How does he do it? Every day Ari Fleischer takes the stand–so to speak–but, luckily for him, it’s not under oath. That is, he provides a briefing in the White House press room and emits–oh, how to say it politely?–the most creative statements in defense of his boss’s policies. A plainspoken fella–someone like our tax-cutter-in-chief–might feel compelled to brand a deceptive answer a “lie.” But in the case of Fleischer v. Truth , I’m going to let you be the jury.
The case before us concerns the obsession of a powerful man and how far that man and his most trusted aides will go to serve that all-consuming passion. In other words, George W. Bush and tax cuts loaded for the well-to-do (a.k.a. people like him). After Bush unveiled his bold plan–the size of which was doubled at Bush’s insistence–the task of defending the proposal (which included deep-sixing the tax on certain dividends and accelerating the scheduled reductions in income tax rates) fell to Fleischer. The President, before releasing (or unleashing) the package, had launched a preemptive strike against his critics, warning them not to engage in “class warfare” in their inevitable assault upon his tax scheme. Bush’s stance provokes a natural question: why is it that handing out more money to the rich than to middle- and low-income people is not class warfare but merely noting the disparity is class warfare? (Let us stipulate that class warfare is such an ugly, anti-American tactic that any proper-thinking person ought to recoil from the charge, even though that should not always be so.)
Enter Fleischer. At the January 9 White House briefing, a reporter asked, “The President used the phrase ‘class warfare’ again today, alluding to criticism of his tax plan. Why is it class warfare to point out that the overwhelming majority of the tax cut would go to the wealthiest people in the country?” Fleischer answered, “Well, I’ll tell you, it’s class warfare to say that there are wrong people in America and these wrong people are not deserving of tax relief. The President doesn’t look at the American people and say, I’m from the government, I know who the right people are — I’m from the government, I know who the wrong people are. The President believes that’s a divisive approach.”
But the President does indeed say, “I’m from the government, and I know who the right people are.” In this instance, he is saying that the “right people” (those deserving of a tax cut) are people who hold stocks–outside of 401(k)s and other tax-free retirement accounts–that pay out dividends. What about investors who place their money elsewhere? Why won’t interest on a certificate of deposit be tax-free, under the new Bush plan? Bush is indeed deciding who gets a break. He also proposed expanding the child credit. That hardly rewards singles or couples without young ones. Tax policy is about choices, about who gets what–and choices deserve to be judged.