Would someone kindly replace Nancy Pelosi as a spokesperson for Democrats? The House minority leader’s riff on the tax bill as “crumbs” for average Americans bombed on two fronts. One was her snide and preachy tone. The other was linking “crumbs” to $1,000-or-better bonuses that a few companies said they will distribute out of their tax savings.
Not that Pelosi was entirely wrong. House Speaker Paul Ryan rescued her with his tweet about a woman doing backflips over a tax cut amounting to $1.50 a week.
“A secretary at a public high school in Lancaster, PA, said she was pleasantly surprised her pay went up $1.50 a week,” he posted on Twitter. “She said (that) will more than cover her Costco membership for the year.”
Ryan was widely mocked for showcasing such paltry savings as an example of Republican beneficence in the recently passed law. He wisely deleted the tweet.
As a longtime member of Costco in good standing, I can attest that $1.50 a week will indeed pay for the year, plus most of a bag of Kirkland Signature pecan halves. But for those who live above subsistence level, that’s not exactly winning the lottery.
And the tax law seems even less of a deal when you consider that it will dump nearly $1 trillion in new U.S. government debt onto the shoulders of American taxpayers. That’s just for this year. We’re talking an 84 percent(!) leap in government borrowing over 2017.
And yes, the Congressional Budget Office came up with that percentage after factoring in the economic growth the tax cuts are expected to produce. Clearly, steep, sloppy tax cuts don’t pay for themselves, as Americans should have learned during the George W. Bush years.
Lowering the corporate tax rate was the one sensible part of the law. U.S. corporate tax rates were quite high by international standards. Smart Democrats, Barack Obama included, had long been pushing for corporate tax reform.
The big flaw was the money grab. The top 0.1 percent of earners—those taking home something north of $3.5 million—will, by 2027, enjoy an average tax cut of $182,030 a year. That’s enough to buy the whole pecan farm. And at a time of soaring debt, bestowing princely tax cuts on those already getting richer faster than everyone else would seem highly irresponsible.
Meanwhile, a large group of middle-income Americans is not getting even crummy tax cuts. Rather, it is facing tax hikes. That’s because the tax law sharply curbs deductions for state and local taxes. This hits many residents of high-income, high-tax states right in the kisser.
Republican lawmakers undoubtedly thought themselves quite clever by sticking it to taxpayers in generally Democratic-voting states. The problem with such reasoning is that these Democratic states send enough Republicans to Washington to preserve the GOP majority. Many of the stuckees are the very blue state people who do vote Republican—or rather, used to vote Republican.
As for Walmart’s $1,000 bonuses, they go only to employees who’ve been with the company for 20 years. At the same time, Walmart hiked wages not as charity but to retain workers in a tight labor market.
The partisan portrayals of the tax law have left us with two unattractive visuals. One is Pelosi leaving the impression that she wouldn’t bend down to pick up a $50 bill. The other is Ryan expecting the peasantry to do cartwheels over $1.50 a week.
But those are just the optics. On policy, there will be no false equivalency here. This abomination of a tax law is solely the handiwork of Ryan and associated Republicans. It will end in tears.
William Bernbach, a titan of Madison Avenue who died in 1982, said, “If your advertising goes unnoticed, everything else is academic.” The spinmeisters for Ram trucks must have taken Mr. Bernbach’s admonition to heart. With a Super Bowl commercial that used as its soundtrack a sermon delivered by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years earlier to the day, they got the notice they wanted. Much of the reaction, though, amounted to a richly deserved thumbs-down.
The sermon was Dr. King’s “Drum Major Instinct” speech, given in Atlanta in 1968 two months before his assassination. Everybody, he said, had this instinct—“a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first.” But it had to be harnessed, he said as he went on to equate greatness with service to others. Ostensibly, the Ram commercial was an appeal for people to serve. But who’s kidding whom? The goal was to sell trucks, with Dr. King’s voice as pitchman.
The sheer crassness led to instant condemnation on social media, including speculation about what might be next—maybe trotting out James Baldwin to hawk “The Firestone Next Time”? Critics were hardly mollified by word that Ram had the blessing of Intellectual Properties Management, the licenser of Dr. King’s estate. The estate has not always been his staunchest guardian against posthumous commercialization.
It might serve history a tad more faithfully to note other appeals that Dr. King made in that Feb. 4, 1968, sermon. For one thing, he was appalled by the way many people went into hock to buy vehicles they couldn’t possibly afford: “So often, haven’t you seen people making $5,000 a year and driving a car that cost 6,000? And they wonder why their ends never meet.”
While we’re at it, he also didn’t think highly of advertising gurus—“you know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion.” He continued: “They have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. In order to be lovely to love, you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff.”
For that matter, Dr. King might well have been talking about a president a half-century in the future when he expounded on the need to rein in the drum major instinct, for otherwise it becomes “very dangerous” and “pernicious.”
“Have you ever heard people that, you know—and I’m sure you’ve met them—that really become sickening because they just sit up all the time talking about themselves?” he said. “And they just boast and boast and boast. And that’s the person who has not harnessed the drum major instinct.”
In the sermon’s finale, Dr. King said that he thought about his own death and funeral. It led to these ringing words: “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”
He did not ask to be a huckster for a line of trucks.
—The New York Times
From online story comments and Facebook
On this week’s snow emergency: This would be great if, when they plowed, they didn’t just skim off the top and leave an inch or more on the streets. Most of Janesville was dangerous to impassable after they “plowed.”
On opposition to dairy farm expansion near Brodhead: The land cannot handle all that animal mass. This isn’t rocket science! It’s GREED!
—Jill Grunzel Alf
On city of Janesville proceeding with Monterey Dam demolition: Thank you to city staff for moving forward on the council decision made last year. Now, let’s get the bids secure and get to what’s next.
I read in Thursday's paper (Page 1A) our state Senate is seriously looking at toll roads for Wisconsin to fill in the shortfall. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos actually said, "it's a good idea; it's the future."
Not if I can help it. Toll roads are a disaster. First and foremost, they are a tax. Let's not forget that. Second, it is government encroachment into our lives once again. That is never good. Third, it seems the funds raised never seem to make it to the roads. Just ask Illinois. Also ask them if their "temporary toll roads" as it was supposed to be ever left?
Fourth, that little transponder that goes onto your car lets Big Brother know where you are at all times. Do we really want that? I don't. (Personally, I think this is why it's so "good for Wisconsin.") It used to be the states held the power OVER the federal government. Not so. We now rely on them for our funding, but that comes with rules and regulations and strings attached.
I implore any and everyone to contact Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitgerald and Vos before we have to pay to use our own roads again and again.