Talking point supremacy

    Given what happened last night in the U. S. Senate – where Republicans predictably killed the Buffett Rule proposal that would require millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share of taxes – two questions spring to mind:

    In its diehard defense of the very rich, is the GOP politically suicidal? Or does it truly believe – perhaps with good reason – that President Obama’s populist campaign message is ultimately the real loser?The Senate vote was merely the first move on the political chessboard, a piece of election-year theater with each side maneuvering for talking-point supremacy. (By the way, the vote was 51-45 in favor of the Buffett Rule, but naturally, in the chamber dominated by the 60-vote filibuster threshold, 51 votes in favor of anything constitutes defeat.) As a result, the battle lines have now been drawn:Obama will contend that Republican intransigence perpetuates an unfair status quo, one that allows the very rich to pay taxes at a much lower rate than the typical working stiff. And Republicans will contend that “fairness” is empty rhetoric, that hiking taxes on the wealthiest Americans won’t make a dent in the deficit or fuel economic growth. Each side seems happy to articulate this basic contrast.It would be presumptuous to predict which argument will ultimately sway swing voters – victory on that front will likely go to the party that best connects its theme to the everyday life of the average Joe – but public opinion would appear to favor the Democrats. Overwhelmingly so.The new CNN poll, released yesterday, says that 72 percent of Americans support the Buffett Rule concept, requiring that the rich be taxed at a 30 percent rate. (Mitt Romney, thanks to his hefty investment income, is taxed at roughly 15 percent.) What’s particularly stunning is not that 69 percent of independents say yes to the concept, but that even self-identified Republicans – by a margin of 53 to 46 percent – say yes as well.Gallup has also reported landslide support for the Buffett Rule (at a more modest 60 percent), all of which explains why the Democrats are so eager to force a series of congressional votes on the rule this year. It’s all symbolic; the Republicans will kill the concept every time. But Democrats are confident that this symbolism can be weaponized for November, that even low-information voters will come to recognize the tell-tale signs of Republican extremism.So perhaps the GOP is nuts to keep doubling down on its ideological absolutism, falling on a sword for its top-bracket masters. On the other hand, it seems perfectly willing to defy the polls and make a broader economic argument rooted in their core beliefs. “Soak the rich” has rarely been a winning argument in American politics, and the GOP is calculating that the same will hold true in 2012.One thing is certain: Anyone who still thinks there’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans is sadly in need of a mental reboot.——-By the way, with respect to Mitt Romney’s decision to delay public release of his 2011 tax returns – he announced the delay last Friday at 5 p.m., a traditional day and hour when people try to bury embarrassing news – suffice it to say that he’s risking more political ridicule as a secretive Daddy Warbucks. And if you don’t want to believe me, check out this column by Marc A. Thiessen, stalwart Republican and a chief speechwriter for George W. Bush. I yield him the balance of my time:”Mitt Romney handed President Obama a political gift…Even Republicans are starting to ask: What could possibly be in his old tax returns that is worse than creating the impression he has something to hide? “When Romney finally released his 2010 return, it was revealed that he had millions in an offshore Cayman Islands fund and millions more in a Swiss bank account he had failed to disclose earlier. This was perfectly legal, if politically tone-deaf. The man had been running for president for nearly eight years. One would think that, by 2010, he would have scrubbed his finances to get rid of any controversial investments. Whatever is in his earlier tax returns, Romney is better off releasing them and enduring some more bad press than giving Team Obama more fodder for its ‘what is Mitt hiding’ campaign…”The Romney campaign says Obama wants to ‘distract Americans from the real issues.’  They are right. But Obama is not creating the distractions, Romney is. He needs to stop. Now.”——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1


    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal