A rich man with a dancing horse attacks the poor

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and I have something in common.

We paid about the same income tax rate during the time for which he has released his tax returns. In fact, mine might have been a bit higher.

The financial similarities end there. He, of course, is a multi-millionaire. I am, well, not.

I don’t have a dressage horse or car elevator or multiple houses. And I don’t buy factories, leverage them, bankrupt them and make a fortune.

I have one house in Portland. It needs a new fence and to be painted. And when it rains hard, the basement floods. Instead of a car elevator, I could use pontoons to float the junk I store down there.

Republicans often accuse Democrats of class warfare, trying to pit working-class families and low-income families against the rich.

Turns out that there is class warfare, and it’s the only war in which the non-veteran Romney has ever participated.

During a secretly recorded fundraising event first reported by Mother Jones magazine, Romney picked up a conservative talking point that 47 percent of Americans don’t pay income taxes.

The number, according to the Tax Policy Center, is actually 46 percent, but never mind that 1-percentage-point quibble.

Romney’s point was that there are people like him and his super-rich funders, and then there are the others: the mooches and freeloaders and lucky duckies who get a pass on their income taxes and think of themselves as “victims”.

Those people, Romney says, aren’t his problem because they have been built into a dependent class that votes for President Barack Obama.

Since I’m in the same income-tax territory – as a percentage, not a total number – as Romney, he’d probably be surprised to learn that I don’t support his regressive tax policies or the fairy tale economics he preaches.

And, it turns out, most of the “freeloaders” he doesn’t need to worry about hail from decidedly Republican states.

According to the Tax Foundation, the states with the highest numbers of people who don’t have an income tax liability are: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Carolina and Texas.

There is no Republican electoral map for victory that doesn’t include Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina or Idaho. And Florida and New Mexico are generally considered swing states, althought Romney has managed to alienate them with his plans to dismantle Medicare and immigration policies.

But there’s a larger point than the electoral math for a presidential candidate who seems to be coming unwound.

In Maine, about 33 percent of people have no income tax liability. The reasons are pretty straight forward: The tax code allows for credits and deductions that reduce the income tax liability for many working and low-income families.

Just like Romney takes advantage of a deduction for his dancing horse, many families in Maine take advantage of tax credits and deductions for home ownership and for raising their children.

Our tax code is built around certain ideas, such as promoting homeownership and stable conditions for children – and, for the really rich, fancy horses.

There’s more to it, too. In a recession, incomes fall and tax liability goes down.

Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein puts it this way: “When people lose their jobs or see their paychecks drop, they tend to pay fewer income taxes as well.”

Or as the Tax Policy Center says, plainly: “For example, a couple with two children earning less than $26,400 will pay no federal income tax this year because their $11,600 standard deduction and four exemptions of $3,700 each reduce their taxable income to zero.”

Most of the people with a zero income tax liability have low-incomes. And, until very recently, reducing the tax burden on the working poor and low-income families was a bipartisan way to fight poverty. Others are the elderly, who have paid their dues, or students.

And the taxman gets everybody, one way or another.

Whether it’s through payroll deductions for Medicare and Social Security, through sales taxes or gas taxes, everyone pays. And as a portion of income, in too many cases working families pay at a higher rate than the very wealthy, including Romney.

Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks called Romney’s remarks “a country-club fantasy.”

Romney was born with every advantage of power and privilege to a former governor of Michigan and presidential contender. He went to the best schools, riding a trust fund through his early life.

And, as he reaches for the pinnacle of power, he looks around at people without a job, money or, in some cases, opportunity, and he calls them names and says he’s not worried about them.

He should be.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com.