Media Revel in Romney’s ‘47 Percent’ Remarks but Ignore the Underlying Problem
If Donald Rumsfeld were caught campaigning for George W. Bush on government time — which happens to be a violation of federal law — it would have been front-page news for a month. But after the US Office of Special Counsel reported that Kathleen Sebelius was guilty of campaigning for Democrats in her official capacity as health and human services secretary, it would have taken a team of hounds to find the buried notices. Network news and major newspapers pretty much shrugged and bought the administration’s party line: Nothing to see here; please move along.
In a way, you have to marvel at the press corps’ collective determination not to cover something. The White House press secretary wasn’t even asked about Sebelius’ lawbreaking until a week after the fact.
The media do a great job of not covering what they don’t want to cover. And even when they make the effort — as with the endless replays of Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” tape — they find a way to avoid the substance. The video story quickly became a tale about who filmed it, who leaked it, and whether the campaign had lost momentum. At all costs, reporters and analysts avoided the basic issue: Should we be bothered by the fact that nearly half of American taxpayers pay no income taxes at all? Is it a problem that a roughly equal number receive direct benefits from the federal government?
Hoping to cut the debate off at the pass, liberals are quick to point out that these figures omit payroll tax payments. But payroll taxes are unique; they are dedicated to funding Medicare and Social Security independently from the rest of the budget. In fact, the universality of those taxes is one reason the corresponding programs enjoy broad and bipartisan support.
Payroll taxes do not fund national defense, national parks, or education. Payroll taxes do not support VA hospitals, food stamps, the EPA, or thousands of other programs. A worker who pays nothing in income taxes has little vested interest in how much we spend on these programs and whether it is wasted.
This is not a question of taxing the elderly or working poor. Set aside these groups, and more than half of the non-income-tax-paying public remains. The argument isn’t that everyone in this group should pay high taxes; it’s that many should be paying something. Throughout the 1990s the number of filers paying no income taxes remained below 35 percent.