Friday, June 09, 2006

Nebraska Democrats Endorse 'Death Tax' Deceit

by Kyle Michaelis
Yesterday, a reader drew my attention to the latest in the Nebraska Democratic Party's series of Ben Nelson: Putting Nebraska First advertisements. As previously noted, I've been impressed by the quality of these ads, while celebrating the NDP's taking an active and prominent role in the campaign that offers an incredible opportunity for redefining the party in the eyes of Nebraska voters.

But watching the latest ad - when Ben Nelson promises "I'll keep fighting to eliminate the death tax" - my God, this wasn't what I had in mind for our new identity.

Let's get something straight - for the Democratic Party to even allow this little bit of GOP sloganeering (the sinister-sounding "death tax") into its advertising is a shameless betrayal of the principles for which it supposedly stands.

Ben Nelson is, of course, his own man - he may vote as he sees fit and be as wrong as he damn well pleases on the issue of the estate tax, but in advertising to which the NDP has attached its name - going so far as to claim "the Nebraska Democratic Party is responsible for the content of this advertising" - a duty is owed to true blue Nebraska Democrats not to demean their most fundamental beliefs for the sake of any single candidate or campaign.

Simply put, if Nelson wants to run against the estate tax, he shouldn't be doing it on the Nebraska Democratic Party's dime. Why? Because there is no reconciling this particular position with the core values of Nebraska Democrats.

Reform the estate tax? Yeah, sure, we can always find a way to make these things more equitable. But no, Nelson - the great compromiser, himself - has actually rejected any such bipartisan effort, demanding outright repeal in the name of an ideology to which Democrats simply do not and cannot subscribe.

I don't say that to denounce Nelson, and it certainly shouldn't be perceived as a call for Dems to turn their back on him. Nevertheless, you do have to wonder at a Democratic Party "tent" big enough to include the belief that inherited wealth is a birthright to which the state has no claim - in other words, belief in the establishment of an untouchable American aristocracy.

One cannot fail to recognize that a Democrat who opposes the estate tax on ideological grounds has already forsaken the bedrock principles on which the progressive income tax rests as well. Is the Democratic Party's "big tent" honestly big enough to include the call for a flat tax - or even the national sales tax - that is the next logical progression?

No matter the terminology employed, the facts remain the same: only the richest of every 200 estates are currently subject to the estate tax. These are all multi-millionaires. These are people of wealth and means. And, were it not for the votes of 38 Democrats, 1 Independent, and 2 Republican yesterday, Ben Nelson's vote to repeal the estate tax would have resulted in another trillion dollars in tax cuts over the next 10 years for only the wealthiest Americans, with the tab to be picked-up by everybody else.

While it's one thing for a single candidate to break the mold - running on a campaign theme that comes down to what's mine is mine, what's yours is yours - Nebraska Democrats have no place in any way supporting such a notion. Sure, they can make allowances for Nelson, but that doesn't excuse adopting his agenda as their/our own in the manner this latest advertisement suggests.

I appreciate the emphasis Ben Nelson has put on cutting taxes throughout his political career. No doubt, the people of Nebraska do as well. Here, however, Nelson is completely off-base. The only thing Nebraskans and the larger American public dislike about the "death tax" is the name attributed to it.

To rely on this assumed ignorance and give in to it - rather than challenging it and putting some actual faith in the voters - is certainly no testament to the man's leadership.

And - any way you look at it - for the Nebraska Democratic Party to join Nelson in such foolish and unprincipled positioning is certainly no testament to its own.


Anonymous randy said...

Until we have successfully changed the frame of taxation from an affliction that must be treated to an issue of economic fairness that speaks to our morality then there is no pressure on the nelson's of the world to speak honestly about things like the estate tax.
I consider the NDP's decision to rally behind this a painful reminder of just how far we have to go. I tend to see this as a failure of us as liberal/progressive/democratic citizens. What I mean is we haven't been proactive enough in changing the debate from pseudo issues like gay marriage and the "death" tax to issues of health care, the war, corruption, alternative sources of energy, or education (sadly it's an issue but only because omaha is now facing a segregated school system).
I had mentioned in an earlier post that ballot initiatives might be a way to define ourselves. In the last cycle the gambling initiatives were defeated (if not all most--can't recall if they all went down.) And while I have no judgements about how anyone spends their disposable income, and while the revenues might very well have gone to issues we champion, our values shouldn't be dependent on initiatives such as gambling.
I'm not married to the idea of ballot initiatives but they have been successful for the other side and to our side to a lesser extent. I'm sure there are other viable options, but if we want to change the debate, to things that we care about, then we will have to take the lead. Change has always come from the citizenry. Politicians have responded to us when we give them a reason to. Again, I hasten to add, I have no experience with this, otherwise I would be happy to charge forward. I bring it here because most of the people i could talk to about it are too busy smoking pot.

Lastly, I don't mean to be presumptuous in declaring these "our values". I only do so because most of the comments I have read seemed to indicate that to one extent or another we share a similar cause.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kyle - You could not be more off-base in this posting. First of all, the Nebraska Democratic Party is under no obligation to tow anyone's line in an election. That includes Nelson or, more importantly, you. So you can disagree, but your framing of this as a fundamental betrayal of values is yours alone. you are not the arbitor of Democratic orthodoxy.

furthermore, if you had done a google search on this issue, you would have seen last week's story in the Grand Island Independent where Nelson says he supports full repeal, but would support a compromise as full repeal doesn't have enough votes. This is a far cry from your characterizationi of his actions.

Third, you give great credit to the NE Dems for running ads and having the resources to do that, but you don't seem to consider that Nelson's considerable weight is a big reason why the party has so many resources at its disposal. You say you're not advocating Democrats turning their backs on Nelson while the entire content of your post suggests otherwise. so i ask you - how many resources do you think the party would have without a single congressional or statewide seat?

Frankly, while I admire your independence, I can't help but notice that in the week leading up to this posting, you had only posted nice things about a single group or officeholder in Nebraska - Republican Senator Chuck Hagel.


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