Can We Politic Without Lies and Hyperbole?
I think it’s clear that our current political discourse is unsustainably broken. While these issues have always existed, the degree to which distrust and animous have come to characterize mainstream political discourse feels unusual. At some point, this will have to change. But judging by the absurd (and shockingly dishonest, even to me) reaction to the Republican tax reform package, that day is not today.
For context, the tax plan’s centerpiece is the slashing of the corporate tax rate from a uniquely high and uncompetitive 35 percent down to 21 percent (which, when combined with state taxes, will move the U.S. to near the OECD average).
Just a few years ago, the need to cut corporate taxes was considered a bipartisan consensus. Obama wanted to cut it to 28%. Was that also a “windfall” for CEOs, as some on the left claim? In which case, why was it the desire of Patron Saint of Liberalism Barack Obama? Did he “chose corporate profit over the American people” as Sen. Booker claims of Republicans?
Presumably, Obama wasn’t beholden to Republican donors (which we are told repeatedly by the leftwing hordes on twitter is the real motivation behind reform), so what was his motivation? It was the same basic one as that of Republicans: to bring the U.S. corporate tax rate into competitive alignment with the rest of the world and make it an attractive destination for business investment. That Republicans went for a lower rate strikes me as a fairly ordinary policy disagreement unworthy of the hysterics we are currently seeing from the left.
The same nonsense is being said about the individual rate cuts. Rather than simply cut across the board and preserve the current progressivity of the tax code, Republicans went out of their way to stack the deck in favor of the poor and middle-class, even undercutting the goal of simplification by increasing spending subsidies in the tax code. The result of this approach is that the wealthy will end up shouldering an even higher share of the total tax burden than before. This ought to please the left, but they have latched on to the fact that top earners are getting any of the cuts to portray it as a giveaway to the wealthy. Tim Kaine, for instance, inexplicably says that “the middle class foot the bill for a big tax cut for the top,” despite all evidence to the contrary.
This rhetoric has been typical of the tax reform process. Thought to be among the last remaining Democratic Senate moderates, a designation one must now question, Sen. Mark Warner said the bill was “the single worst piece of legislation that I’ve seen since I’ve been in the Senate.” Nancy Pelosi went even further, having also called tax reform “armageddon,” and said it was the worst “in the history of Congress.” Worse, apparently, than even the Fugitive Slave Act, to pick one of several morally appalling legislative episodes from our history. Such rhetoric is, needless to say, lacking in the sobriety department.
A glance at social media shows that the Democratic base has taken cues from their leaders. They even showed up at the vote to debase themselves with lame slogans like “kill the bill, don’t kill us.” Though given the predictions of doom, it’s a wonder that anyone is even left alive after the FCC rolled back its Title II power grab, in the name of “net neutrality,” over the internet.
I don’t want to pick exclusively on the left, it’s just that tax reform is on my mind and they’re providing the timeliest example of the problem. But it must be pointed out that Donald Trump ran an entire campaign on the premise that no issue is too small to be worthy of lies and exaggerations. Just about every subject he addressed was required to be either the best or worst thing ever (if that subject was a person, which moniker was warranted was entirely dependent on whether they said good or bad things about Donald Trump).
As Trump found during the campaign and Democrats are finding now, use of such hyperbole can succeed in riling up supporters, but it comes at the cost of stripping all nuance from every issue. That, in turn, makes negotiation and compromise all but impossible. Republicans, like Democrats with Obamacare, were able to narrowly pass a top legislative priority on a strict party-line vote, but it’s clear that moving legislation is getting increasingly difficult. I’m not normally one to fret about an absence of political action–I generally prefer it–but the frantic yearly scramble to pass a spending bill because Congress can’t be bothered to appropriate leads to all sort of suboptimal outcomes.
Many of those who expressed concern about the quality of the campaign are now jumping at the chance to condemn with the most over-the-top and outlandish rhetoric a tax overhaul that, while sweeping in its scope, is fairly mainstream center-right in its ideological placement. So long as public discourse is only worthy of concern when it’s politically convenient, the problem will not be resolved.