Old-school conservative says tax the rich

Readers of a more rightward bent (I’m guessing that includes the anonymous soul who, in my favorite reader comment of the millennium, asked last week if I got punched in the face a lot as a child) no doubt stare mouths agape at the name of this column and dismiss the enclosed baubles of wisdom out of hand.

But what if one of my more familiar tunes – that increasing taxes on the very rich needs to be part of any deficit-reduction package – were echoed by a bona fide conservative?

That’s just what happened on CBS Sunday Morning this week. Ben Stein, moderate conservative, former Nixon speechwriter, actor (remember “Bueller, Bueller, Bueller”?), and former Comedy Central game show host, argued that taxing the rich was a far better alternative than another option that’s been floated – eliminating or limiting the home mortgage interest deduction:

Look, we are just barely limping off the bottom of a residential housing catastrophe, and home buying and building are finally, after a genuine nightmare, reviving. If we could get housing roaring back, that would go a long way towards full recovery for our economy. Obviously, taking away the home mortgage interest deduction is the very last thing the housing market needs. I’m not saying it would hit every homebuyer, but a home is an investment. If we lower the return on an investment, well, you get the picture.

This bad idea is apparently meant to substitute for tax increases on the wealthy. But this is strange. The rich, by definition, are RICH. That’s why they are CALLED rich. They can afford to pay more tax. The middle-income homebuyers, or some of them, need that home mortgage interest deduction to buy.

So we have the question: Do we want to clobber housing, hurting millions of homebuyers, builders, construction workers, and timber people? Or tax the people who have two Cadillacs and a Bentley? How can this even be an open question?

Very good question, Ben Stein.

Of course, when I refer to Stein as a “moderate conservative,” I mean a conservative who doesn’t believe we need tax the homeless and destitute while completely eliminating the capital gains and estate taxes (as Michele Bachmann proposed – you know, to make the system more fair), or that dinosaurs were created to walk among men in God’s paradise but that somehow gays were not. In other words, he’s not completely and irredeemably nuts. Unlike, well … lots of other people these days.

For there was a time when politicians of all stripes understood that if you want to raise tax revenue, you have to tax people who have money. I prefer to cling to the naïve and quaintly old-fashioned notion that taxing homeless people is a waste of time, as is neglecting to tax billionaires. Ben Stein understands that. Why can’t John Boehner?


Of course, I can hear the Tea Party chorus already. Taxes are already too high! Socialism is wrong! This plan will kill the economy! Is this a new episode of Gunsmoke?!

I’ve already answered the fears about our economy’s health ad nauseam, including here. And here’s my answer re: the plaintive cries about socialism. But what about the idea of fairness – the notion, repeated so often by modern-day GOP apologists, that we’ve devolved into a dystopian society of makers and takers? With regard to that, I’d like to answer with a simple graphic, crappily forged within the dream factory that is my humble laptop:

Let the face-punching begin.

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