Political Animal


October 11, 2011 3:30 PM About those ‘53 percent’

By Steve Benen

Republicans have been preoccupied for much of the year with those Americans who don’t make enough money to qualify for a federal income tax burden. Some are working-class families who fall below the tax threshold; some are unemployed; some are students; and some are retired. These Americans still pay sales taxes, state taxes, local taxes, Social Security taxes, Medicare/Medicaid taxes, and in many instances, property taxes, but not federal income taxes.

This, apparently, annoys the right to no end. It’s why all kinds of Republican officials — including Mitt Romney and Rick Perry — want to “fix” what they see as a “problem,” even if it means raising taxes on those who can least afford it.

This argument is even manifesting itself in a new “movement” of sorts, intended to respond to progressive activists calling for economic justice.

Conservative activists have created a Tumblr called “We are the 53 percent” that’s meant to be a counterpunch to the viral “We are the 99 percent” site that’s become a prominent symbol for the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Tumblr is supposed to represent the 53 percent of Americans who pay federal income taxes, and its assumption is that the Wall Street protesters are part of the 46 percent of the country who don’t. “We are the 53 percent” was originally the brainchild of Erick Erickson, founder of RedState.org, who worked together with Josh Trevino, communications director for the right-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation, and conservative filmmaker Mike Wilson to develop the concept, according to Trevino.

The overriding message is that the protesters have failed to take personal responsibility, blaming their economic troubles on others.

There are all kinds of problems with the right’s approach here, including the fact that they seem to want to increase working-class taxes and also seem entirely unaware of the fact that it was Republican tax cuts that pushed so many out of income-tax eligibility in the first place. There’s also the small matter of some of those claiming to be in “the 53 percent” aren’t actually shouldering a federal income tax burden at all, but are apparently unaware of that fact.

But putting that aside, take a look at Erick Erickson’s argument, presented in a hand-written message posted to the Tumblr blog: “I work three jobs. I have a house I can’t sell. My family insurance costs are outrageous. But I don’t blame Wall Street. Suck it up you whiners. I am the 53% subsidizing you so you can hang out on Wall Street and complain.”

Just for heck of it, let’s take this one at a time.

The very idea that Erickson works “three jobs” is rather foolish.

Blaming financial industry corruption and mismanagement for Erickson’s troubles selling his house is actually quite reasonable.

If Erickson’s reference to “family insurance costs” is in reference to health care premiums, he’ll be glad to know the Affordable Care Act passed, and includes all kinds of breaks for small businesses like his.

And the notion that victims of a global economic collapse, who are seeking some relief from a system stacked in favor of the wealthy, are “whiners” is so blisteringly stupid, it amazes me someone would present the argument in public.

If there are any actual “whiners” in this scenario, shouldn’t the label go to millionaires who shudder at the idea of paying Clinton-era tax rates?

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • Linkmeister on October 11, 2011 3:40 PM:

    Erickson may be counting his city council job, if he hasn't been booted off yet.

  • @the_dan on October 11, 2011 3:49 PM:

    Has Erickson not heard that job seekers still outnumber job openings almost 5-to-1? Pokes a rather significant hole in his self-congratulatory, contemptuous little mental sky.

  • Memekiller on October 11, 2011 3:50 PM:

    Well, if the un-, under-employed and those not making enough to be taxed want income equality so bad, shouldn't they be the ones to pay for it?

  • Derek on October 11, 2011 3:55 PM:

    There is also the issue of a striking cognitive dissonance at the very core of this argument ...

    The radical right wants to lower taxes, drastically in many cases (contemporary Libertarians seem to think the entire concept should be outlawed altogether).

    Yet, those who are "living the dream" (the 47% who aren't burdened by the state taking what's rightfully theirs -- more Libertarian nonsense) are somehow not doing their part? The part these whiners (Erickson and his ilk) are simultaneously deriding in practice, yet advocating in theory?? Ignorance is surely bliss.

  • Josef K on October 11, 2011 3:57 PM:

    I can't resist.

    The very idea that Erickson works “three jobs” is rather foolish.

    Depends on whether he's getting paid under the table (which wouldn't surprise me).

    Blaming financial industry corruption and mismanagement for Erickson’s troubles selling his house is actually quite reasonable.

    Depends on how many wink-wink/nod-nod relationships he was depending on to do so.

    If Erickson’s reference to “family insurance costs” is in reference to health care premiums, he’ll be glad to know the Affordable Care Act passed, and includes all kinds of breaks for small businesses like his.

    Depends on how much he actually cares about his 'family' (whoever/whatever they are). The man's lack of empathy leaves me to wonder.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on October 11, 2011 4:01 PM:

    If they expect this blame-the-victim nonsense to resonate with voters, they're as stupid as they are scary. Almost everyone not part of the elite knows someone out of work. As soon as the unemployed are no longer just "them", but also some of "us", public perception changes.

  • Ray Waldren on October 11, 2011 4:04 PM:

    Here's another example -- you are a senior citizen & life long loyal Republican, thanks to Republicans a few years back who wanted the drug plan in Medicare part D to be less expensive, they created the "doughnut hole" and as a result you have been paying a larger amount of your income, savings, etc. each year. Out of pocket medical expenses become deductions netted against 7.5% of your income -- ergo no income, no taxes.

    Leave the affordable care act alone and the doughnut hole disappears as does the impact on your taxable income. Overturn it and more people will pay less taxes as their taxable income is reduced by even higher costs.

  • Chris- The Fold on October 11, 2011 4:08 PM:

    99% > 53% Just saying

  • PTate in MN on October 11, 2011 4:17 PM:

    Given the mileage that the conservatives have gotten out of their 53% whinge, I am inclined to think the decision to exclude everyone earning less than a certain amount from federal income taxes was part of a cunning one-two punch strategy. First, they reasoned, we end federal income taxes on 47% of Americans. Then we whine and complain and make political hay because it is so unfair that 47% of Americans pay no taxes.

    I am of the mind, given how Republicans have exploited this, to create a special federal income tax status so everyone pays something. Maybe something like $120 a year. Then, since everyone has some skin in the game, we put a surcharge on millionaires of 59% and pay for services to that bottom 47% that more than offsets what they pay in federal income tax.

    BTW, Erick Erickson is a nasty piece of work. Conservatives seem to attract and glorify these sub-human types. You can't trust anything he claims. It isn't just that he lacks all virtue; it is that he has created a whole new category of viciousness.

  • Renee Dumas on October 11, 2011 4:18 PM:

    What's worse than a whiner? A kiss-ass. And that's exactly what Erickson is, puckering up to smooch his rich daddies where the Sun don't shine.

    The only option for a real American man is to assert himself when someone tries to step all over him. That's why you see those truck drivers and airline pilots down there marching on Wall Street.

    This picture tells me that Erickson forgot the meaning of manhood years ago.

  • g on October 11, 2011 4:18 PM:

    So he has a house he can't sell. Why is that, do you suppose? Is it because he's upside down on his equity, since Wall Street gambled on the mortgage market? Is it because buyers can't get loasns from banks? Is it because his neighborhood has become less attractive due to foreclosures and empty run-down houses?

  • Mitch on October 11, 2011 4:21 PM:

    How are the Dems not destroying the Republicans with this?

    "Hey, America: You know how the Republicans claim to be against raising taxes? You know how they fight tooth and nail to keep the top 1% from paying taxes? You know how they would rather give money to Big Oil than make them pay a dime of income tax? Well they want to raise your taxes, especially those who earn the least. [insert legion of Repug quotes here]"

    It is stupid of the Republicans to make this a part of their agenda; it is even stupider that Democrats are not crucifying them with their own words.

  • QuestionEverything on October 11, 2011 4:22 PM:

    "The Tumblr is supposed to represent the 53 percent of Americans who pay federal income taxes, and its assumption is that the Wall Street protesters are part of the 46 percent of the country who don’t." - Suzy Khimm

    53 + 46 = 99%

    Try 47% and now you're playing with a full deck, Dipsh*#

  • stormskies on October 11, 2011 4:29 PM:

    And it is these sadistic pigs like Erickson, the 53 percent crap, who in fact coddle the Corporations that pay ZERO taxes at all, and who coddle creatures like the hedge fund managers whose beyond gross 'income' is taxed as capital gains: 15%. In their twisted, evil, and sadistic universe this is just peachy according to them. So we end up with these sadistic pigs being hired at places like TNN, CNBC, and so on. We get shows hosted by Erin "I am a self appointed Zarathustra' Burnett who mocks the 'little people', the common folks of our country who have been fucked over by these self appointed Zarathustra's, from the perch of her self enclosed reality so that she can marry one of the top executives at CitiBank.

    They are nothing but sadistic pigs that should be treated as such.

  • June on October 11, 2011 4:34 PM:

    Red-state-types should just get it over with and call themselves "We are the Sociopaths" -- motto: we are incapable of even a shred of human decency - and we love to vote those in who mirror that back to us.

  • kevo on October 11, 2011 4:38 PM:

    Anyone who swears fidelity to a Christian way of life, and then signs on to the new 53% movement is committing blasphemy and should be very worried about fitting that camel through the eye of that there needle!

    Erik, I'm looking at you! You dumbfuck, why not begin to have a caring concern for your fellow man and woman instead of your sniveling concern for your false God of materialism? Why? I imagine you're not worthy of the label American, but rather more worthy of the label numbskull!

    The 53% "movement" is a vulgar response to the real economic hurt being leveled upon Americans of all stripes! -Kevo

  • Tuttle on October 11, 2011 4:38 PM:

    Y'know, if they really wanted more people to pay income taxes they could, perhaps, work so as to raise more people to the level of affluence that behoves them to pay income tax.

    Or is that just fucking crazy talk?

  • dj spellchecka on October 11, 2011 5:00 PM:

    i'm a member of both the 53% and the 99%.....

    even if i hadn't already sided with the latter, the fact that eric son of eric is against them would push me in their direction

  • Anonymous on October 11, 2011 5:13 PM:

    You left out payroll tax, an enormous burden on the working poor who (thanks to the EITC) pay no income tax. About 3/4 of households pay more in payroll taxes than income taxes.

  • El Cid on October 11, 2011 5:14 PM:

    It was Ronald Reagan who in 1986 reformed the tax code to expand the EITC to remove the burden of federal income taxes from low income workers.

    At that time, 8 million years ago, far too long ago for today's John Birch Republicans to recall, the notion was that this would allow poorer working Americans to aim to lift themselves out of poverty and succeed.

    Now these shallow, forgetful, purposefully ignorant right wingers act like it's some horrific sin against them to keep doing what Ronald Reagan, Founding Father, did two and a half decades ago.

    One of the main boosters and designers was the Heritage Foundation.

    The *Heritage* Foundation. Not the Tides Foundation. Not the John and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The *Heritage* Foundation.

    Even though the "53%" number is itself a fraud, why doesn't anyone ask them why they hate Ronald Reagan? Why do they want to keep lower income workers from working their way up?

  • SYSPROG on October 11, 2011 5:15 PM:

    He's a LIAR...lord do you people ever check. I will bet my PAYCHECK that he does not pay 'income taxes' or at least not very much. I am one of the 53% that makes enough to invest in a 401k, and take home enough. I pay regular taxes of about 32%, I get to deduct my mortgage and various other taxes and if I sell anything in my investments I pay 15% on my profits (ie 'earnings'). I get to deduct my kids TWICE. It's amazing. I end up paying very little 'income tax'...I DO however pay 9.6% sales tax, taxes on the telecommunications lines into my house to work (geeeeeeeeeeezzzz when did THOSE get so high?), license tabs and anything else the state can think up to make up for the lack of federal taxes they have been getting rebated since BUSHCO. So Eric 'Sanctimonious WHINER' Erickson can shove it where the sun don't shine. He is NOT one of the 1% that he worships, he never WILL be and they will toss his lying butt out SO FAST when they no longer need his 'voice'. He makes me sick.

  • Robert Waldmann on October 11, 2011 5:24 PM:

    53% is also the fraction of Rself identified Republicans who say they support increasing taxes on family income over $250,000 to reduce the deficit in the latest Bloomberg poll.

    Funny coincidence that. The fact is that much more than 46% of US adults identify with "the other 99%". Not 99% but way more than agree with Erickson (whose 3 jobs all consist of whining about excessive taxes on rich people).

  • R. Porrofatto on October 11, 2011 5:44 PM:

    Virtually no one who makes under $10,000 pays federal income tax. However everyone pays Social Security tax on the first dollar earned and above. For the income tax, the exclusions, deductions, and earned income and child tax credits are available to everyone. No one is getting away with anything here. In fact, there are numerous tax deductions and credits not available to poorer people, which is why 2% of people who earn over a million dollars pay no income taxes at all. On the other hand, imagine someone making billions of dollars and not paying any income tax at all. In 2010, General Electric paid zero taxes on $14.2 billion in profits, and even got a $3.2 billion tax benefit courtesy charged to the rest of us. Of course, you won't hear any of these alleged 53 percenters screaming about GE taking advantage of deductions.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on October 11, 2011 6:02 PM:

    The amount of "blistering" stupidity on the right in this country is simply overwhelming and shoulder-slumpingly depressing. You can't be a reasonably intelligent person and not despair for the future of the country. The country is getting and will get what it deserves because of the full-bore willful ignorance and irresponsible citizenship. I've almost given up.

  • H-Bob on October 11, 2011 6:44 PM:

    Don't forget that Social Security and Medicare are actually collecting more than they pay out (i.e., the trust funds), so those trust funds are lending money to the federal government to pay governmental expenses that should be (but are not) covered by income taxes.

  • Skippy on October 11, 2011 8:19 PM:

    steve, you do reality no favors if you avoid discussing the disengenuousness of the hardly-ever-right wing when they tout the "53%."

    it's a number made up out of whole cloth. even aside from the state, sales, property, gas & other taxes, if you look at federal tax paid, the actual number of people who don't qualify for any federal tax liability is closer to 10% than 47% (see here).

    it's better to attack the bigger untruth head on, than to side step it to nitpick erikson's piddling argument.

  • Tom B on October 11, 2011 10:44 PM:

    So Eric, can't sell your house? Well, suck it up and drop the price until someone buys.

  • Sue on October 13, 2011 10:45 PM:

    Your assumption that everyone posting on "the 53%" is a conservative shows a narrow viewpoint. I'm definitely not a conservative activist, but I do support the broader message of the blog. Does the tax rate on the wealthy need to increase? Yes, definitely. But do some of "the 99%", including many occupying Wall St, need to start trying harder to find jobs? YES.

    It's not just the wealthy that need to start taking more responsibility. The blame game makes you look childish and gets you no where, no matter what party you support or how much money you make. This isn't and shouldn't be turned into class warfare or party warfare. Until EVERY individual shapes up and starts focusing more on personal education, achievements, and hard work, American as a whole isn't going to grow anytime in the future. That was the message I took from "the 53%'.

  • 1789 on October 14, 2011 2:07 AM:

    "..need to start trying harder to find jobs? YES."

    I spend a full 8 hours a day looking for a job. Is that hard enough for you?

    I have a great business idea that you and the others would love. I let you beat me to death for a million dollars - it's a job and I could provide for my family.

    Sound good? I knew you would like it!

  • gyrogearloose on October 26, 2011 2:54 PM:

    I'm glad to see that people are waking up to the fact that 99% is a completely bogus number. We are a country divided on this issue and the ratio ain't 99 to 1 by any means.

  • Jeff Humphreys on October 27, 2011 6:33 PM:

    It's just not fair that the rich are rich. It's just not fair!