The Universal Notebook: Occupy the Republican Party

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The stunning failure of the congressional supercommittee to agree upon how to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion was entirely a function of the unwillingness of Republicans to compromise.

Democrats tried to protect social programs serving the poor, the disabled, the elderly and working people, but they were reluctantly willing to reduce entitlement spending to get a deal. Republicans, on the other hand, were only interested in protecting tax breaks for wealthy individuals and corporations (which to Republicans are one in the same). And so the lines are drawn: rich Republicans against the rest of us.

In the Nov. 9 issue of Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson explains in telling detail “How the GOP Became the Party of the Rich.” I highly recommend Dickinson’s trenchant analysis, which has moderate Republicans excoriating the extremists who have taken over their party. But the short version of “how” is that since the Republican revolution of 1994 (Remember the old Newt? Same as the new Newt) U.S. tax policy has created a growing income gap by transferring wealth to the wealthy via reduced inheritance, capital gains, and corporate taxes.

As Dickinson points out, “almost without exception, every proposal put forth by GOP lawmakers and presidential candidates is intended to preserve or expand tax privileges for the wealthiest Americas.”

At the dark heart of Dickinson’s analysis is Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, a man Ronald Reagan’s budget director David Stockman calls a “fiscal terrorist.” It was Norquist who coerced Republican candidates into taking “no new taxes” pledges, which in turn is why America now cannot pay its bills.

Don’t be fooled by conservative cant. Taxes in this country are at historic lows. Even St. Ronald raised taxes 11 times in eight years. It’s called fiscal responsibility. Republicans used to be about balanced budgets. Now they’re about stiffing working stiffs and fattening fat cats.

This disconnect – the rich get richer at everyone else’s expense – is why the Occupy Wall Street movement has erected tent cities all over the country and the world. I know, I know, you’re as frustrated as I am that the occupiers don’t seem to have a clear agenda, achievable goals such as the end of war or segregation. But this marvelously decentralized, democratic movement does embrace the core value of economic justice. (Want to make a conservative scoff? Use the phrase “economic justice.” No such thing as far as these grumpy Grovers are concerned. There’s “my money” and nothing but “my money.”)

But factions of the OWS movement have articulated policy actions that are achievable and desirable. The protesters at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., have prepared “The 99%’s Deficit Proposal,” a fair tax system that would start to restore a measure of social justice to America’s tax policy.

Their tax system would start with taxing the wealthiest Americans at a higher rate, a proposal that the majority of Americans and even socially conscious millionaires support. It also proposes taxing capital gains the same as earned income. No one has ever been able to explain to me why investment income (money investors did not work for or “earn”) is taxed at a lower rate than earned income. It should be the other way around.

The Occupy tax policy further proposes a small Speculation Tax on the purchase of stocks and bonds, taxing all profits of U.S. corporations whether generated in this country or abroad, and the total elimination of off-shore tax havens. Tax havens cost the U.S. as much as $100 billion a year. You can read the entire proposal on the Occupy Washington, D.C., website, october2011.org.

Bottom line: the Republican Party was not always as virulently anti-social as the cast of 2012 presidential candidates would suggest. The GOP needs to purge itself of the Grover Norquist tea party types, or America needs to purge itself of the Republican Party.

Personally, I don’t care which it is.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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