Myths are perpetuated in Washington, with conventional wisdom created by one person and bouncing off hundreds more in a self-reassuring circle of groupthink. But in real America, you can find the truth if you look hard enough.
When the Democratic Party and the fourth branch of government, the mainstream media, unite on an issue, the result is a powerful megaphone of misrepresentation. During the present fiscal cliff negotiations, the most egregious myth perpetrated by the Democratic media complex is that the public supports raising taxes on the successful.
You might believe that the Democrats and mainstream media are right, according to public opinion polling. Just one example, a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, found that 60 percent of respondents support increasing taxes on incomes more than $250,000 a year, including a meaningful 39 percent of Republicans. It is seemingly hard to argue with that.
However, when you ask the public what the top tax rate should be, you get a completely different picture of reality.
In a survey conducted by The Hill in February, 61 percent of likely voters said the top tax rate should be 25 percent or less, a rate that is substantially lower than the present top rate, demonstrating majority support for lowering taxes below what they are today. Fully 88 percent said the top rate should be at the current 35 percent, or less. Only 4 percent supported a top tax rate of 40 percent, which is closest to the proposal of President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats to increase the top rate to 39.6 percent.
This is worth repeating: Only 4 percent of the public supports the tax rate Democrats are trying to force successful small businesses and individuals to pay. This finding destroys the myth that Obama’s election was primarily a mandate for higher taxes.
So why is a majority of the public calling for higher taxes, while at the same time believing the top rate should be lower than it is today?
The answer is that today a majority of the public simply does not know that successful individuals and small businesses are already paying a very progressive tax rate of 35 percent — higher than what the public supports. As conservatives, we have only ourselves to blame for failing to inform them of this reality.
If the public knew that Democrats are trying to increase the top tax rate to a higher rate that 96 percent of the public believes is unfair, they would surely be in opposition to it and join the fight to bring fairer, lower tax rates not only as the overhyped fiscal cliff is debated but also beyond.
Congressional Republicans have some educating to do. Their cry should be that it is unfair to force successful small businesses and individuals to pay a top tax rate of 40 percent. Washington politicians do not have a right to 40 percent of any American’s labor and it is immoral for them to claim they do. Increasing the top tax rate is also unfair to struggling Americans who will bear the burden of its projected destruction of 710,000 jobs, according to an independent study conducted by the accounting firm Ernst & Young.
A better, brighter vision for the future is allowing individuals and small businesses to keep more of their income. That’s what’s fair, and also what creates more jobs, more prosperity and more opportunity for all. The public believes in this vision, not the Democratic one. It’s well past time to engage them and win the argument.
Colin Hanna is president of Let Freedom Ring, a conservative public policy organization. Alex Cortes is the group’s executive director.