Monday, July 24, 2006

Is Republicanism Simply About Greed?: An Open Letter to John Ponterotto

Mr. Ponterotto,
I want to thank you for the perhaps unwittingly candid remarks you made to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Paul Nussabaum for a piece that appeared in yesterday's Sunday Inquirer. So candid that I expect you're already getting flack for it - undeserved flack, let me say.

Nussbaum set out to examine whether voting patterns can be neatly explained by income, and while the article was inconclusive, the fascinating window into the microcosm of the wealthy enclave of New Canaan, CT - as Nussbaum notes, "the richest town in the richest county in the richest state," though he didn't add, "in the richest country in the history of the world" - was well worth the read. In fact, by the end, I think I had found an area of common ground on which we can work to advance our mutual interests.

As the local Republican Party chairman, you explained to Nussbaum why so many of your friends and neighbors vote for the GOP. Is it the Republicans' superior moral values? Their superior honesty? Their wisdom in foreign policy? Their determination to look out for the poor and disadvantaged at home and abroad? No:
The local Republican Party chairman, investment banker John Ponterotto, sees a financial incentive for New Canaan Republicans: their tax bracket. "My theory is that until you get up to incomes of about $75,000, people are not that interested in taxes," Ponterotto said. "But when you get up to $150,000 to $200,000, you really start to feel the bite of income taxes and it becomes an issue for you. And the only people willing to address that are the Republican Party."
Ponterotto said he sees a shift among the superrich. "At exceedingly high income levels, there's a lot of support for the Democratic Party. I don't hear people with $2 million incomes complaining about taxes; I hear people with $200,000 incomes complaining about taxes."
Now that is some refreshing honesty - it's about the taxes. These folks don't get to keep as much money as they want. And how much money is that, by the way? $150,000 puts you in the top 5% of all U.S. households. Probably just below the top 5% as of 2006, actually - more like the top 6%. These people just don't have enough money! And the only people willing to address that, you feel, are the Republican party.

That's not quite true, actually -but we'll get to that in a minute. First, are there any plausible alternative explanations for you people voting GOP? Nussbaum got two of your fellow townspeople to chime in, but only one of them makes a sensible case.
Paul Giusti, a selectman in New Canaan's town government, made his money in housing construction in the Midwest. The grandson of Italian and Lithuanian immigrants, he votes Republican.
"In our town, the people who vote Republican, I think, believe in less government intervention and more personal freedom," Giusti said.
"Less government intervention and more personal freedom"? From the party of Sam Brownback and Rick Santorum? More freedom to marry whomever you choose? More freedom to have abortions? To perform research on stem cells? To speak foreign languages? To express yourself by burning the flag? To gamble on the Internet? To experiment with narcotics? To disseminate provocative and lurid images and expressions? To talk on the phone without warrantless government agents intervening in your privacy? Let us not embarrass Mr. Guisti by belaboring his ridiculous notions any further. Besides, we have his fellow New Canaanite Kira Brandman, who confirms your point:
In New Canaan, there is support for [this] theory in the hillside home of Andrew and Kira Brandman. Andrew is a senior vice president of the New York Stock Exchange and votes Republican. Kira, after a career in telecommunications, stays at home with the couple's two young children and is active in the local Democratic Party.
"We're really both more centrist than to the right or left," said Kira, 38. "We have similar thoughts on abortion and where tax money should go. But my vote is for the betterment of everyone, instead of just the betterment of myself.
"My husband describes himself as socially responsible, fiscally conservative. He's pro-choice, he's for gun control, but he works hard and he wants to keep his money."
Yeah, that's the ticket. If you see Kira around, Mr. Ponterotto, please share my thanks with her, for her naked confession of her husband's simple greed - his vote, like yours, is simply for the betterment of his NYSE-senior-vice-president self.

Now, here's the deal: there's a party out there which actually does work for an agenda which, overall, does in fact result in more personal freedom - and the kicker is that this party wants to adjust federal tax policy so that one huge chunk of the tax burden falls less heavily on folks in that $150,000-$200,000 bracket that you and I are equally concerned about. This party is known as the Democrats. And if their agenda fails, there's little doubt that the income tax burden on folks like you will have to rise substantially in the future.

You see, there are these folks out there who don't seem to be concerned with paying their fair share - they're waging a form of class warfare, if you will, against you oppressed top 6 percenters. They're the superrich, the ones with the $2 million incomes, the ones you say you don't hear complaining about taxes. And why not? Because they're no longer paying the estate tax! Used to be, we had a (partial) hedge against a hereditary class of aristocrats in the form of a tax on estates, so that folks with huge fortures wouldn't simply pass all of it on to their superfortunate offspring (which would have deprived them of the incentive to learn about the manifold benefits of work). But the Bush/Cheney/Rove Republicans took it away - apparently they were too busy reducing government intrusions and increasing personal freedoms to realize what they were doing.

The Democrats have a better plan. They want bring the estate tax back (or, prevent it from being permanently repealed) but with an exemption of $2 million per taxpayer/$4 million per couple, eventually rising to $5 million, which will prevent 99% of all estates from being subject to it. You folks who are merely in the top 6% won't have a thing to worry about! Just like you didn't before 2001, before the astonishing fiscal irresponsibility of the Republican party was put into full effect. We'll just hit the superrich - and with the revenue raised, there won't be a need for a major income tax hike shortly down the road when the baby boomer retire.

Whaddya say? You're an investment banker - you know what a good investment looks like. Do you really want your portfolio heavy on the guys who have run up the biggest debt in U.S. history? Let's make a deal - for your own good.

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