Occupy Wall Street

How the Right's Lame Attack on Occupy Wall St. Shows the Poverty of Conservative Ideology

The Right's response offers us a microcosmic view of everything that's wrong with conservative discourse these days.

A new NBC/ Wall Street Journal poll finds that among those with an opinion, twice as many Americans support the Occupy Wall Street Movement than oppose it. The movement -- with its defining message of standing with the 99 percent of Americans who don't have lobbyists working for them – appears to have tapped into a deep vein of discontent among working people whose economic security has been savaged by decades of upward redistribution of the nation's wealth.

The right, in keeping with its habitual knee-jerk defense of the privileged, has tried, with little success so far, to push back on that message. And its response offers us a microcosmic view of everything that's wrong with conservative discourse these days.

Their answer – or one of them – is a Tumblr account called We Are the 53%, an unimaginitive take-off of Occupy Wall Street's We Are the 99%. And here's what makes it such a perfect representation of modern conservatism: it's based on an egregious lie spun by the movement's leaders, and it puts those who are sufficiently gullible – or ignorant – to believe that lie in a position of fighting hard against their own economic interests.

The site is the brain-child of Erick Erickson, a toxic right-wing idiot hired by CNN in a futile attempt to deflect conservative charges of “liberal bias.” Erickson says he works three jobs – as others have noted, these include blogger, cable news pundit and talk-radio host – and his own entry notes that he can't sell his house and faces sky-high health insurance costs. “Suck it up you whiners,” he then adds, “I am the 53% subsidizing you so you can hang out on Wall Street and complain.”

The lie Erickson offers is simple. The 53% refers to a popular and wholly dishonest right-wing talking-point: that only 53 percent of American families pay taxes.

That's based on the fact that after 3 decades of stagnant wages -- and a series of changes to the tax code that were quite popular with Republicans -- about half of the population doesn't pay federal income taxes (it's actually 49 percent, so it should be called We Are the 51%, but when you're as wrong as Erickson, you might as well go all-in).

But federal income taxes represent just 22.7 percent of the government's revenues – it's a small piece of the pie. Payroll taxes also provide about a fifth of government revenues, so it would be like saying that hedge fund managers pay zero taxes because they don't pay that one type of tax (they do, however, get a sweet deal compared to the rest of us).

The reality is that when you consider all taxes, everyone making between $20,000 and $500,000 per year – the vast majority of the population – pay a tax rate of between 35 and 45.6 percent of their incomes, according to a study by Boston University economists Laurence J. Kotlikoff and David Rapson. So Erickson, and those who buy his pitch, are subsidizing nobody.

Many hard-working Americans pay no federal income taxes. According to an analysis by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CPBB), 70 percent of those who fall beneath the income cut-off have jobs. A “traditional” family of four can earn up to $51,000 per year and not pay federal income taxes.

CPBB also notes that many of these families have long paid federal income taxes. The low current figure “is an anomaly that reflects the unique circumstances” of this dismal economy, a time “when the recession greatly swelled the number of Americans with low incomes and when temporary tax cuts created by the 2009 Recovery Act — including the 'Making Work Pay' tax credit and an exclusion from tax of the first $2,400 in unemployment benefits — were in effect.”

Another 17 percent are seniors who busted their tails during their working year, paid their taxes and are now collecting Social Security. The remaining 13 percent are students, disabled people and the unemployed. To suggest that all of these Americans are “leeches” being “subsidized” by the 51 percent who are doing well enough to pay federal income taxes right now is simply loathesome.

But it's also tragic. As Gawker's Max Read put it, what makes Erickson's project “so heartbreaking isn't that its contributors are enormous jerks—it's that so many of them could just as easily be writing in to We Are the 99 Percent.”

BLOCKQUOTE: Like the guy on the left, who can "barely afford" his rent. Or the "former marine" in the center who hasn't had "4 consecutive days off in 4 years." The phrase "I don't have health insurance" pops up frequently on "We Are the 53%," but not as a cry for help or an indictment of a broken system. Here, it's a badge of pride.

BLOCKQUOTE: You'd think that someone who "never had the option of parental health insurance to age 26" would see why such a policy makes sense, or that a person who used welfare and food stamps after suffering an injury and losing her job might understand better than anyone else the value of a social safety net.

As one pours through the testimonials, there's little doubt that many of these people are in fact among the 49 percent who pay no federal income taxes but don't know it (another Tumblr, “Actually, You're the 47%,” highlights the point). After all, they get federal taxes taken out of their paychecks – they just happen to be payroll taxes.

Whether or not they pay incomes taxes, they've certainly been steam-rollered by the “New Economy.” And then, duped into what Karl Marx would have called a false class-consciousness, they're moved todefend the guy driving that steamroller. It epitomizes the modern right -- poisoned with Ayn Rand's vision of a world divided between producers and moochers, they don't want to be counted among the latter.


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