Terry Gross has a syndicated show on National Public Radio. It’s called “Fresh Air.”
As a guest last week, Gross had on Grover Norquist, the head of Americans for Tax Reform and the reputed architect of President Bush’s tax cuts.
One of Terry Gross’ first questions to Grover Norquist was this one:
“Now the Bush tax cuts would cost us about $1.1 trillion over the next 10 years, and we’re going to be hundreds of billions of dollars in debt. At the same time, the president wants $87 billion to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan. Do you think we’re in a tough spot, needing a lot of money, to rebuild those two countries at the same time that we’re cutting taxes?
And here’s Grover Norquist’s answer:
“Well, there’s a very interesting use of the word ‘we.’ Every time you use the word ‘we,’ you meant the government, and I tend to use the word ‘we’ to mean the American people and to speak of the government as the government. So when the government doesn’t take as much of your money next year as it did last year, we have more money. The government has a lower tax rate, and depending on economic growth, may have more or less money, but we, the people, have more money. So it is a good thing for us to have lower taxes.”
Wow, Grover — we can’t use the word “we” anymore to refer to a political entity called the government?
What do you propose we replace the word “we” with in the following, Grover?
“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote general welfare, and secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Terry Gross then moves on to the estate tax. Here’s the back and forth:
Terry Gross: The estate tax is only paid by somebody who gets over $2 million in inheritance. So, you know, when you get out of poverty and you cross that line which is — What is it, like, $18,000 or something that’s officially poverty line?
Grover Norquist: Depends on how many kids you have. Yeah.
Terry Gross: Right. OK. So when you cross that, maybe you’re making, like, $20,000 or something. That’s not going to help you with the estate tax. I mean, you’re talking about $2 million. That’s a line people don’t cross a lot. That’s — I don’t think that’s …
Grover Norquist: Yeah, the good news about the move to abolish the death tax, the tax where they come and look at how much money you’ve got when you die, how much gold is in your teeth and they want half of it, is that — you’re right, there’s an exemption for — I don’t know — maybe a million dollars now, and it’s scheduled to go up a little bit. However, 70 percent of the American people want to abolish that tax. Congress, the House and Senate, have three times voted to abolish it. The president supports abolishing it, so that tax is going to be abolished. I think it speaks very much to the health of the nation that 70-plus percent of Americans want to abolish the death tax, because they see it as fundamentally unjust. The argument that some who played at the politics of hate and envy and class division will say, ‘Yes, well, that’s only 2 percent,’ or as people get richer 5 percent in the near future of Americans likely to have to pay that tax.
I mean, that’s the morality of the Holocaust. ‘Well, it’s only a small percentage,’ you know. ‘I mean, it’s not you, it’s somebody else.’
And this country, people who may not make earning a lot of money the centerpiece of their lives, they may have other things to focus on, they just say it’s not just. If you’ve paid taxes on your income once, the government should leave you alone. Shouldn’t come back and try and tax you again.
Terry Gross: Excuse me. Excuse me one second. Did you just …
Grover Norquist: Yeah?
Terry Gross: compare the estate tax with the Holocaust?
Grover Norquist: No, the morality that says it’s OK to do something to do a group because they’re a small percentage of the population is the morality that says that the Holocaust is OK because they didn’t target everybody, just a small percentage. What are you worried about? It’s not you. It’s not you. It’s them. And arguing that it’s OK to loot some group because it’s them, or kill some group because it’s them and because it’s a small number, that has no place in a democratic society that treats people equally. The government’s going to do something to or for us, it should treat us all equally. ”
Terry Gross: So you see taxes as being the way they are now terrible discrimination against the wealthy comparable to the kind of discrimination of, say, the Holocaust?
Grover Norquist: Well, what you pick — you can use different rhetoric or different points for different purposes, and I would argue that those who say, ‘Don’t let this bother you; I’m only doing it’ — I, the government. The government is only doing it to a small percentage of the population. That is very wrong. And it’s immoral. They should treat everybody the same. They shouldn’t be shooting anyone, and they shouldn’t be taking half of anybody’s income or wealth when they die.”
First of all, Grover, the morality underpinning the estate tax is the not same as the “morality” underpinning the holocaust.
The holocaust was mass killing driven by a racist ideology. There is no morality there.
The estate tax is a moral tax — taxing the wealth of the super-rich to help the not so super-rich — it’s called progressive taxation.
According to Bill Gates Sr. and Chuck Collins of the group Responsible Wealth, nearly half of all estate taxes are paid by the wealthiest 0.1 percent of the American population — a few thousand families each year.
In 2001, Gates was the lead signer on Responsible Wealth’s Call to Preserve the Estate Tax, which was signed by over 1,000 wealthy people personally affected by the estate tax — including George Soros, Ted Turner, and David Rockefeller Jr. He points out that since it was enacted in 1916, the estate tax has helped to limit the concentration of wealth, making it easier for Americans to educate themselves, innovate, build new businesses, and prosper.
Gates also points out that while there is no question that “some people accumulate great wealth through hard work, intelligence, creativity, and sacrifice” it is equally important to acknowledge “the influence of other factors, such as luck, privilege, other people’s efforts, and society’s investment in the creation of individual wealth such as a patent system, enforceable contracts, open courts, property ownership records, protection against crime and external threats, and public education.”
The father of the man with the billions understands the word “we.”
Get it, Grover?
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, and co-director of Essential Action. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1999.)