Protestors rally against higher taxes in Santa Barbara, California. (Reuters/Phil McCarten, File.)
Happy Tax Day! Or maybe, instead, we should call it "Ronald Reagan Day." Consider the advertising slogan of TurboTax: "The Power to Keep What's Yours." With Ayn Rand, with our fortieth president and his fawning acolytes, the nation's best known suite of tax preparation software presumes taxation to be theft, and the very opposite of what jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (who left his residuary estate to the United States government) more accurately called it: "the price we pay for civilized society." Here in our not-so-civilized society, when it comes to taxes, Ronald Reagan has won. For example, his claim that tax cuts "pay for themselves"—i.e. unleash so much economic mojo that the government ends up receiving more revenue for the U.S Treasury when rates are cut. Even though that is actually "magical thinking," a "fantasy," and a "just-so story," and a "bedtime fairy tale Republicans tell themselves."
But don't take my word for it. I'm just a Bolshevik with a laptop. The quotes above come from a 2010 article debunking the right's "supply side" fantasies by National Review staffer Kevin D. Williamson. That piece, entitled "Goodbye Supply Side," pointed out, "There is no evidence that [George Bush's] tax cuts on net produced more revenue than the Treasury would have realized without them." And I remember thinking when I read that that this was an extraordinary piece of truth-telling—perhaps even some sort of watershed moment in the intellectual life of American conservatism. Perhaps it would inspire a brace of self-reckoning, in which the right's perfervid army of ideological hacks suddenly started questioning for the first time whether claiming black is white and up is down was intellectually or morally sustainable.
Even Rick Perlstein, at this here late date in the game, can sometimes fall prey to naive fantasies about the American right.
The article was ignored. It received a grand total of thirteen tweets. I rang up the author, Kevin Williamson—who, by the way, when he's not telling unseasonable truths to fellow conservatives about economics can spread the Orwellian horseshit just as deep and wide as any other of his benighted comrades—to ask him what effect it had. "None," he replied. Williamson then reflected upon further questioning that, well, some: Certain Republican politicians admit privately that he is correct, but "it's hard to get them to acknowledge it in public because it's become such a piece of dogma."