No one’s much surprised, but the Democrats are losing opportunities in the messaging war on tax reform. In a gleefully titled “reality check” oped, Fox News and Townhall contributor Guy Benson recently referenced an old USA Today fact check which called the Democrats’ rhetoric ahead of the Trump tax cuts “misleading.” It’s news now because of a Bloomberg piece analyzing 2016 tax data made available by the IRS in August. While that piece is not as hostile to progressive taxation as it might be, it is itself misleading in several ways and clearly seeks to emphasize to the same startling result from Benson’s piece: just over half of federal individual income taxes are paid by the top 3% of taxpayers when ranked by gross adjusted income (AGI).
Benson seizes on this to assert that the “Left’s political stories about ‘fair shares’ and ‘millionaires and billionaires’… [are] not grounded in facts and omit crucial perspective.” But it is Benson and his tax cut apologists — making claims like “we have a federal spending problem, not a revenue problem” — who lack crucial perspective. A careful reading of the very Bloomberg analysis that motivated Benson’s opinion shows just how bad a revenue problem our nation has.
As Judge Kavanaugh closes in on joining the Supreme Court, I’m reminded of some thoughts I had when Justice Kennedy first announced his retirement. Kennedy had long been hailed as a “swing vote” because, while a nominal conservative, he frequently broke ranks to side with the liberals. Now some are voicing concerns that another Trump pick, especially in the form of Kavanaugh, will signal a sharp and even unprecedented right turn that will last for a generation: last week, NPR’s Domenico Montanaro opined that this pick will be “replacing the swing vote on the Supreme Court” and that “for the first time in 75 years or so, there would be a conservative majority on the Court.”
There’s some truth that Kavanaugh would pull the Court to the right, but only because he is himself so sharply conservative in his jurisprudence. But Kennedy’s reputation as a swing judge is in fact quite undeserved. Kennedy was a pronounced conservative, and his “swing” decisions — typically involving individual civil rights — can be better understood through his relatively unsophisticated fear of government encroachment against finely scoped individual freedoms. If Kennedy was popularly understood to be a check on the more aggressively conservative inclinations of the modern Court, that understanding was mistaken. And if Kavanaugh is confirmed to replace him, that will most likely just cement the conservative-leaning majority the Court has actually enjoyed for most of the last 75 years.