My prosperous friend Megabuk sat in the restaurant booth grinning. Not only grinning, but while reading his newspaper and sipping morning coffee, he broke into a loud laugh.
When I expressed surprise at Megabuk's jovial mood, he put aside the paper and said: "Why shouldn't I be happy? The waitress is bringing us a hearty breakfast, I'm in excellent health, my business is in good shape, and it's a fine morning."
But didn't you hear President Clinton's speech? You earn well over $200,000 a year, so you are going to be clobbered. I would think you would be glum rather than chipper.
"Oh, that," he said, with another chuckle. "Why should that bother me? Clinton has been saying he was going to do it for the last year and a half, so it was absolutely no surprise."
Nevertheless, paying considerably more in taxes doesn't seem like something you would be laughing about.
"Of course it isn't. Nobody likes paying higher taxes. But that isn't why I'm laughing."
Then let me in on the joke.
"I'm laughing because he has stuck it to so many others who didn't expect it. He has redefined the definition of rich. So a lot of those making well under $200,000 will be paying through the nose, too. He's getting something from some of the geezers on pensions. And best of all, he has found ways to squeeze something extra out of the great middle class, which thought it was untouchable. Ah, yes, our new president is full of surprises."
I'm disappointed that you would derive satisfaction from the misfortune of others.
"Why not? Have any of them ever shown compassion for me? No, every time some Democrat populist, lacking an original thought, says, 'Soak the rich, soak the rich,' they cheer and say, 'Soak 'em again, soak 'em again, harder, harder.' It is truly heartwarming how generous Americans can be with someone else's money."
But do you deny that you can afford it?
"Of course I can afford it. And if a couple of muggers grab me on the street and say: 'Give me your wallet and your Rolex,' I can afford that, too. Actually, I'd prefer that because at least the thieves would be honest enough not to smile at me and say I'm contributing to a brighter tomorrow."
You surely can't compare being a victim of common theft to contributing your fair share for a brighter tomorrow.
"That is true. If I don't cooperate with the muggers, they might hit me on the head. But if I don't contribute my fair share for a brighter tomorrow, all the government will do is seize my home, my business, my bank accounts and maybe put me in prison. And if a mugger hits me and I yell for help, I might get some sympathy. But with taxes, I am part of America's most loathed silent minority."
You, part of a silent minority?
"Absolutely. Haven't you noticed that on TV, people like me are never asked how we feel about sacrifice? They always ask some truck-stop waitress or a part-time furniture mover, and they say sacrifice is terrific. Really, there should be a law requiring all man-on-the-street interviewees to reveal their tax bracket."
You don't have to be silent. Why don't you speak up? You could form a protest group, something like the Society for the Preservation of the Affluent -- SPA, for short -- and hold rallies or marches.
"Nonsense. That would be socially unacceptable, and we would be jeered. So we don't call talk shows, write letters to the newspapers or even complain to our barbers. We must be stoic. When someone like Clinton says, 'Soak the rich,' we hop into the bureaucratic washing machine and smile bravely right through the spin cycle."
I have difficulty seeing you as part of an oppressed minority.
"Of course. It is part of the American tradition to revere the underdog. But it was my fate to have achieved overdog status. Look at Zoe Baird. You would have thought she was baking and eating those Peruvians, rather than providing them with gainful employment. No, I'm afraid overdogs are society's whipping dogs, and nobody speaks on our behalf."
George Bush and Dan Quayle did.
"Yes, and look what happened to them. They might have won had they vowed to soak the rich. Or even slightly moisten us. And speaking of Dan Quayle, when are you going to apologize to him?"
"Ah, you don't remember. Think back to his debate with sweet Albert Gore. Gore fantasized about how soaking the rich would give America a brighter tomorrow. But Quayle said that even if they stripped us bare and plucked the gold from our teeth, it wouldn't come close to paying for their grand schemes. Quayle patiently explained that they'd have to go after the $100,000-plus crowd and the great middle class. Gore scoffed and the pundits sneered, which is their nature, but Quayle was right on the button, almost to the penny. And now Clinton is doing what Quayle predicted he would."
Well, anyone is capable of a lucky guess. Or as Plato said: "Even a blind squirrel sometimes finds an acorn." And the issue is simple: everyone paying their fair share.
"Would you kindly refrain from using that vile word in my presence?"
"Fair. Any politician who uses that word should have his tongue forcibly removed. Who decides what is fair? Congress, which views a million dollars as a mere speck of confetti? Or Clinton, a career politician who has spent his entire adult life playing with other people's money? That is why baseball is so great a game. We always know if a ball is foul or fair. Thank goodness Bill Clinton did not become an umpire."
"The games would never end. Not if he stopped to draw 20 new foul lines after every inning."