries that were supposed to solve funding problems. The democratic party supports sheltering educators from competition by not supporting school choice, even though the private sector taxpayers have to deal with global competition daily without the job protection that teachers enjoy. Trial attorneys become wealthy suing schools, municipalities, health care providers, adding costs. The democrats aren't big on tort reform. The democratic party has a more appealing immigration policy that has resulted in more illegal immigration, more strain on our social services and more democratic voters.

Our elected officials of either party have not spent our money wisely, no matter how good their intentions. Perhaps the democratic party can look at their own failures in public policy and spending, rather than point the finger at the other party. Chris Dodd and Barney Frank have failed the public by not taking their oversight responsibilities seriously. The fact that Republicans failed as well does not make the Democrats any more attractive.

I don't suppose that whomever voted for "change" voted to take substantially more money out of their own pocket to give it to someone else. Personally, I think everyone is going to see tax increases - not just the rich, except the 50% who don't pay anything. They will also get a larger benefit from taxes, unless the corrupt or various voting blocks like teachers and trial attorneys siphon it off. I am not sure that I would feel our country is going in the right direction if that type of tax and spending policies accelerates.

Posted by: Mary Ok on March 3, 2009 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

I winced at Brooks' phrase "we moderates." By the end of his article, I still wasn't sure to whom he was referring. Perhaps he means people of a certain sensibility, like "right-wingers with manners."

Posted by: sophie in va on March 3, 2009 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

Wolfdaughter

School teachers in the state of Illinois, as well as state elected officialsand their staffs, do not pay Social Security and cannot collect it. They pay into their pension plan, but not enough to support the benefits. Defined benefit plans are very difficult to sustain, that is why they have been phased out in private industy and why private industry does not offer a COLA. At one point, teachers were thought to be underpaid. I don't think that is the case anymore in Illinois. They get 75% of their last five years of income in pension benefits, often deliberately inflated by double digit salary increases in the last five years before retirement. Long term employees can retire early. Social Security has never provided benefits like these, and neither do most private industry pension plans, unless there is some sort of union involved. You don't see COLA's in private industry plans, union or not.

Arizona is a red state and probably does not have a union tradition. Illinois is a blue state and its union is an important constituency of the Democratic party. The pensions plans of educators has been the subject of many newspaper articles lately. Twenty nine educators - largely adminstrators, get larger pensions than Bill Clinton. It's obscene. We are facing a tax increase in Illinois to pay for these 50% underfunded pension plans of government employees at the same time the federal government is talking about reducing private contractors in favor of hiring more workers with better benefits, who have similar pension programs. In the meantime, the administration is looking to increase Social Security taxes, cut benefits, raise the age at which one can collect. They better be dealing with workers not subject to Social Security as well, especially state employees who have a racket going, as best I can tell.

Posted by: Mary OK on March 3, 2009 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Also, I didn't complain about the 50% of people who don't pay taxes. I merely observed that it is so.

But it isn't so -- people may not pay Federal income tax, but they still pay the regressive FICA tax, gasoline, sales, state, local and Ford knows what other taxes. Which is, of course, what the Federal credits are designed to mitigate.

You were corrected on this point -- which is taken straight from the Right's propaganda -- and yet you repeat it. Help us understand how such behavior is deserving of "civility" in response?

One last point: Perhaps the democratic party can look at their own failures in public policy and spending, rather than point the finger at the other party.

Given that the Republicans have been in charge of public policy over the past eight years -- with disastrous results, thank you very much -- perhaps not. Let's see how that would work: The Republicans criticize Democratic policy; the Democrats criticize Democratic policy. Works out well, that -- if you're a Republican.

Thank you for your concern.

Posted by: Gregory on March 3, 2009 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder if Brooks can even entertain the thought that Obama was really needing his approval or support for his budget. Or would it occur to Brooks that perhaps Obama did not have him in mind when he made those statements as a candidate. Or is Brooks's narcissism just too enormous for either of those ideas to come to his mind?

Posted by: digitusmedius on March 3, 2009 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

Greogry, if you want to have a separate conversation about state and local taxes. we can. The poster who supposedly corrected me did not cite a source. No one is questioning the federal tax statistics being widely quoted. Did they come from the CBO?

Maybe you are not aware that the poor get tax breaks at the state and local level too. For example, they can get their property taxes capped. I can not, even though I am not wealthy. If they have no federal income tax, they likely don't pay a state income tax. Yes, they pay payroll taxes and they will be eligible for social security and disability and will collect like all who pay. It wouldn't surprise me if social security receipts will one day be means tested, like the medicare proposal. Yes, I concede that they may the highly regressive sales tax, but so do I along with state, federal and local taxes. I also donate to charities that support the poor.

The schools here are supported by property taxes. Even if you don't live in an affluent community, if you can fund your own schools to the minimum level required, you don't get a significant state or federal subsidy. Schools in poorer neighborhoods receive significant federal and state tax dollars, along with grants funded by charities.

Actually, the Congress has been democratic for the last two year, so they bear some blame for the current problems. They did not work on a bipartisan basis with the republicans on the banking committee, and you can see the results. Other problems, such as energy and education, are the result of failures that have lasted decades. The democrats have been in control of both houses of congress for the majority of the last thirty years, Illinois, the city of Chicago and the county of Cook Democrats are a national laughing stock.


You nor anyone else, has addreesed how you think the rich have made the poor more poor, other than being against entitlement spending, of which there has been plenty. Or why you think more taxes on the rich will help the poor become more affluent.

Nor have you addressed the absurd pensions teachers get, and how perhaps those might be diverted to shools or how tort reform might lead to more money for public institutions that get sued for all sorts of odd things.

No, taxing the wealthy seems the only plan you have that might succeed. As for criticizing democrats, its not about partisanship, remember.

It's clear, that if you had to run a competitive business where you could not continously raise your customers prices without losing them, you could not succeed.

It's also clear that Congress knows nothing about the financial system, at least not enough to have protected the tax payers from this crisis. Too busy raising money for reelection.

Posted by: Mary Ok on March 3, 2009 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

"The notion that multiple problems ...may be inter-connected seems to elude Brooks entirely."

And what exactly, given his past history, did you expect?

"The U.S. has never been a society riven by class resentment."

Of course not. The Pinkerton forces being sent against the striking miners had nothing to do with class resentment. LaFollette and Bryan and the populist movement had nothing to do with class resentment. Brooks isn't a twit.

"All the costs will be borne by the rich and all benefits redistributed downward."

No, dope. As long as I pay taxes (payroll as well as income), I am bearing part of the costs. And to claim that the rich are ineligible for Medicare, Social Security, any health programs that may come, etc. is being more than just a little dishonest.

"us in the moderate tradition"

This has been addressed above by numerous posters. Brooks wouldn't know a moderate tradition if it ran over him with a bus.


Posted by: Texas Aggie on March 3, 2009 at 7:22 PM | PERMALINK

"I would like to know why 50% of citizens pay no federal taxes at all"

Why should you "know" something that is manifestly untrue? This statement is unequivocally false.

"He started receiveing a pension at age 55 in the amount of 96,000 which will increase in 10 years to 124,000."

Uh-huh, right, sure, whatever you say. Do tell us more about these mythical teachers making $150,000, won't you?

"how years of programs such as the war on poverty have not workeed to expand the number of federal taxpayers and may in fact have the opposite effect."

And another false statement. The programs worked, Mary, or at least they did until they were dramatically undermined, beginning with Reagan and continuing for another nearly three decades of "class warfare."

"is a reflection of the 'tyranny of the majority' that Alexis de Toqueville warned against."

Or it could simply be a reflection of the reality of the current situation, as taxes on business and the wealthy have dramatically decreased over the past few decades, with no matching economic benefit to the country or to anyone else.

"As I understand it, tax cuts have been granted to the poor to the point that 50% pay none at all."

You "understand" nothing at all, since this statement is flatly incorrect.

"There have been massive great society programs which have tried to open opportunity to more citizens and they have resulted in the opposite"

No Mary, they haven't, which is why you can't name a single one, nor document this statement with anything resembling real data. You're simply spouting mindless rightwing drivel.

Posted by: PaulB on March 3, 2009 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

"Greogry, if you want to have a separate conversation about state and local taxes. we can."

Why should we have a "separate" conversation? Why do certain types of federal taxes matter more than others, in your mind? Why should sales taxes, city taxes, county taxes, property taxes, state taxes, and so on, not "count"?

"Maybe you are not aware that the poor get tax breaks at the state and local level too."

No shit, Sherlock, but not on things like property taxes and sales taxes, which are emphatically not progressive.

"For example, they can get their property taxes capped."

Really? In which states? And by how much?

"If they have no federal income tax, they likely don't pay a state income tax."

In other words, you'r making shit up.

"Yes, I concede that they may the highly regressive sales tax, but so do I along with state, federal and local taxes."

Which means that your posts here have been full of shit.

"Schools in poorer neighborhoods receive significant federal and state tax dollars, along with grants funded by charities."

ROFL... In short, you're making shit up.

"Actually, the Congress has been democratic for the last two year, so they bear some blame for the current problems."

Sorry, Bush owns this recession. He got everything he asked for; he wanted to own the results; now he does.

"They did not work on a bipartisan basis with the republicans on the banking committee, and you can see the results."

ROFLMAO... Sorry, but you are, once again, completely full of shit.

"You nor anyone else, has addreesed how you think the rich have made the poor more poor"

Dear heart, why should we answer a "when did you stopped beating your wife" question? It's a silly question that doesn't need to be "addressed;" it needs to be mocked for the silliness that it is.

"Or why you think more taxes on the rich will help the poor become more affluent."

Come back when you've read some U.S. history, dear.

"Nor have you addressed the absurd pensions teachers get"

Mostly because you're making shit up there, as well.

"or how tort reform might lead to more money for public institutions that get sued for all sorts of odd things."

ROFLMAO.... Like I said, making shit up. Tell me, is there *anything* in your head that wasn't placed there by Rush Limbaugh?

"No, taxing the wealthy seems the only plan you have that might succeed."

Dear heart, we're returning the tax rates to where they were before. Why is this a problem for you?

"It's clear, that if you had to run a competitive business where you could not continously raise your customers prices without losing them, you could not succeed."

It's also clear that you're a moron, wholly ignorant of history and economics. Feel free to come back when you've actually got the data to back up this drivel. Until then, we'll just be laughing at you as the dead-ender that you are.

Posted by: PaulB on March 3, 2009 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK

"Social Security has never provided benefits like these, and neither do most private industry pension plans, unless there is some sort of union involved. You don't see COLA's in private industry plans, union or not."

And your point is, what, exactly? That we need more unions so that more people can have these plans? Sounds good to me!

Funny that you don't see fit to mention that many of the wealthy do, in fact, have defined benefit plans, that companies often have trouble paying for these plans, that the money spent for some of those plans could easily provide such plans for the entire company work force. Why is it that you're fixated on the regular employees and unions?

By the way, this whole fixation of yours on the topic of Illinois teachers has not one damn thing to do with the subject of this thread and does not one damn thing to support any point you are trying to make on restoring the tax rate on those who make more than $250,000.

Posted by: PaulB on March 3, 2009 at 7:42 PM | PERMALINK

"Thanks for your comments. More civil than most who comment on this site."

We don't suffer fools gladly here, nor do I see any reason why we should. Sadly, you are, manifestly, a fool, and your every post here confirms that.

"Still, I don't understand how the fact that the income of the wealthy rose in the Bush era was totally due to tax cuts."

It wasn't, nor has anyone claimed that it has. Nice strawman. That the tax cuts, and other Bush administration policies, helped, is undeniable.

"Perhaps it was due to global competition, which they were in a better position to take advantage of because they are not blue collar workers or because they are better educated."

ROFLMAO.... Oh my, you're just the gift that keeps on giving. You know nothing but you just keep on blathering away as though we're supposed to take your woefully uneducated guesses seriously.

"You spoke about rich and powerful corporations. I thought the discussions here were about taxes on individuals."

Why would you think that?

"I don't know which rich and powerful corporation pay no income taxes at all."

Then why are you here arguing on this topic?

[Irrelevant crap deleted since it did nothing to bolster Mary's points nor argue against anyone else's.]

"Also, I didn't complain about the 50% of people who don't pay taxes. I merely observed that it is so."

Stupidly and wrongly. And of course you're whining about it; your every post here has whined about it!

"I don't really understand how raising or reducing the taxes of the rich is going to change this, given all the government programs dedicated to supporting this group of citizens. Is the plight of the poor really the exclusive fault of the rich? Many of the posters on this board sound like they think it is."

ROFL... Nice strawman. Do point us to the "many of the posters on this board" who have said anything even remotely like this, won't you?

"As someone who is neither rich nor poor, and who has supported the democratic agenda for most of my adult life"

Uh-huh, right, Mary. Tell us another one.

"I am focussing on the traditional constituencies of the democratic party to see if they are getting disproportionate advantage based on their relationship to elected officials."

And, man, are you failing miserably, since, so far, all you have so some seriously uneducated blather about "teachers in the state of Illinois," which does not one damn thing to support your case.

"The democratic party supports sheltering educators from competition by not supporting school choice"

ROFL.... See what I mean about mindless, rightwing drivel?

"Trial attorneys become wealthy suing schools, municipalities, health care providers, adding costs."

Q.E.D.

"The democrats aren't big on tort reform."

No shit, Sherlock, mostly because "tort reform" is a stupid policy.

"The democratic party has a more appealing immigration policy that has resulted in more illegal immigration, more strain on our social services and more democratic voters."

ROFL... And yet more mindless, rightwing drivel.

"Perhaps the democratic party can look at their own failures in public policy and spending, rather than point the finger at the other party."

Well, sure, if that were relevant to anything happening today, which, alas for you, it is not.

"Chris Dodd and Barney Frank have failed the public by not taking their oversight responsibilities seriously."

No, dear, they haven't. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had virtually nothing to do with the current state of affairs, which you would have known were you getting your information from non-rightwing sources.

"The fact that Republicans failed as well does not make the Democrats any more attractive."

Hmm... let's see... Insane policies that led to the current crisis vs. sane policies that are trying to correct that crisis. Nope, no difference at all.

"I don't suppose that whomever voted for "change" voted to take substantially more money out of their own pocket to give it to someone else."

ROFL... How would you know, dear?

"Personally, I think everyone is going to see tax increases - not just the rich, except the 50% who don't pay anything."

You just love that lie, don't you, dear? In any case, why don't you come back if and when your fantasies come true.

"I am not sure that I would feel our country is going in the right direction if that type of tax and spending policies accelerates."

Dear heart, given your manifest ignorance, why should we care about your opinion?

Posted by: PaulB on March 3, 2009 at 7:56 PM | PERMALINK

Mary,

"I don't understand how the fact that the income of the wealthy rose in the Bush era was totally due to tax cuts."

The fact that income for the wealthy rose in the Bush era was due not only to the tax cuts, but also to their ability to determine who got paid what. You surely noticed that the income for middle and lower levels remained stagnant or dropped during the Bush era. This wasn't due to education (middle level people are educated, too), but to the fact that the workers lost the ability to deal with employers on an equal basis thanks to other changes on workers' rights done by the Bush regime.

"the 50% of people who don't pay taxes. "

Making up statistics is NOT considered ethical. A kid working at MacDonald's still pays a bunch of taxes into SS and Medicare. Anyone who has a job is paying taxes.

"given all the government programs dedicated to supporting this group of citizens."

For instance? Social Security maybe? Medicare? Other than food stamps and Medicaid, there isn't a whole lot of money being spent on the poor. When you think about the tax breaks that the rich have been getting such as deductions on the mortgage for their second, third and more homes, the ability to write off expenses, lower tax rates on their income (less than half a worker's rate) because it is from dividends rather than wages, the billions that corporations get from government subsidies and tax benefits, ...

Have you never heard of the "poor tax?" It is the extra cost that the poor incur because of where they are forced to live and the costs that they have to bear in order to do things that middle class people have given to them. A taxi to a grocery store costs a lot more than driving a car, but the poor can't afford a car. A check cashing service charges more than a bank does, but there aren't any banks within walking distance of the poor. Food at a Mom and Pop store is a lot more expensive than a supermarket, but there aren't any supermarkets near the poor areas. Borrowing is a lot more expensive if you live in a poor area even if you have a middle class salary (It's called redlining). Space limits the description of the numerous ways that life costs more when you are poor.

"Trial attorneys become wealthy suing schools, municipalities, health care providers, adding costs. "

This one should have died a long time ago. It is one of the favorite lies of the rightwing plutocrats who want the ability to screw the consumer as much as possible without having to take responsibility for their actions. That you even suggest it brings into question your credibility.

"more democratic voters."

To claim that somehow illegal immigrants are voting in the elections in even minor numbers automatically destroys any credibility that you ever had. It shows that you are either a right wing mole or that you really have absolutely no idea of what is going on in the US. May I suggest that you get out in the real world, turn off Fox "News", and become acquainted with reality?

Posted by: Texas Aggie on March 3, 2009 at 8:02 PM | PERMALINK

"I don't know how pension laws in Illinois work, but I would be very surprised if teachers did not pay into Social Security as well as into pension funds."

On this, I think Mary is actually correct, as is her point that the pension is underfunded, particularly these days as all investments have gone south. Most of the rest of her drivel is incorrect, like the silliness that teachers have enough control to artificially raise their salaries shortly before they retire, or the talk about retiring at age 55, when the average teacher retires at age 69, or blathering about a supposed 150,000 salary when the average teacher makes far less.

Mary also doesn't tell you that that the average state employee's pension (counting all state workers, not just teachers), is a whopping $18,000 per year, or that teachers contribute roughly 10% of their salary towards their pensions, or that if a teacher's ending salary was $80,000, she could expect to earn roughly 48,000 in their first year of retirement, which strikes me as quite reasonable, and so on. Funny how she doesn't mention those other things.

Posted by: PaulB on March 3, 2009 at 8:11 PM | PERMALINK

The voters rejected McCain and Bush. Obama's honeymoon is about over as his spending is quite literally insane. Just more voodoo economics.

Posted by: Luther on March 3, 2009 at 8:47 PM | PERMALINK

"The voters rejected McCain and Bush."

Yes, they did, just as they rejected Republican Congressmen, Senators, and policies.

"Obama's honeymoon is about over as his spending is quite literally insane."

ROFL... Dear heart, you shouldn't use words you don't know the meaning of. You should also look at Obama's ratings and reputation before burying him prematurely.

"Just more voodoo economics."

No, dear, it's not. His proposals are actually based on quite sound economic policies. And compared to the alternative, more tax cuts costing four times as much, the policies are sanity itself.

Posted by: PaulB on March 3, 2009 at 11:15 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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