It Takes One to
Know One By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF Sep 19, 2012
watched a video of Mitt Romney scolding moochers suffering from a culture of
dependency, I thought of American soldiers I’ve met in Afghanistan and Iraq.
They don’t pay federal income tax while they’re in combat zones, and they rely
on government benefits when they come back.
if they return unscathed, most will never pay lofty sums in federal income
taxes. No, all they offer our nation is their lives, while receiving government
benefits — such as a $100,000 “death gratuity” to their wives or husbands when
I’m being unfair, for I’m sure that when Romney complained in
that video about freeloaders, he didn’t mean soldiers. But the 47 percent (more accurately, 46 percent) of American families whom he
scorned because they don’t pay federal income taxes includes many other
modestly paid workers or retirees who have contributed far more meaningfully to
America than some who can shell out $50,000 to attend a fund-raiser like the
one where Romney spoke in May.
about the underpaid kindergarten teacher in an inner-city school? What about
young police officers and firefighters? What about social workers struggling to
help abused children?
lesson is the narcissism of many in today’s affluent class. They manage to feel
victimized by the tax code — even as they sometimes enjoy a lower rate than
their secretaries and ride corporate jets acquired with the help of tax
self-pitying Republicans focus on federal income taxes (mostly paid by the
rich), what’s more relevant is the overall tax bill — including state, local
and federal taxes of all kinds. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, the
majority of American families pay more than one-quarter of incomes in total
taxes — and that may be more than Romney pays.
is a smart man and, his friends say, a pragmatist rather than an ideologue, so
what possessed him to say these things? There’s an underlying truth there — we
do have a problem with entitlements and with freeloaders — and he inflated it
beyond recognition. Perhaps he has passed so much time in a Republican primary
bubble, hearing moans about the parasitic 47 percent, that he didn’t appreciate
how obtuse and arrogant such comments appear.
furor also reflects the central political reality today: the Republican Party
has moved far, far to the right so that, on some issues, it veers into
Jeb Bush noted earlier this year that even
conservative icons like President Ronald Reagan wouldn’t fit easily into
today’s Republican Party. President Richard Nixon, who founded the Environmental Protection Agency,
would be a lefty. This year, Republican primary voters have been further
purging the party of centrist remnants, like Senator Richard Lugar, a foreign
policy heavyweight who deserves America’s thanks for helping make us safer from
I was growing up in Oregon, it was Democrats who were typically the crazies.
Gov. George Wallace (“segregation forever”) tapped into
populist resentments in his presidential campaigns. Lyndon Larouche was
a cult leader seeking the Democratic nomination.
senators then were Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood, both Republicans of a kind
that barely exist today. Hatfield was a strong opponent of
the Vietnam War, and Packwood supported abortion rights. Oregon’s governor
at the time, Tom McCall, was a Republican and a leading environmentalist.
called up Packwood and asked him if he and Hatfield would be Republicans if
they were starting over. “We both wondered about that,” he said.
noted that the Republican Party once attracted union support, black support,
urban and bicoastal support. “Historically, the Republicans have been geniuses
at throwing away advantages,” he said.
The Republican shift shows up in polling. In
the 1960s, more than two-thirds of Democrats and Republicans alike expressed
trust in government. That has fallen to about one-third for Democrats — and to
just 5 percent for Republicans.
me, the saddest polls are those about facts. A Dartmouth poll this year found that
Republicans believe, by a ratio of more than 3 to 1, that “Iraq had weapons of
mass destruction when the United States invaded in 2003.”
same poll found that Republicans believe, almost by a 3-to-1 ratio, that
President Obama was born in another country. Democrats also suffer from
self-deception (such as a reluctance to credit improvements under a Republican
president), but today’s Republicans seem disproportionately untethered to reality.
illustration of radicalizing self-delusion comes when the son of a governor and
corporate chief executive says that
“everything that Ann and I have, we earned the old-fashioned way, and that’s by
has proved himself right: We manifestly do have a problem with people who see
themselves as victims even as they benefit from loopholes in the tax code.
is running for president.