Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Erosion of Estate Tax Is a Lesson in Politics

The Washington Post has an article talking about how repeal of the estate tax, something that helps almost no one but a tiny group of the very rich and that hurts the rest of us, got where it is.
In 1992, when heirs to the Mars Inc. fortune joined a few other wealthy families to hire the law firm Patton Boggs LLP to lobby for estate tax repeal, the joke on K Street was that few Washington sightseers had paid so much for a fruitless tour of the Capitol.

Today, the House is expected to vote to permanently repeal the estate tax, moving the Mars candy, Gallo wine and Campbell soup fortunes one step closer to a goal that once seemed quixotic at best: ending all taxation on inheritances.
It's hard to believe what the Republicans can do with clever naming.

It strikes me that the problem with the Democratic response (which has characterized much of how the Democrats respond to Republican initiates) is that it is defensive. Typically the Republicans blame the Democrats for doing something awful, such as taxing people for dying. The Democrats then spend most of their time attempting (often with little success) to defend themselves from what in essence is a meaningless charge. But since it's so confusing, and since it sounds so terrible, much of the debate centers around whether the Democrats are guilty of what the Republicans charge.

A better way to respond is to attack the attacker. In this case, the counter-attack is not to deny favoring a death tax. It is to charge the Republicans with attempting to carry the ball for the extremely rich. The Democrats should not defend the estate tax; they should spend most of their energy attacking the Republicans for being in the thrall of the wealthy who want to save millions for themselves by forcing the rest of us to pay higher taxes. The Republicans are simply hired guns of the very wealthy, and the people shouldn't be fooled by fancy naming.

But for some reason the Democrats hardly ever manage to turn the debate this way.

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