If Bush soaks the rich, the poor get fewer crumbs

October 15, 1990|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

PRESIDENT BUSH is being unfairly rapped for his refusal to go along with congressmen who want to raise the taxes of the wealthy.

But by backing away from the proposed tax hike, he has shown himself to be both compassionate and politically astute.

Unlike Congress, Bush senses that soaking the rich would unleash a furious political backlash.

We would turn on our TV sets and see hordes of angry ladies in mink coats leaping from their Lincolns and Cadillacs to picket the White House.

The letters pages of newspapers would be filled with outbursts from readers saying things like:

"President Bush has betrayed every wealthy family in America. By raising our taxes, he has made sure that this will indeed be a cold and bleak Christmas for my immigrant cleaning lady, since I will now have to cut her from five to four days a week and omit her holiday bonus. Wake up, America's rich! Do you want to scrub your own floor?"

The timing for such a tax proposal could not be worse, as Bush surely recognized. This is the season when most country clubs hold their annual membership meetings. And in clubhouses across the nation, men would be jumping up and shouting:

"Fie upon the motion to repaint the halls blue. There are more urgent matters at hand. I say that we, the members of the Ye Old Thinn Lipps Country Club, send a resolution to Bush condemning his treachery and revoking his standing as a WASP, a golfer and a member of our social class. The man is nothing more than a Bolshevik in Brooks Brothers clothing."

And it isn't only the rich who would be against increasing the tax on the rich by 3 or 4 percent.

Take Bill Bentback, who has swept floors and emptied wastebaskets in the same factory for 35 years. When asked about the proposed tax hike, he said:

"No, it would be a terrible thing to do. The spendable income of the man who owns this factory would shrink to only $480,000 a year, and when I go in to clean his office, he would become grouchy and not say hello to me. And without that, I don't think I could go on. I would much rather they find some way to increase my taxes. After all, I'm already on the cutting edge of being poor and miserable, so I might as well go all the way. Instead of feeding scraps to my old hound dog, I'll get rid of the dog and eat the scraps myself."

Bentback touched on a key economic truth that Bush apparently understands, as did Ronald Reagan, who cut the taxes of the wealthy while clipping the middle class, which didn't seem to mind, since they kept voting for him.

And that economic truth is that no matter what you do to the taxes of those who are stretching to make ends meet, they will still be stretching to make ends meet. So as Dr. I.M. Kookie, the noted expert on a lot of stuff, has said: "The ends will never meet, so they might as well keep stretching. It's good exercise."

On the other hand, by taxing the rich, you run the risk of making them not rich anymore. It was put most succinctly by the valet in a movie called "A New Leaf." His rich employer squandered his fortune and he wondered what would become of him. The valet said: "You will be poor in the only true sense of the word. You will not be rich."

So if the rich aren't rich anymore, they will be poor. And how can we go on taking pride in being the richest, most powerful country in the world if our rich people become poor?

As it is now, we no longer have the world's top moneybags. The Japanese have more billionaires than we do. So does Europe. And even after being kicked out of their palaces, the homeless Kuwaitis have more billions stashed than Donald Trump ever dreamed of. Do we want all of them pointing at us and laughing and saying: "Nyah, nyah, we're rich and you're not, so there"?

Besides, those who aren't rich need role models, someone to look up to. That's why they read People magazine and watch "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous."

Does Congress think they want to open People and see Madonna wearing an old house dress? Or Bill Cosby putting up storm windows?

No, George Bush should be praised for his bold and humane stance. As old Walt, a toothless and grizzled panhandler, said to me: "If he taxes the rich, they won't have any pocket change to give me, and what will happen to my career? Bless that man. He's doing it all for me."

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