Democrats use the phase “paying their fair share” to justify rolling back Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans and bringing in significant revenue to set against deficit reduction. This is the wrong sales pitch because it implies that the wealthy should be encouraged to decide on their own that it is “fair” to “give” money to help with the deficit, rather as they make decisions on charitable contributions.

Recall that early in the first Bush Administration then Senate majority leader Trent Lott claimed that taking away more than 30% of an individual’s income for public purposes through taxes was “immoral.” In Lott’s and Republicans’ worldview, the individual has a moral right to keep what he gets, and the moral right to make the decision, as a free choice, to use what he gets for “doing good”. Liberty is the highest value for Republicans for moral reasons.

The Republican ideal is not so much small government as “exclusionary” government. What is excluded out – at least ideally – is any area of public policy where individuals are to be treated equally, any degree of redistribution whether through tax policy, welfare, health or even education spending. The social Darwinism ethos is challenged any time an individual who cannot afford a particular benefit lays claim to it as an entitlement. In right wing ideology, that individual case must be located in a sector where help cannot be presented as a claim, but rather as an appeal to another individual’s or private institution’s inclination (or not) to help out. It is key that the giving be a matter of private choice.

No one has an absolute right to wealth they earned because getting it is so dependent on preexisting institutions and norms, which in a democracy have theoretically been created with the participation of the citizenry as a whole, in many areas with moral justifications. This is precisely the idea of government the Republicans seek to constrict and delegitimize and that Democrats must support. So let’s not appeal to the Republicans sense of “fairness”. Just roll back the tax cuts. Remember, according to a Washington Post poll, 72% of the public support raising taxes on people who make $250,000 or more.

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