Sunday, November 26, 2006

But They Wage Class Warfare in the Nicest Possible Way

In the business section of today's New York Times, actor, game-show host, and economics columnist Ben Stein offers this startling scoop: GOP tax cuts favor the rich! The news was revealed to Stein during "a lengthy meeting with one of the smartest men on the planet, Warren E. Buffett, the chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, in his unpretentious offices in Omaha." Here's how Buffett broke the news to Stein:

Mr. Buffett compiled a data sheet of the men and women who work in his office. He had each of them make a fraction; the numerator was how much they paid in federal income tax and in payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare, and the denominator was their taxable income. The people in his office were mostly secretaries and clerks, though not all.

It turned out that Mr. Buffett, with immense income from dividends and capital gains, paid far, far less as a fraction of his income than the secretaries or the clerks or anyone else in his office. Further, in conversation it came up that Mr. Buffett doesn't use any tax planning at all. He just pays as the Internal Revenue Code requires. "How can this be fair?" he asked of how little he pays relative to his employees. "How can this be right?'

Even though I agreed with him, I warned that whenever someone tried to raise the issue, he or she was accused of fomenting class warfare.

"There's class warfare, all right," Mr. Buffett said, "but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."
Hmm. Might have been nice if Ben Stein had considered minor topics like tax policy, social equity, and class divisions before writing stuff like this:

Anyway, then another short nap, and then off to dinner with Karl Rove. At his home. With his wife Darby, and his sister-in-law cooking and his son Andrew setting the table. Naturally, the conversation was off the record, but I can say a few things:

First, Karl Rove has lost weight, although he was never fat to start with. He's amazingly fit and trim now. Rep. Murtha, who commented on Karl's posterior as large, has obviously never met Karl.

Second, Karl is probably as important as any human being on this planet except Mr. Bush. He is a world-class political figure. Yet he helps wash the dishes. He helps keep the house clean. He walks the dogs. I have never heard him say one mean word about anyone on the other side. Not once. He is probably the most humble human in a position of high authority I have ever met.

Third when dinner was over, I told Karl I knew he has a lot of work to do and we would call a cab. "Nonsense," he said, "I'll drive you home." And with that, he got into his modest car and drove Alex and me home. (We actually had him drop us at the Barnes & Noble on M Street.)

Now, this is a great man. A great and well-grounded man.

At this point, I question a great deal of Bush administration policy, especially on taxes. But Karl Rove is why I am a Republican. He is how Republicans are. Richard Nixon was not kidding fifty-four years ago when he talked about his wife, Pat, not having a fur coat, but instead happily owned ". . . a good Republican cloth coat . . ."

The real Republicans are the hardware store owners in Little Rock, the factory workers in Kentucky who believe in life, the retired aerospace workers in Palm Desert who are concerned about the moral decay of the culture. The wearers of cloth coats. Those are Republicans, to me. The Republican Party is not really about ending the inheritance tax for billionaires. The real Republicans don't even know billionaires. (Most billionaires are Democrats, anyway.) The real Republicans are not about Iraq or the ABM. They are about loving their neighbors and wanting to pass on the same great America they knew as children to their grandchildren.

Real Republicans are not haters. Not ever. It's just not in them to hate, just as it's not in any real American to hate any other American who lives within the law.

Anyway, I left the evening just in a state of amazement about Karl. This is the assassin? This is the thug? Wow, do his critics not know him. But you know what? They wouldn't stop hating him even if they did know him, because that's who they are, no matter who he is.

I don't agree with the President about fiscal policy. I don't agree with him about a happy ending in Iraq. But I sure like being in the same party as Karl Rove, and Julie Eisenhower, and Andy Card, and Senator McCain and Justice Scalia. The party that does not hate.
Let's trace the logic here. Karl Rove helps wash the dishes and walks the dog and even drives Ben Stein home after dinner. This demonstrates what a decent guy he is--someone who, like all true Republicans, is incapable of hate. But oops--he is a driver of the "fiscal policy" that Stein disagrees with and that, very late in the day, Stein has discovered is so grossly unfair as to amount to "class warfare" by the wealthy against the poor. Furthermore, Rove and the politicians for whom he strategizes have done their best to demonize anyone who publicly disagrees with that fiscal policy, accusing them--yes--of "class warfare" in an effort to silence them.

So Karl Rove has devoted much of his life to creating a tax system that victimizes the less fortunate purely for political benefit. What exactly is so decent and loveable about that?

You might think that even someone as lacking in self-awareness as Ben Stein would register the disconnect here. If he has, there's no sign of it--and I for one am not holding my breath.

Stein represents an extreme form of a sickness that permeates the mainstream media--the shaping of journalists' policy judgments by their personal connections with the powerful. I have no doubt that, when they are surrounded by people they perceive as friends, Karl Rove and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and even George W. Bush themselves are perfectly "nice," in the sense that they serve drinks and banter and loosen their ties and ask about people's wives and kids. But it's pathetic that someone like Ben Stein, who has been given a significant platform with which to influence the world's opinions, should be capable of thinking that this "niceness" of people like Rove and his friends reveals anything about the actual tendency of their public behavior--much less that it is a basis for deciding which political party to support.

Today's column by Stein about the Republicans' class warfare on the working class and the poor is, of course, completely accurate (if five years late). So I guess we should be grateful that Stein happened to meet Warren Buffett. It's obvious that mere facts aren't enough to impact Stein's judgments. For Stein to become truly exercised about any issue, he needs to hear about it over cocktails from a successful, powerful man who wears a suit and tie and is personally nice to Ben Stein.

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