By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Yesterday's decision by Rep. Eric Cantor and 84 of his Republican Party colleagues to support a confiscatory tax on bonuses at bailed-out financial firms should give Rush Limbaugh and the party's titular leaders pause.
What do Republicans stand for?
I've always thought that, when you stripped away all the phony sermons about morality, at its absolute core the GOP was about freeing capitalists to rock and roll, unburdened by Washington regulators and oppressive taxation.
Think about it. It's pretty much the only reason to have Republicans at all. We have plenty of preachers, church ladies, moms and spouses to scold us. Why hire a Newt Gingrich or an Eric Cantor to tell us what's right and wrong if they are not going to make us rich?
But yesterday 85 Republicans took the plunge down a slippery slope.
It is now impossible for them to escape the question: If it is okay to micro-manage and soak wealthy Wall Street greedheads with a 90 percent tax after their bungling has caused a worldwide financial crisis, then what's the harm in regulating them before, and taxing them at a higher rate—say, 45 or 50 percent—when they are pulling in those gazillion-dollar bonuses in the good times?
And maybe prevent the kind of meltdown we're suffering through today?
And reduce the national debt, save Social Security or guarantee health care with their money?
Doesn't that make sense?
Not only did Cantor and the boys vote for a 90 percent tax, they pretty much trampled the spirit, if not the letter, of the Constitution along the way. The blatantly punitive tax was drawn just broad enough—maybe—to avoid the prohibition against bills of attainder.
Ninety percent! Granted, the Republicans are in a fix. They want Barack Obama to fail, don't have a coherent alternative to Obama-ism, and after messing things up so royally themselves, need a path back to popularity.
Populist outrage seems like a good, distracting bet. Maybe the public won't remember that it was George W. Bush and a Republican administration that okayed the AIG bailout in the first place, and sat idly by when the firm announced last November that it would be paying $469 million in "retention bonuses."
Poor Tim "Beaker" Geithner. He thought the public's silence at the time was acquiescence.
The Republicans can certainly choose to dump the economic libertarians and go-go capitalists in their ranks, and plot their comeback as down-home populists, with a coalition of affluent retirees, church-going Christians and die-hard Southerners.
But once you start telling the public that the saintly entrepreneurs need watching, aren't really risking anything (we are!) and are ripping off gobs of our money—well, Chris Dodd aside, you're sounding like a Democrat to me.
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