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Further Signs Of Decay At 'the Washington Post'

Ben Nelson isn't the only one attacking the House Democratic plan to pay for expanded health insurance in part by taxing the rich. The Washington Post today editorializes, "there is no case to be made for the House Democratic majority's proposal to fund health-care legislation through an ad hoc income tax surcharge for top-earning households."

No case? Wow. I think the case is straightforward--we need revenue to fund a dire social need, this revenue would come from those most able to bear a higher burden, would probably entail minimal economic harm, and also happens to be political popular. The Post's argument against boils down to its assertion that we shouldn't be "tapping a revenue source that would surely need to be tapped if and when Congress and the Obama administration get serious about the long-term federal deficit."

So the Post is arguing that the House is depriving itself of the (politically easiest?) source of revenue for future deficit reduction. If this argument is true, I don't see how it comes anywhere close to backing up the thesis that there's "no case" for taxing the rich to pay for health care. Nor do I even think it's true. You could, as the Post prefers, pay for health reform now with a middle-class tax hike, and pay for deficit reduction later with a tax hike on the rich. But it seems just as easy, if not easier, to do it the other way around. After all, very few Republicans support meaningful health care reform, so if you're not going to get their votes, you might as well pay for it the way you want. (Republicans in the House are going to oppose health care reform regardless of how it's paid for.)

On the other hand, some Republicans might care about the deficit--at least while Democrats control Washington--and thus could buy into a deficit-reduction deal that entails a middle-class tax hike. But they'd never sign onto a tax hike for the rich. So it may be easier to get the tax hike on the rich now and the middle class tax hike later.

I was especially struck by this concluding line in the editorial:

Pretending that "the rich" alone can fund government, let alone the kind of activist government that the president and Congress envision, is bad policy any way you look at it. 

This is the second time in the last week or so that the Post editorial page has adopted propagandistic right-wing jargon.On July 5th, a Post editorial slammed another Democratic proposal like so, "Are the tariffs' extra layer of protection worth the risk? It is if you're an American union boss." Conservatives employ the term "union boss" as a way of denying that unions provide any benefit to their workers. Rather than argue against policies that benefit unionized workers at the expense of everybody else--and there are plenty of them--the "union boss" dodge allows right-wingers to pretend that just a handful of Big Labor profiteers stand to benefit.

The potential tariffs decried by the Post would clearly benefit not just the chosen representatives of organized labor but the unionized workers themselves. But if you rewrote that sentence in the Post editorial to reflect this reality--"It is if you're a unionized worker"--then it loses its punch, and requires you to make the more difficult explanation of why unionized workers do not deserve our sympathy in this case. It's a highly propagandistic use of language.

And we have today's edition of the Post using Wall Street Journal editorial page-style scare quotes--"Pretending that 'the rich' alone...". This is another favored bit of right-wing jargon. Most people tend to favor taxing the rich. That's why, rather than argue against the proposition straghtforwardly, conservatives use scare quotes as if to suggest that "the rich" are not really rich. Does the Post editorial page think this? Does it think that it's inaccurate to describe people in the top 1 percent of the income distribution as rich? I find it dismaying to see a once-great paper employing linguistic devices that are designed to obscure reality and avoid honest debate.

--Jonathan Chait