A new tack in tax wars

In 2009, Tea Party activists used the federal tax filing deadline to stage a series of rallies that catapulted the protest movement into national prominence. Tax day started a wave that crested in conservatives’ 2010 midterm shellacking of congressional Democrats. A routine event — collecting income taxes that fund the federal government — became a political metaphor, and created electoral opportunity.

Three years later, the Tea Party is scuffling, and the Obama campaign is co-opting tax day theatrics for its own political purposes. Congressional Democrats seized tax day yesterday. They unsuccessfully pushed a vote on the so-called Buffet Rule. The measure would set a 30 percent minimum tax rate for millionaires, and it met universal opposition from Senate Republicans. And everybody knew the vote was doomed anyway.  (Look nonetheless for Scott Brown’s anti-Buffet Rule vote to figure in the campaign against him.)

But as the Senate was fighting for a Buffet Rule vote, the Obama campaign unveiled a sparkly new tool on its website. It’s a Buffet Rule calculator, which lets voters stack their estimated tax rates up against Mitt Romney’s. (Spoiler alert: Romney’s rates are way lower.) And then there’s a magical Buffet button, which, upon being clicked, gives the satisfaction of seeing wealthy venture capitalists’ rates move way up to 30  percent. “It’s not about class warfare, and it’s certainly not about some arcane policy disagreement,” says an Obama campaign email. “It’s about common-sense fairness.”

The Obama gambit may help cement a campaign caricature it’s trying to drive home, of Romney as a detached plutocrat. It may fizzle into nothing. But it’s a sign of how drastically things have turned that Obama’s advisers can take a symbolic day that, just three years ago, was draped in conservative deficit-busting, anti-federal activism, and turn it into a referendum on income inequality and tax fairness.

                                                                                                                                    –PAUL MCMORROW


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