Tax Cuts For Sale
President George Dubya Bush has a mandate. No, I don't mean the one from last November where the American people, as with one voice, cried out: "Governor Bush is our second favorite choice for president!" Nor do I mean the mandate from the Supreme Court, which decided, on the legal principle of privilegio de favoritum candidatum, (which allows justices to pick the president) that Dubya was their man. No, I'm talking about the mandate that came from the people who financed Dubya's campaign.
Recall that in 1999, even before the Texas governor declared his intention to run for president, over 60 million dollars had been handed over to him for that purpose. And let's face it: all that easy money didn't come from the auto mechanics and waitress-moms of America. By last August, in fact, 137 million dollars in soft money had been raised for the GOP the bulk of it from the super rich. Two categories of super rich were established in order to intensify the competition of party donors. Those who forked over $250,000 were designated "Republican Regents" while the niggling skinflints who only coughed up $100,000 were placed in the lowly "Team 100." At one event during the GOP convention in Philadelphia last summer, some Team 100 members were heard complaining that their members-only special events were getting downright crowded. Meanwhile, the Regents, just for having kicked in their quarter million, were offered an opportunity to meet both Dubya and Mrs. Dubya, as well as Brother Jeb.
Some GOP leaders were chagrined at the unattractive spectacle of Candidate Dubya rolling around in piles of fat cat Republican loot, so they decided to do something about it. What they did was propose a number of devices to make the donors look poorer than they were. Most of these involved breaking up the donations into smaller sums and funneling them through various Republican state organizations. Also, GOP officials encouraged donations through obscure corporations controlled by Regents and Team 100-ers that would not only hide the amounts contributed, but make it difficult for anyone to identify individual donors. In the meantime, party spin specialists went out to tout the line that Dubya's campaign was financed not by millionaire heirs and heiresses, but by thousands of ordinary grassroots Americans. According to the Deep Throat maxim, if you want to know who's calling the shots in an operation, you follow the money. For Dubya the money leads to the tony halls of Tiffany and Company, where last year the Republican Regents were treated to a party in which soup was served in mock Faberge eggs. At this same event elegant crystal bowls with Dubya's signature were given out as thank-you presents. But these gifts were not adequate exchange for the mandate these Tiffany-traipsing multimillionaires handed to Dubya. Their real reward is the Great Tax Cut Bonanza of 2001.
Dubya's tax cut is designed to turn America's treasury into a bodacious feeding trough. The basic premise of his plan is this: rich people need more money. Since the top one percent of America's multimillionaires pay 21% of the nation's income taxes, Dubya thinks they should get 43% of the tax cut--about 690 billion dollars. I'm sure those who coughed up 250,000 dollars for the President's election believe these numbers make perfect sense. Pretending to help ordinary Americans while catering to the rich is like a game of high stakes hide and seek. It requires disguising this year's tax giveaway just as last year's donations were disguised. That's why we were offered that White House Media Moment in which a group of ordinary middle class Americans were asked to stand next to Dubya as he touted his tax cut.
The game of making us think the tax cut is equally good for all Americans is kind of like the game the GOP played at its convention last summer. That one included stage shows demonstrating that African-Americans couldn't find a more friendly and nurturing environment than the one offered by the party of Jesse Helms and Tom DeLay.
Dubya believes that by standing next to middle class folks, we will be convinced they are the ones his tax cut will help. But don't you wonder what Dubya's real friends look like, the ones waiting offstage for a chance to plunge their mitts into America's coffers? Are they really Ward and June Cleaver types or do you suppose they look more like Alexis Carrington and J. R. Ewing?
(R. L. Moore is a Professor of Anthropology at Rollins College in Winter Park.)