Fairness for Whom?

It’s a good sign we’ve entered the election silly season when pundits are arguing against “fairness.” What’s next, apple pie? (Motherhood, of course, is already a battleground of the “mommy wars”—Lord help us!)

The Democrats are trying to take the pro-fairness side of the debate, in particular around the issue of tax rates for the wealthiest Americans. The so-called Buffett Rule—named after billionaire Warren Buffet, who pointed out the injustice of his paying a lower tax rate than his secretary—became a key talking point the week before April 15.

Here’s how President Obama put it: “Right now, the share of our national income flowing to the top 1 percent has climbed to levels we haven’t seen since the 1920s. And yet those same people are also paying taxes at one of the lowest rates in 50 years. That’s not fair.” (The Occupy movement arguably deserves most of the credit for that framing of the issue.)

The president’s political opponents were quick to dismiss the focus on tax fairness as campaign rhetoric aimed more at the fall elections than any meaningful policy goals. It’s a safe assumption that pretty much anything between now and November has that partisan goal in mind, and—perhaps not surprising—fairness polls well.

But the critics didn’t stop there. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, for instance, called the Buffett Rule “nothing but a form of redistributionism,” and said that focus on the tax fairness issue “is an exercise in misdirection.” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that having the rich pay a higher tax rate “won’t take a single person off the unemployment line.” (It also won’t end the war in Afghanistan, he didn’t add.) Others brought out the tired accusation of “class warfare.”

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