We Are The 53 Percent
In response to a poignant collection of tales of suffering from the worst economy in decades, some conservative activists have put up a juvenile collection of “suck it, losers” posts.
Suzy Khimm, WaPo WonkBlog (“Conservatives launch “We are the 53 percent” to criticize 99 percenters“):
Conservative activists have created a Tumblr called “We are the 53 percent” that’s meant to be a counterpunch to the viral “We are the 99 percent” site that’s become a prominent symbol for the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Tumblr is supposed to represent the 53 percent of Americans who pay federal income taxes, and its assumption is that the Wall Street protesters are part of the 46 percent of the country who don’t. “We are the 53 percent” was originally the brainchild of Erick Erickson, founder of RedState.org, who worked together with Josh Trevino, communications director for the right-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation, and conservative filmmaker Mike Wilson to develop the concept, according to Trevino.
The overriding message is that the protesters have failed to take personal responsibility, blaming their economic troubles on others. “Suck it up you whiners. I am the 53 percent subsidizing you so you can hang out on Wall Street and complain,” writes Erickson, in the Tumblr’s inaugural post. “I don’t blame Wall Street because it doesn’t matter what Wall Street or anyone else does. I am responsible for my own destiny. I will succeed or fail because of me and me ALONE,” writes another contributor, who describes himself as a Marine Corps veteran. Another irate contributor writes: “I take risks so my kids can have a better life. Not so you can sit on your [expletive] at my expense.”
Not only is this just embarrassingly shallow and heartless, it’s not even rational.
Part of the reason that over 40 percent of Americans don’t pay taxes is because of the continual push to lower them — a cause that conservatives have championed. For example, while the Bush-era tax cuts benefited the wealthy, they also lowered taxes at every income level, making it “relatively easy for families of four making $50,000 to eliminate their income tax liability,” as the Associated Press notes. Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts, similarly, took many lower-income Americans off of the tax rolls, an accomplishment about which the Gipper was quite proud.
Altogether, about 23 percent of Americans don’t pay federal income taxes because their incomes are too low, according to a July 2011 paper by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center. The other 23 percent of Americans don’t pay federal income taxes mostly because of tax breaks given to the elderly, low-income working families, government welfare recipients, and students, the Tax Policy Center’s Roberton Williams explains. “Many of those who don’t pay income tax do pay other taxes — federal payroll and excise taxes as well as state and local income, sales, and property taxes.”
What’s more the “53 percent” Tumblr also implies that there’s a certain mantle of responsibility that paying taxes confers upon people — i.e. grown-up, self-directed Americans like us can earn enough money to pay taxes, so you should, too. That’s an unusual message coming from conservatives who’ve pushed so mightily for an anti-tax agenda.
Indeed. We can argue whether it makes sense to have large numbers of America’s middle class exempt from federal income taxes. My instinct is that everyone should pay something just to have skin in the game. But the history of the income tax in America is that it was initially aimed exclusively at the rich and, until living memory, was extraordinarily high (91 percent as recently as 1963 and 70 percent as recently as 1980) for earnings in the top bracket. As Khimm notes, Reagan was proud to exempt working class folks from that particular tax burden and, even after his first big tax cut, the top rate remained at 50 percent.