Fair Taxes Is A Way Of Making The Union More Perfect
Speech By Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.
ACORN’s Annual Legislative and Political Conference
Monday, March 12, 2001
I want to start with two observations before making several other points. The first observation is that during the Civil War it was said that one of the differences between Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis was that Davis seemed determined to win arguments and debates even if he lost the war, while Lincoln was content to lose some debates but he was determined to win the war. Many progressives are like Jefferson Davis, content just to win public policy debates, but then lose the war and blame the troops who would not fight by voting for “their” public policy prescriptions. “We are right on the issues,” we proclaim, but 100 million Americans did not vote for anyone, and they need us the most. So, too often, we have a credibility gap with our soldiers. Lincoln had a general named McClellan who trained troops well, but was reluctant to fight. Lincoln much preferred Grant and Sherman because they didn’t just prepare to fight, they fought. Lincoln once said, “Grant has the bear by the hind leg, while Sherman takes off its hide.” Orders to our troops from Grant and Sherman are different than orders from McClellan. I want to congratulate you. ACORN is more like Grant and Sherman than McClellan — you fight.
A second observation. During the Civil War, Lincoln wanted to issue an Emancipation Proclamation but the North had lost a series of important battles. A cabinet member, his Secretary of State, William Seward, advised him that the timing of such an action had to be right — preferably after a Union victory. The northern victory at Antietam provided Lincoln with such an opportunity. But in finally issuing the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, he transformed a somewhat demoralized army into an army of liberation. I believe progressives and ACORN need such a moment; but, even more, I believe our goal must be nothing short of liberation.
ACORN is in Washington today, among other reasons, to lobby Congress against the Bush tax cuts. Apparently, you’ve been receiving advice from Seward — you’re timing is just right.
We know what the tax facts are:
* As John Kenneth Galbraith said in yesterday’s New York Times, the Bush Administration is relying on the Federal Reserve and on tax reduction to rejuvenate the economy. It didn’t work for Hoover. It’s not likely to work for Bush, with potential tragic consequences for all the result.
* Bush’s nearly $1 trillion in tax cuts passed in the House last week leaves most of the needy out. An estimated 12 million low-and moderate-income families, with 24 million children, will not benefit from Bush’s tax plan.
* Bush’s tax cuts disproportionately benefit the rich. The top one percent of the population with the highest incomes will receive between 36 and 43 percent of the tax cut, depending on the calculation.
* Bush’s tax plan is reversing a traditional congressional process — ramming through massive tax cuts before voting on a budget. As a result of Bush’s taxes, there will be massive budget cuts in vital people programs once Bush’s budget reaches Congress.
* Last week’s House-passed tax cuts didn’t include the estate tax and so-called marriage penalty taxes that Bush wants to add as well. The estate taxes only benefit the top 2 percent of the wealthy — those able to pass on $675,000 to their children through 2006 or $1 million thereafter. Because of the estate tax, we have the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Pew Foundation and other philanthropies because, rather than pay taxes to the government, these individuals passed their wealth to public foundations to advance the public good — a public that had been very good to them. The marriage tax too benefits mostly the wealthy and leaves out those families at or near the bottom of the income scale. According to Bush, these two tax cuts will amount to another $600 billion.
* But Bush’s tax cut calculations do not include increased payments for interest on the debt and several other things. Thus, the real cost of Bush’s tax cuts are not $1.6 as it espouses, but closer to $2.5 trillion. Those are some of the critical facts about Bush’s tax proposals. I used my vote to oppose his tax cuts.
But I want to approach the question of taxes this morning from a little different perspective, as we remember that liberation must be our goal. Liberation, when discussing taxes, means fair taxes for all Americans. So how to we achieve fair taxes?
Let me put it into historical perspective. Historically, two issues have been central to America:
1. The relationship between the states and the federal government.
2. Race as central to understanding American history.
Race is the most central and best lens through which to see American history. I call it race academic, not race personal. I’m not using race as a club to beat white people over the head. I’m not using it to try to send anyone on a guilt trip or make them feel ashamed of their ancestors. Neither am I trying to make African Americans feel sad, ashamed or inferior by reminding them of their past. I am using race like a pair of tinted sunglasses. If you put on blue sunglasses, the world looks blue; yellow sunglasses, it takes on a yellow tint. In essence, I’m asking you to put on “African American sunglasses” and look at American history as objectively as you can through the subjective lens of race. Again, I appeal to you to look at race academically and not to personalize it. I believe that this view will reveal more about how and why America is what it is today than any other perspective one may choose. If you have clarity on this point, you’ll have clarity on taxes.
What do I mean? Prior to the Civil War, at various times, Americans expressed their politics through four political parties — Federalists, Democrats, Whigs and Republicans. Democrats were the slavery party and, after 1854, Republicans were the anti-slavery party. Republicans believed in the ideology of “free labor.” Democrats believed in the ideology of “slave labor.” During the Civil War, Democrats were mostly the Confederates and Republicans were mostly the Unionists. Following the Civil War, we were left with just two parties, Democrats and Republicans. Democrats either were, or cooperated with, the KKK in undermining and destroying Reconstruction, even as Radical Republicans supported it.
After the Civil War, southern Democrats were out of power and northern Republicans occupied the South militarily. Southern Democrats were trying to figure out a way to get back in power.
The former slaves were now being elected to state and federal legislatures and taxing the property owners — the former slave-owners — to pay for the education, health care and housing of the freedmen. These Democrats resented it, but they knew if they continued down the anti-black path the North would never let them back in the Union. So these same wealthy former slave-owners came up with another strategy. They couldn’t hold anti-black conventions any more, so, instead, they convened anti-taxpayer conventions. Thus, out of these anti-taxpayer conventions came the language of “tax and spend liberals.” Now, northerners couldn’t call them racists any more; they were just responsible FISCAL CONSERVATIVES! They weren’t racists, they just didn’t want to spend the amount of money that was necessary to “fix the problem.”
Radical Republicans, the liberals of that day, took the position that the federal government should help the former slaves until they achieved economic parity with whites. Economic moderates said the government should help the freedmen for a while, but then they were on their own. Economic conservatives said the former slaves have the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments — “they have the law on their side” — so they should just pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
Radical Republicans, the liberals, also believed that the government should help the former slaves achieve social equality with whites. Social moderates said we were equal under the law, but they didn’t want us in their neighborhood, their schools, their social clubs, their churches and sure ’nuff didn’t want us in their families. Social conservatives said they would never recognize us as equals.
So we are left with our current paradigm — Democrats and Republicans who are economically liberal, moderate or conservative or socially liberal, moderate or conservative.
Thus, the racial dialogue today is not calling us out of our name. It’s this: “I’m a Democrat whose conservative on economic matters, but socially moderate. I’m a Republican who’s economically moderate, but socially conservative. etc. etc.”
But if we understand the economic code words, we’ll know who is really with us and who is not. While it was a tragic incident, our real opposition isn’t the men who dragged James Byrd to death behind a truck in Texas. It’s another Texan, and all of those who join with him and call themselves “fiscal conservatives” and “strict constructionists;” all those who want a Balanced Budget Amendment; whose priorities are “balancing the budget” and “eliminating the debt” instead of “balancing lives” with jobs, health care, housing and education.
It’s all of those who are unwilling to collect enough fair taxes from all of the American people to put all Americans to work making a liveable wage; provide every American with comprehensive and universal health care; provide every American with a high quality public education; provide affordable housing for all Americans; and provide all Americans with a clean, safe and sustainable environment.
We need fair taxes as a way of making the Union more perfect! But how do we get over, around or through this Democratic, Republican, economic, social, liberal, moderate, conservative maze?
I have a suggestion. Hubert Humphrey said at the Democratic Convention in 1948 that we need to move from states’ rights to human rights. That’s what we need to do today. That’s why I’m fighting — to paraphrase my DLC brethren — for a third way. I’m not just fighting for and against Democrats and Republicans. There’s a third say. I’m not just fighting for and against liberals and conservatives. There’s a third way. And that third way is human rights. I’m fighting for human rights. I’m fighting for a moral/economic-centered politics that’s universal — that is, human rights, economic policies and programs for all Americans.
Scalia and Rehnquist told us in Bush v. Gore that there is no fundamental right to suffrage in the Constitution. We must fight for voting rights, because political rights are protective of all other rights. That’s why, shortly, I will introduce an amendment to the Constitution for the right to vote. The 15th Amendment was against voter discrimination on the basis of race, color or previous condition of servitude. The 19th Amendment was against voter discrimination on the basis of sex. The 26th Amendment was against voter discrimination on the basis of age — after you turn 18. But there is no fundamental right to vote in the Constitution. Thus, when it comes to voting, all Americans must have the same protection that the “chads” had in Bush v. Gore — equal protection under the law. I hope you will support it.
Economically, my #1 agenda item in Congress is real full employment, not just the so-called full employment of today where there are still 15-20 million people who are unemployed, underemployed, employed part-time when they want to be working full-time, are in jail or never worked so they aren’t even counted. We must fight to make labor laws more conducive to labor organizing so the playing field between labor and capital has greater balance. That’s why, last week, I introduced H.J. Res. 28, a constitutional amendment giving every American the right to a job. I ask for your support.
Moral/economic-centered politics means we must fight for comprehensive and universal health care for all Americans. That’s why, last week, I introduced H.J. Res. 29, giving every American the right to health care. Health care is a human right. I hope you’ll support it.
We must fight for affordable housing for all Americans, not just public housing for the poor and subsidized housing for the working poor. That why, last week, I introduced H.J. Res. 30, giving every American the right to safe, sanitary and affordable housing. Housing is a human right.
We must fight for a public educational system that is of equal high quality for all 52 million children in 85,000 public schools in 15,000 different school districts. That’s why, last week, I introduced H.J. Res. 31 giving every citizen the right to an education. Education too is a human right. I need your support.
We must fight for equal opportunity for all, including women; and fight for equal pay and comparable worth. That’s why, last week, I introduced H.J. Res. 32, giving women equal rights. I need your input and support.
We must fight for environmental policies that will give us a clean, safe and sustainable environment. That’s why, last week, I introduced H.J. Res. 33, giving every American the right to a clean, safe and sustainable environment.
And, it may surprise you, but I’m for giving the American people a tax break. But my tax break plan is called “fair taxes.” The average American is feeling squeezed by taxes not because there has been an increase in aggregate federal taxes — federal income taxes have remained steady at about 18.5% for the last 50 years — but because there has been a shift in the burden within aggregate federal taxes from corporations to individuals, and a significant rise in regressive SS taxes. In 1946, individual income taxes comprised 7.2 percent of GDP, corporate taxes 5.3 percent, Social Security taxes 1.4 percent. By 1998, individual income taxes comprised 9.9 percent of GDP, corporate taxes 2.2 percent, Social Security taxes 6.8 percent. Additionally, while federal taxes have remained the same, state and local taxes have doubled. But even though federal income taxes have become more unfair, they are still more progressive that state and local taxes. So the biggest tax break the vast majority of Americans could receive is to have fair taxes.
And, you guessed it, that’s why, last week, I introduced H.J. Res. 34, giving every American the right to be taxed progressively in proportion to the income which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the United States — and I need your support.
I support a moral/economic-centered politics. Every one of those issues — voting rights, jobs, health care, education, housing, equal opportunity, the environment, taxes — are morally sound. But their moral-centeredness also reflects an economic need and an economic content. And they will all be achieved through politics, through organizing a politics to achieve them. And that’s what ACORN does.
Supporting any or all of these amendments doesn’t mean that I want you to stop doing what you’re doing. If you agree with them, I simply want you to support them and to get the representative in your district and the two senators in your state to support them. That will tell you who really believes in you and your economic interests. That will really let you know who wants to build a more perfect Union.
Human rights are neither Democratic nor Republican; they are neither conservative, moderate nor liberal. They are human rights, and I want to give all Americans these rights; rights which can never be taken away if codified in the Constitution.
I want your support. I need your help. I’m counting on you and you and you — and ACORN — to help build a more perfect Union.