Columns » Max Brantley

How low can they go?

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The answer to the headline question: As low as voters allow.

What I mean is this: Republicans wouldn’t exploit fear and emotion with cheap political tricks so often if it didn’t work. The perennial question is whether voters will wise up.

Last week, Republicans were busy fear-mongering again. After a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage failed, the Republicans quickly followed up with a constitutional amendment to emulate China and other dictatorships by making flag desecration a crime. It failed, too. The work of James Madison and Co. survived one more roll call, no thanks to Sen. Blanche Lincoln.

But the Republicans aren’t nearly done with political opportunism. At the head of their family value parade is preserving the wealth of Walton heirs (who earned hardly a penny of their billions) with a huge break on the estate tax.

Once family wealth is served, the Republicans have a whole “American Values Agenda” to put before Congress in the months leading up to the November election. Same-sex marriage will be back. Abortion. Internet gambling. Property rights. The Pledge of Allegiance.

All of this suggests questions.

Do you know anybody who has paid estate taxes? If by chance you know one in that tiny number, could they afford it?

Do you know a single heterosexual marriage jeopardized by the fact that a gay couple might like to share a household under the tax and inheritance laws that benefit married couples?

Have you ever seen an American flag burned? Do you know a school where the Pledge of Allegiance isn’t recited?

Do you know anybody who’s been forced to have an abortion against her will?

Do you know a child prohibited from uttering a silent prayer in school?

Now some questions on my “values” agenda.

Do you know anyone who’s been killed or injured in the war in Iraq? Do you know anyone who’s been removed from spouse and children for months at a stretch to serve in that war?

Do you know anyone with an adjustable rate mortgage whose interest rate is rising thanks to the country’s exploding debt?

Doesn’t it seem awfully hot lately? Fewer glaciers?

Do you know anybody who isn’t covered by health insurance? Do you know people who earn barely $10,000 a year, working full-time for the minimum wage? (Believe me, you do. Drive through any burger stand.) Do you know anyone whose job was outsourced overseas?

Do you know people whose property has been fouled by pollution on neighboring property?

Do you know a single mother who can’t take a low-paying job or go to school to improve her skills because she can’t afford child care? Do you know an elderly person who can’t afford drugs, but could if they could buy them in Mexico or Canada?

Do you know anyone who pays an income tax rate greater than the billionaire heirs who live on stock dividends, not wages? (Of course you do. Most working people, when you include payroll taxes, pay more than the 15 percent maximum rate on dividend income.)

There’s something lacking in a values agenda that exalts false patriotism, fear-mongering and self-enrichment over the abundant needs of millions of real people. The Republican Party apparently doesn’t think so. Do you?


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