Political Animal


October 03, 2011 1:15 PM Tax fairness can end ‘crazy’ injustice

By Steve Benen

The president spoke at a high school and insisted that Washington “close the unproductive tax loopholes that allow some of the truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair share.” He said, as a practical matter, these loopholes made it possible for millionaires to pay a smaller percentage of their income in taxes than a bus driver. “That’s crazy,” the president said.

This is the kind of rhetoric the Republican Party and the right in general finds deeply offensive. It’s “class warfare,” they say. It’s evidence of pitting one class against another, dividing the nation. Some even call the rhetoric “socialism.”

The president who made the remarks, however, was Ronald Reagan in 1985. Pat Garofalo posted this gem, showing the similarities between what Reagan called for in tax reform 16 years ago, and what President Obama is calling for now. The two are practically reading from the same script.

I’ve argued on more than a few occasions that the modern-day Republican Party wouldn’t just reject Reagan and his policies, but would actually find him quite offensive. This seems to bolster the point. When Obama is far more in line with the Reagan legacy than the congressional GOP, it’s safe to say the radicalized Republican Party is wildly out of step with its traditions.

Forget “Buffett Rule”; the White House would be justified in calling the tax idea the “Reagan Rule.”

Jay Bookman added that Reagan, a few weeks later, spoke in Chicago about overcoming the influence of “the lobbyists,” who were fighting against tax reform, “trying to keep the special interests in and the people’s interests out.” Reagan added:

“[T]hey’ve forgotten one thing — this time they’re going to have to contend with the allied forces of the President and Chicago’s own Dan Rostenkowski, (Democratic) chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. And if they think that things have been hot so far, Ron and Rosty have got news for them — [laughter] — you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

“Now, this issue goes beyond Democrat or Republican — it’s simply a matter of doing what’s right for America. And if we work together with good faith and determination, the people can win this time, and they will win.”

In 2011, Republicans find this kind of talk insulting, if not completely ridiculous. The notion that a Republican president (and icon, really) would partner with a Democratic Chicago liberal to combat lobbyists and pass tax reform is just laughable on its face.

And yet, this was American politics before the radicalization of the Republican Party.

As Jay concluded, “Once more, history offers compelling evidence of just how fanatical and extreme the conservative movement has become in this country. They have moved so far beyond what Reagan himself advocated that they threaten to turn ‘the Gipper’ into a RINO if not an outright liberal.”

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.


Post a comment
  • Frank G on October 03, 2011 1:27 PM:

    I just dont understand why folks on the left stand up and cheer when Obama says yet another thing that echos what Reagan said 25 years ago. we didnt want reagan then, we dont want him now.

  • jonas on October 03, 2011 1:32 PM:

    Like Nixon, Reagan left a troubled legacy of political poison, debt, and corruption that changed America for the worse in a lot of ways. But despite that -- like Nixon -- he was also a conservative interested in actual policy solutions to actual problems facing the country and was prepared to negotiate with his political opponents to get something done, whether it was closing tax loopholes to shrink the deficit or offering illegal residence a chance to normalize their status.

    Reagan would be tarred as a left-wing radical by today's Republican party, simply because he *talked* to liberals.

  • c u n d gulag on October 03, 2011 1:34 PM:

    If Reagan said that 16 years ago, they can blame it on his dementia.

    But if he said it 26 years ago, it shows how far the party has gone to the far, far, far right.

    That's a hint to fix the post, btw. :-)

  • pamelabrown53 on October 03, 2011 1:36 PM:

    Don't you think that the president is planning to use this Reagan video clip in the general election when the eventual nominee (my bets are on Romney) does the usual invocation of ST.Ronnie?!

    While the president and his administration has made mistakes, USUALLY the president's long-term view and PATIENCE (something that's sorely lacking in our microwave society, counterpunches with exquisite timing.

  • martin on October 03, 2011 1:37 PM:

    Heavy Sigh.
    We used to say Clinton was the best republican since Nixon. Now Obama is the best republican since Reagan.
    The fact that we are praising a democrat for being like a republican from 26 years ago pretty much tells us how totally screwed this country is.

  • DAY on October 03, 2011 1:38 PM:

    Looks like Obama gives new meaning to the expression "Reagan Democrat".

  • Nathan on October 03, 2011 1:46 PM:

    Why do you think it is 2001? This is the second post where you talk about Reagan being President 16 years ago.

  • FlipYrWhig on October 03, 2011 1:46 PM:

    Attention leftier-than-thou nitpickers: Obama isn't using Reagan's rhetoric; Reagan was using liberal/Democratic/New Deal rhetoric, which Obama is also using.

  • howard on October 03, 2011 1:46 PM:

    frank g, the fact is, this was a case (possibly the only one!) where reagan was correct: it is in the interests of all americans that the tax system be simpler and less loophole-laden. that's why bill bradley was also an important voice in favor of this legislation.

    truth is, i have never understood why the dems didn't follow up on bradley's lead and own the "taxes should be simple and progressive" approach.

  • Ron Byers on October 03, 2011 1:57 PM:

    The real issue is should we tax capital gains at a reduced rate. We are rewarding the capital class at the expense of the ordinary workers of this company. A football player making $5,000,000 a year pays at taxes at the top rate. The owner who takes $50,000,000 out of the football team pays at capital gains rates (15%).

  • pamelabrown53 on October 03, 2011 1:58 PM:


    Reagan was beloved by many (including low-income, law and order type democrats) because too many of us liberals talked down to them and ignored their concerns. They saw us as elitists (the old Ivory Tower canard) and moral relativists.

    Listen, I understand the proclivity to tar and feather Reagan; he did a lot of damage. Still, imagine an ad with President Obama echoing the same populist sentiments of St. Ronnie: can't you see that as a pragmatic and politically astute move?

  • jjm on October 03, 2011 2:02 PM:

    Reagan began as a democrat, even headed a union. He borrowed style from FDR and from the student movements (remember his "Get the government off our backs!"?).

    But he saw lots more money beckoning if he moved to the other side, as he did.

    He moved so far as to become one of only four members of the John Birch Society from Beverly Hills (others: John Wayne, Zazu Pitts and Adolphe Menjou). He thus became a tool of the very same interests--the big corporations and the Kochs--who now feel strong enough that they can shed the mask he offered them.

    I doubt he himself was much of a thinker on these matters: he was hired to do a job (which was to act as cover for the income inequality he helped to begin implementing) and he did it.

  • Sam on October 03, 2011 2:05 PM:

    Posted to my Facebook page. Can't wait for the responses from my conservative friends who still think the modern GOP is the same party that their father voted for.

    pamelabrown53 - Exactly. The most devastating ad I was in 2010 was Jerry Browns ad showing Meg Whitman's quotes side by side with identical quotes from Arnold Schwarzennegar (sp?). If I was Obama I would run a bunch of ads with his quotes side by side with identical Reagan quotes, and then separate ads with the GOP nominees quotes side by side with identical George W Bush quotes. It would be a politically brilliant move for the "center."

  • stormskies on October 03, 2011 2:11 PM:

    And let's wait for these remarks/ quotes by Reagan, held up with the words of Obama, to be shown on every cable 'news' channel, the nightly news=propaganda charades, and, of course the Sunday morning propaganda shows. This will happen at about the same time that the used corporate condom called David Gregory takes his "Meet the Propagandists' out on streets on NYC and has his show talk to and interview those marching in the "Occupy Wall Street".

  • martin on October 03, 2011 2:40 PM:

    Zazu Pitts!!

    Say it ain't so!

    Just always loved the name Zazu Pitts;>Would have been (and probably was) a great name for a band.

    as would uffarm charm reminds Mr Captcha

  • Grumpy on October 03, 2011 3:00 PM:

    Thanks, folks upthread, for the reminders of why Democrats opposed Reagan at the time. The evil that men do is oft interred with their bones.

  • DenverRight on October 03, 2011 4:00 PM:

    I am always amused when a far-left echo chamber tries to paraphrase the arguments of the Republican Party. Often times it conflates distinct issues in an attempt to claim hypocrisy.

    Reagan quoted: close the unproductive tax loopholes that allow some of the truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair share.

    This sounds remarkably similar to the majority of Republicans NOW that are calling for a SIMPLER TAX CODE. It is not clear if the GOP emphasis is "capping rates of both the personal and corporate tax at 25%", or the still maintained goal of “eliminating or limiting as necessary existing tax deductions, exclusions, and other special provisions.” Simply consult the Path to Prosperity, or House Chairman Paul Ryan for details. But some people (apparently not here at the Wash Monthly) actually remember the arguments.

    And that's the straw man. You have imagined that Republicans don't want the tax code touched, at least as far as eliminating deductions and loopholes. That's not the issue right now.

    You CONFLATE that tax simplification idea with the other issue, "class warfare." If the President went to Congress and asked to negotiate a simpler tax code, the large majority of Republicans would sign up, for that is what they have been saying all along (obviously WHICH tax provisions would be points of negotiation). BUT when the President goes before the people and argues to RAISE the marginal tax rates on one group of wage-earners, while leaving the rates low for everyone else, THAT IS CLASS WARFARE. The Bush Tax cuts lowered rates for ALL brackets. We should not contemplate uncoupling those brackets in future schemes.

    The Buffett Rule is a different issue from the above loopholes quote from Reagan. Reagan's initial tax cuts LOWERED the capital gains taxes (which is the mechanism by which Buffett pays lower tax rates). But in 1986 Reagan then RAISED the capital gains taxes (from 20 to 28%), AND MADE THEM EQUIVALENT TO ORIDNARY INCOME FOR HIGH WAGE-EARNERS.

    I do not have a problem with that strategy (especially when implemented in GOOD economic times, as Reagan did), if it prevents deceivers like Buffett from hiding their incomes in the currently lower cap gains rates. If President Obama wants to raise cap gains taxes, he hasn't been very clear on the subject. And if he can justify it during a recession, he is invited to try. Real conservatives are not insulted by the discussion, and do not consider "the Gipper" a RINO.

    There you go. Three DIFFERENT tax code schemes, expressed by an actual conservative. Keep in mind, Republicans include, but are far larger than, the Tea Parties. Why try to caricature the entire group, or employ Benen's confused mockery of the right?

  • Stephen on October 03, 2011 4:51 PM:

    majority of Republicans NOW that are calling for a SIMPLER TAX CODE. It is not clear if the GOP emphasis is "capping rates of both the personal and corporate tax at 25%", or the still maintained goal of “eliminating or limiting as necessary existing tax deductions, exclusions, and other special provisions.” Simply consult the Path to Prosperity, or House Chairman Paul Ryan for details. But some people (apparently not here at the Wash Monthly) actually remember the arguments.

    I remember that not too long ago, the Republicans controlled both houses of congress and the White House and did nothing to simplify the tax code or eliminate loopholes.

  • Mnemosyne on October 03, 2011 4:57 PM:

    I just dont understand why folks on the left stand up and cheer when Obama says yet another thing that echos what Reagan said 25 years ago. we didnt want reagan then, we dont want him now.

    It still amazes me how many people on the left complain about the right wing co-opting the left's rhetoric (remember "compassionate conservatism"?) and yet are completely oblivious when Obama does the same thing right back to them.

    Yes, by all means, let's oppose any attempt to make our tax system fairer because Obama used Reagan's words to tout his plan. It's much more important that Obama's rhetoric have the correct provenance than it is for our tax system to be fairer.

  • exlibra on October 03, 2011 5:17 PM:

    Hear, hear, Mnemosyne @4:57!

    We have a saying in Polish: jak sie zwal, tak sie zwal... byle by sie dobrze mial (his name is this, his name is that... as long as he prospers). Why should I care what or whose rhetoric Obama uses, as long as it makes good sense from the country's POV?

  • Texas Aggie on October 03, 2011 5:55 PM:

    The people who can't see past the fact that Reagan said something and actually read what it is he said are showing the same mentality as the right wing. It's all identity politics for them rather than reality politics.

    That Reagan was pushing a progressive tax increase is what is important, not that Reagan was the one doing it. That the republicans, despite Denverright's protestations to the contrary, are pushing the opposite direction from what Reagan advocated is what is important, not that Obama is pushing for the same thing as Reagan did.

    As for DR, his argument is pure right wing misdirection. He would have you believe that the republicans actually want to simplify the tax code, but in reality, they just want to reduce their taxes no matter that the country can't pay its bills afterwards. After all, whose lobbyists are responsible for the vast number of loopholes that the uberrich are taking advantage of? The middle class has lobbyists? As for the statement that Bush reduced the tax rate on all brackets, it ignores the fact that the people at the bottom got enough to buy a pizza once a month while those on top got enough to buy a Mercedes twice a year. It also ignores the fact that it mainly reduced taxes for the people who had significant interest and dividend income, not your average American. And it was a major contributor to our present national debt problem so instead of going back to what gave us our original prosperity (higher taxes), the right wing wants to cut everything that keeps normal people in the game. More than a few people suspect that was the original plan for creating the deficit.

    You can imagine their heads exploding if in the simplification, the taxes on all types of income were equalized so that they no longer got the breaks (dividends, capital gains, inheritance on more than $1,000,000) that are unavailable to people who have to spend every cent they earn to stay alive.

  • DenverRight on October 03, 2011 8:52 PM:

    Texas Aggie,

    You act very "knowledgeable" about what "the right-wing wants." I spoke AS A CONSERVATIVE about what one conservative wants, and how one conservative feels about his compatriots on the right.

    Exactly what are your credentials for clairvoyance, knowing what the right wants? Who might be guilty of misdirection here? You seem to take the same liberties of omniscience that Mr. BENEN presumes. Why not talk about what the LEFT wants, that would be my guess for your expertise?

    I certainly don't want your head to explode.

  • Lance on October 03, 2011 9:34 PM:

    There are two problems with the meme that Reagan raised taxes. One, after campaigning on his vodoo economics, he never told his base that in fact, the Lafer curve proved wrong, and that he needed to raise taxes to pay for the huge build-up he was using to bankrupt the Soviet Union.

    The other problem, which you could find here, is the difference between arguing that the rich should pay a higher TAX than the bus driver, or that the rich should pay a higher TAX RATE than the bus driver. As far as the Republicans are concerned (today), the rich are paying more, even if at a lower rate, so they are paying enough (or too much).

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  • H-Bob on October 04, 2011 1:36 PM:

    Tax code simplification already exists -- the Alternative Minimum Tax !