TCS Daily


The Tax Policy of Hate

By Kevin Hassett - October 23, 2003 12:00 AM

Even a casual observer of the U.S. political scene would be struck by the intense hate the Democrats and Democratic pundits appear to have for President Bush. As discussed so ably by my TCS colleague Keith Burgess-Jackson, hate is an emotion we all are ashamed of precisely because it can move us to unfortunate actions. Signs of the intensity of this hate are everywhere, with the controversial New York Times columnist Paul Krugman even blaming President Bush for causing increased anti-semitism.

 

The strange thing is that this collective emotion is having a large impact on everything the Democrats do. The hate of Bush is so powerful that it has even dominated Democratic tax policy. For example, Wesley Clark announced his tax plan in a speech on Wednesday, and the details were oddly familiar. Like just about every other Democratic candidate, Clark has proposed an enormous tax hike. And what form does that tax hike take? Why the same form chosen by his competitors. Clark would roll back the tax reductions that President Bush passed for those taxpayers who make more than $200,000 per year. The only debate among the Democratic candidates appears to be whether one should roll back most of what Bush accomplished (Clark, Kerry), or erase the man's efforts from the history books entirely (Dean) even if that means a tax hike for just about every voter.

 

Such a focus is bizarre. Suppose you were a candidate with a genuine intent to make the world a better place. You might convene a committee of the finest tax policy minds in the world and ask them to list the ten biggest problems with the tax code. You might then ask these men and women to suggest tax policies that would fix these problems, and even, as a Democrat concerned with social justice, constrain the proposals reach with specific "fairness" targets. In the end, you would have a product that you could sell to voters, your own plan to make the world a better place.

 

The Democratic candidates each studied the tax code and the economy and reached precisely the same conclusion: The way to improve the world the most is exactly to reverse the tax policy of George Bush. Such a convergence of answers is extraordinarily improbable. There is no economic model that suggests that the tax code as inherited by Bush was some kind of bliss point of optimal tax policy, nor will there ever be. There is nothing magical about a marginal tax rate of 39.6 percent. That does not mean that economics has nothing to offer. A candidate genuinely interested in fixing the nation's problems might argue, as David Bradford of Princeton University has, that a progressive consumption tax could significantly improve our national welfare. But the crazy quilt of a code that Bush inherited? I should vote for you to restore that?

 

When high school students who sit next to each other give the same wrong answer it is a sign of foul play. In a similar manner, the fact that Democratic candidates all have converged to the same tax policy is a sign of foul motive. Rational analysis can not explain their policy proposals. Only hatred of Bush can.

 

Which suggests that these candidates are collectively terrible choices. We ask a lot of our leaders. They must be calm and mature enough to put emotion aside and coolly choose actions and policies that best serve the common good. The tax plans of the Democrats reveal that the candidates collectively are not up to the task. They are so blinded by their emotions about President Bush that they are unable to think rationally about something as mundane as tax policy. Such people should not be trusted with the keys to the White House.
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