The released secret recording of Mitt Romney’s remarks to a small group of wealthy supporters provides a revealing look at the mindset of such people. They really do think of themselves as a morally superior class and that those who are poor or struggling as worthless. Matt Taibbi argues that having such delusions is the only way that they can justify to themselves the current state of affairs in which they are engaged in “massive fraud and theft” to benefit themselves at the expense of the rest of us.
In particular, Romney’s comments and their reception by his wealthy audience reveal an almost obsessive desire to denigrate the people in one particular category: those who do not pay any federal income tax. Why this particular tax has been singled out for special attention, while ignoring payroll taxes, state and local taxes, real estate taxes, and sales taxes is not clear, but it has been a long-standing complaint of the oligarchy that not paying this particular tax is the mark of the beast that identifies the real ‘moochers and looters’ in our society, the ones who ‘have no skin in the game’, the parasitic dregs that enjoy living off the work that the rest of us do. They are the ‘lucky duckies’, to use the memorable but disgusting phrase coined in a 2002 Wall Street Journal editorial, as if people are feverishly thinking of ways to get poor enough that they can enjoy the glorious benefits of (federal income) tax-free living.
The reason that 47% of people do not pay federal income taxes is a result of deliberate bipartisan policies that sought to avoid the pressure to raise poor people’s incomes by reducing their taxes instead, and also served as sweeteners to enable politicians to create huge tax cuts for the wealthy. The Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Credit, which cancels out the tax liability for many wage earners, can be viewed as essentially a subsidy to employers because the government supplements people’s incomes. Ronald Reagan boasted about how his tax reform policies removed many people from the tax rolls. Kevin drum recounts the history of how it came to be that the working poor pay no federal income taxes.
I agree that it is good idea that as many people pay federal income taxes as possible. It gives a sense of solidarity to the population, that we are all in this together. But in order to avoid hardship to the poor, what that requires is a steeply graduated progressive income tax, with very low rates for the poor and rising sharply to very high rates for the wealthy. What we now have in reality is a barely progressive tax system and something that is closer to a flat tax one.
We now have a disgusting scapegoating by the oligarchy of poor wage earners, many of who juggle two or more jobs and yet are barely able to make ends meet. These are the ‘lucky duckies’ in the eyes of the people who can afford to pay $50,000 for lunch to listen to Romney’s drivel. What has caused Romney to stumble (again) is the purely random coincidence that the percentage of people who will likely vote for Obama (about 47%) is roughly the same as number who do not pay this particular tax. It thus allows for a simple (and wrong) narrative based on a lazy numerology to assume that the two groups overlap.
The graphic in this NPR report lays it out clearly. First of all, the actual number who do not pay federal income tax is 46.4%. The graphic in this report shows that making up the 46.4% are 28.3% who pay payroll taxes, 10.3% who are elderly whose income from Social Security is exempt from income tax, and 6.9% who are non-elderly who earn less than $20,000 per year. As this other report shows, of that 46.4%, 19.5% earned between $16,812 and $59,486 in 2001. Interestingly, over 100,000 families earning over $211,000 per year also paid no federal income taxes, making them the true ‘lucky duckies’.
For Romney, someone who refuses to reveal his own tax returns, to despise those who pay no federal income tax takes some brass. As Harry Reid says, “For all we know, Mitt Romney could be one of those who paid no federal income tax.”
Many of these ‘lucky duckies’ actually live in strongly Republican states in the south and west and are likely Romney voters. It is possible that Romney’s supporters do not realize that he is talking about them, that they instinctively exempt themselves from the critique. Maybe. But when I was watching the video, it seemed like the hidden camera was located at one of the tables that the wait staff was using to serve the guests. They are probably working more than one job trying to make ends meet and one wonders how they must feel at having to serve rich people who speak of them in such disparaging terms.
Could the taping have been an act of revenge by one of these ‘lucky duckies’? It would be poetic justice, no?