October 23, 2008

AMEN, BROTHER:

McCain's Hero: More Socialist Than Obama!: McCain can call Obama a socialist or he can call Teddy Roosevelt his hero. He can't do both. (Timothy Noah, Oct. 23, 2008, Slate)

When T.R. spoke of "swollen fortunes" and "malefactors of great wealth," socialism was a genuine force in American politics, perceived by many to pose a serious threat to the social order. When T.R. first called for a "graduated income tax" in his 1907 State of the Union, he was proposing a measure that the Supreme Court had ruled unconstitutional. Indeed, the federal income tax struck down by the Court wasn't even "graduated," or progressive; it was a flat-rate tax. Today, McCain demagogically attacks Obama's purported "socialism" knowing that socialism is a dead letter in the United States. He feigns shock at progressive taxation ("confiscate wealth") nearly a century after the states ratified the 16th Amendment, enabling Congress to enact a progressive income tax, and nearly a decade after he himself scolded a town-hall questioner on MSNBC's Hardball who cried "socialism" about the rich having to pay a greater percentage of their income in taxes. "Here's what I really believe," McCain said. "When you are—reach a certain level of comfort, there's nothing wrong with paying somewhat more."

In his book The Great Tax Wars, Steven Weisman, formerly of the New York Times, writes that T.R.'s previous experience as police commissioner of New York City made him worry "about anarchy arising from gross economic inequality." Today, the income gap between the top 0.01 percent of families in the United States and the bottom 90 percent is greater than it was in T.R.'s day. The last time it was anywhere near so great was in 1929. The top marginal income-tax rate, meanwhile, is near its historic low in the late 1920s. Those of you seeking a cause to the current financial meltdown may draw your own conclusions. (For more on taxes and historic patterns of inequality in the United States, click here.)

T.R., of course, was no socialist. Indeed, his purpose was largely to prevent socialists from coming to power. But the trust buster got called a socialist a lot more often than Obama ever will.


Nor was he satisfied with just being a paternalist--in the mold of Bismarck or Churchill--by challenging Taft he gave us the disastrous Woodrow Wilson. He oughtn't be any Republican's hero.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 23, 2008 7:11 PM
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