Nice try at seeming balanced, senator — but you failed

Back in the late ’80s, when The State had money for such things, my duties as governmental affairs editor included supervising the South Carolina Poll (at least, I think that’s what we called it — it’s been a long time).

Cindi Scoppe was the reporter I had working on it, because she had studied polling at UNC-Chapel Hill and was keenly interested in the process. She also had the kind of incisive mind, even as a very young reporter, that meant for a very critical eye when we were drafting the questions (which is why I later brought her up to editorial).

She and I and Emerson Smith, who used to bridle when I called him our “pollster” in print (political polling was more of a sideline for him, but he proved to be very good at it), would work hard at making sure that every question was as neutral as possible, and would give us the cleanest possible read on what the public really thought. This, of course, is how journalists spend a great deal of their time and energy — even though Trump supporters and that O’Keefe idiot think journalists do the precise opposite, bending the news to their supposed biases. (They think this because they know zero, zip, nada about journalists and what motivates them. And because they have the kinds of brains that assume if someone isn’t reinforcing their biases, that someone is biased. Especially now that there are plenty of information sources that will humor them.)

I think we did a pretty good job. I can’t confirm that with evidence on the issue questions, but Emerson’s polls were remarkably accurate on the kinds of things that can be confirmed — such as predicting election results.

Anyway, stepping outside of what you think in order to pose a neutral question takes practice, I guess, and politicians don’t get much of that kind of practice.

So it was that when Lindsey Graham tried to poll his constituents about the tax plan he and his GOP colleagues are determined to rush through Congress before anyone has a chance to stop them, I think he really tried to at least look like he was posing the question fairly.

But he fell short. Way short.

Here’s what he sent out:

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Dear Friend,

The United States Senate will begin debating tax reform tonight and I want to hear from you on this important issue facing our nation.

Supporters of Tax Reform:
President Trump supports tax reform and has pushed the Senate to pass this important piece of his agenda for America.  In fact, he came to the Senate yesterday to push Senators to support this plan.  His pitch was simple – hard working Americans should be allowed to keep more of what they earn.  According to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, in South Carolina the average family would be allowed to keep $2,391 more in their pocket.  The legislation also will benefit business by creating more than 13,000 jobs in our state.

Opponents of Tax Reform:
Opponents of tax reform have said they believe it is unnecessary and the Senate should defeat it when it comes up for a vote.  They have expressed concerns that tax reform could benefit the wealthy at the expense of the middle and lower income Americans.  They have not offered an alternative proposal and feel our current tax system is working as intended.

Regardless of whether you support or oppose tax reform, hearing from you allows me to better represent your interests in the United States Senate.

Make Your Voice Heard:

Click here to share your thoughts

I appreciate you taking this opportunity to make your voice heard before this important vote.


Lindsey O. Graham
United States Senator

It looks nice, and sounds nice if you read it aloud in a calm voice and don’t engage in critical thinking. Of course, I’m talking about where he tries to make the case against the legislation.

But come on. What would be the first thing you would want to mention as an argument against it, assuming you were a fair-minded person. What’s the thing that even a person who thought this package of cuts was wonderful might have qualms about?

Why, the deficit of course. That’s why Bob Corker has demanded, as the price of his support, a trigger that will automatically raise taxes if this “reform” increases the deficit the way it certainly will.

But there’s no mention of that. So right away, this attempt at “fairness” fails. Then, of course, it gets worse: “They have not offered an alternative proposal and feel our current tax system is working as intended.” To which the average recipient on his mailing list responds, They haven’t even offered an alternative (you know, like Republicans on health care)? Then screw ’em! And in what universe is there an idiot big enough to believe “our current tax system is working”?

Of course, I’m only analyzing the way he presents the “con” side.

His representation of the “pro” side is shilling of a shameful order. If I were to parody an attempt to condescend to the prejudices of the kind of people who voted for Trump (something the senator is doing a lot these days), I would probably think I’d gone overboard if I wrote something this embarrassing: “President Trump supports tax reform…” “this important piece”… “hard working Americans should be allowed to keep more of what they earn”… “in South Carolina the average family would be allowed to keep $2,391 more in their pocket” (translation: We will pay you $2,391 to support this bill!)…  creating more than 13,000 jobs in our state.”

Gimme a break.

No, wait! I take that back — you might take that as “Yes, I want my tax break!” But I don’t, because I haven’t heard anything about this bill that persuades me it’s a good idea. And this laughably transparent bid for my support didn’t help your case…

44 thoughts on “Nice try at seeming balanced, senator — but you failed

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Let me know, senator, if you need help from someone who knows how to present both sides of a question. I may be out of practice after all these years of opinion writing, but I think it’s kind of like riding a bicycle, once you’ve mastered it. And my rates are reasonable.

    But you know what? I’m pretty sure that among your constituents, you’d get a lot of support for the bill, fairly presented.

    Which is why I don’t get why you think you have to put your thumb on the scales this way. You might have gotten the result you wanted fair and square…

    1. Doug Ross

      “But you know what? I’m pretty sure that among your constituents, you’d get a lot of support for the bill, fairly presented.”

      His constituents are the ones who can get him to 50.1% in the next election. That’s all this is about. Lindsey is all about getting re-elected.

      But I do take great pleasure in the way he has melded himself onto Trump’s hip. The Chang to Trump’s Eng. The Cher to his Sonny.

      I’m going to wait and see what the actual impact on my taxes are but I do believe this is a net positive for most Americans (there will never be any proposal that satisfied everyone).

      1. Barry

        Graham called out Trump, rightly, today on CNN about his stupid tweets that created some problems (and will continue us to cause angst) for our British friends.

    1. Doug Ross

      I’d like to see that as well without any biased commentary. When I saw a headline on today that read ”

      And any analysis of the tax cuts should be limited to those people who actually pay income taxes. If you aren’t paying any taxes or, worse, getting back Earned Income Tax Credits – why should you expect any change in this bill?

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I don’t read Slate, because they approach everything that way, from a sophomoric-level lefty sensibility.

          It’s not that I dislike reading opinion. In fact, I prefer reading a well-written opinion piece to a news story, most of the time — regardless of the writer’s point of view (I tend to enjoy the opinion pages of the NYT and the WSJ fairly equally). Back when I read actual dead-tree newspapers, I read the front page, the local front, and went straight editorial. Now, I look over the “top stories,” and then go straight to opinion.

          I just enjoy receiving information from someone making an argument more than from someone who’s just giving who, what, where and when.

          But the general feeling I get is that Slate isn’t making an argument. It assumes its readers all have the same values, and everybody else is an idiot…

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      There are two bills, and there are differences between the House and Senate versions.

      For instance, one of them (the Senate version) throws in a revocation of the ACA mandate, for no reason that would make sense to a rational person. I think they put that in because somebody decided, “There’s something missing from this bill. It needs a completely non-germane, irrelevant, pointlessly destructive element that will do a great deal of harm while doing no good for anyone on the planet. Why? Because, dammit, we’re Republicans in the era of Trump, and this is what we do! And also, Crooked Hillary!”

      Actually, Otter explained it best…

  2. Mark Stewart

    It’s pretty clear that this is the worst tax “reform” proposal to ever come down the pike. If passed, this one is going to come back to bite the GOP – and hard.

    Both houses proposed legislations are insults to nearly every single voter. Easily 75% plus of the voting public will be hurt by this effort to radically reduce the taxes paid by the wealthiest 5% of the country’s population (i.e., people who don’t call SC home). It won’t take too long for voters to figure out they have been sold down the river. Then, there will be hell to pay in the next 6 years of national elections…

    1. Doug Ross

      ” Easily 75% ”


      “In 2014, the top 50 percent of all taxpayers paid 97.3 percent of all individual income taxes while the bottom 50 percent paid the remaining 2.7 percent.”

      So how do you get 75% of the voting public will be hurt by this bill? About half of the voting public pays nothing now. 70% of income taxes are paid by the top 10% of earners… if they get a tax break, they certainly have some basis to deserve it and won’t be hurt by it.

      Plus – if the business tax cuts result in companies creating more jobs, that will help people.

      Some people will be “hurt” based on what I’ve heard – those who get the benefit of deducting high property taxes or who have mortgages over $1 million… and grad students who get free tuition worth tens of thousands of dollars will now have to pay taxes on that real value — I can’t feel too badly for them when many of them work at colleges with multi-billion dollar endowments.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I’m having trouble following this sentence: “I can’t feel too badly for them when many of them work at colleges with multi-billion dollar endowments….”

        I assume that in the part that says “I can’t feel too badly for them,” THEM refers to the graduate students. But then it’s the COLLEGES — not the graduate students — who have the “multi-billion dollar endowments.” So how does the COLLEGES having these endowments keep you from feeling bad for the graduate students, who don’t have these endowments?

        1. Barry

          I wish college had been free for me or my wife when we went through grad school.

          This “free grad school” fantasy sounds fun. .

      2. Bill

        Tax Foundation is a right-wing,’think tank’ For every ‘fact’ on the internet,there is an opposite an equal fact to make your case…I’m older than you and have more reliable sources;)

      3. Mark Stewart

        Doug, here is the basic litmus test: If one’s tax situation would substantially benefit from one or all of the following, one will personally gain under this tax proposal:

        – Continuation of the carried interest loophole
        – Elimination of the Estate Tax
        – Elimination of the AMT

        If someone would NOT substantially benefit from one of these, then one loses under the current proposals. It’s pretty much that simple…

        1. Doug Ross

          You said they would be hurt. How will 75% of the people be hurt if 50% don’t pay taxes and top earners get big breaks?

          1. Bob Amundson

            Increasing deficits. That’s the sticking point in the Senate right now; the deficit “hawks” want a deficit trigger to repeal tax breaks if the deficit increases. “Trickle down” is not an economic certainty.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              And also… where is the potential for “trickle-down” in this situation? We’re pretty much at full employment, and U.S. corporations are sitting on tons of cash…

        2. bud

          Trump was pretty adamant on the campaign trail that the “carry interest” loophole was going away. Yet it is apparently staying. Never mind.

      4. bud

        Easy one. The deficits by all accounts are going to skyrocket in the coming years. That will result in a huge net cost to everyone except a few at the top.

          1. Bob Amundson

            See my above comment that agrees with Bud. I did not vote for President Obama either time, the second time because of ACA and increasing deficits. What is your response to me?

            1. Doug Ross

              My response to you is uncertain. How do you believe deficits should be addressed? I believe in a balanced budget amendment. I believe we should cut taxes AND cut spending even more to bring down deficits. So if you think we should raise taxes to decrease the deficit, I will disagree.

              1. Bob Amundson

                Blogs are not an appropriate place to discuss complicated issues. Cut taxes and cut spending with no deficit; tough problem. I believe in evidence-based policy making, which is difficult when politics are involved (whether it is an entrenched old-timer or a wet behind the ears newcomer). Because of the checks and balances in our system, efficiency is not always possible, but it should always be the goal. Data is the tool to achieve that goal, but data scientists make a hell of a lot more money in business than in government.

                1. Bob Amundson

                  You have the only blog I read, Brad. It has great value to me. I can see different points of view at a very high level, but too often solutions are much more complex than just sharing a point of view.

              2. Richard

                I hear you can pay off credit cards by just not paying them… I’ve been told that they’ll eventually go away.

                The problem with a $20 trillion dollar deficit and a balanced budget is that deficit never goes down or gets paid off. Cutting spending is the first part of the solution, putting money toward the deficit is the second. Some people are fine having maxed out credit cards and paying the monthly minimum (interest only) but responsible people are not.

              3. Brad Warthen Post author

                “I believe we should cut taxes AND cut spending even more to bring down deficits.”

                No, see, if you’re serious about addressing deficits, you don’t talk about cutting taxes. Saying “cut taxes AND cut spending” is basically saying “take one step backward AND one step forward.”

                Unless you just have blind faith in the power of tax cuts to grow the economy and thereby increase revenues to a point that exceeds your cuts. Which I think is excessive faith, bordering on religious, in the mechanism.

                Cutting taxes and INCREASING spending are both ways to stimulate the economy. But they are also both ways of increasing deficits, by definition…

          2. bud

            It’s called Keynesian economics. Deficits are necessary when unemployment is high, which was the case following the Bush recession. With the healthy Obama expansion rolling along why upset the apple cart?

            1. Richard

              That’s like losing your job and signing up for more credit cards and taking out a second mortgage… because it’s a good financial decision.

  3. Bill

    Trump should not be allowed to analyze tax cuts…

    ‘Chained consumer price index’
    People receiving EIC benefits ,middle and lower class,will be moved to a higher tax bracket,and lose those benefits
    ALCOHOL wins BIG TIME!!!


        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          OK, I appreciate the Elvis video, but let’s not make each other uncomfortable. I would’t want anyone, men or women, to say this blog is a hostile environment. Or an overly “friendly” one, for that matter…

  4. Lynn Teague

    Graham’s poll was never intended to be balanced or unbiased. It is push polling, pure and simple. I find push polling offensively dishonest, but clearly the senator does not agree.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yep, you’re right. I decided that in the middle of writing this, which is why the post might be internally contradictory.

      Here’s how that happened: I read the “con” argument first (because the real test is how well you can represent the other side), and decided he was sorta TRYING to be fair, but utterly failing. I had written about half the post before I went back and read the “pro” argument, and threw up my hands.

      Which is why I just went and changed my headline from “Nice try at being balanced, senator — but you failed” to “Nice try at SEEMING balanced, senator — but you failed.”

      And even that’s too easy on him. It was a miserable failure at trying to SEEM fair. Not a good try at all…

  5. Kathleen

    The majority of surveys/polls sent out by politicians are totally comprised of questions of the “Have you stopped beating your wife?” variety. They are quickly cursed and tossed into the circular file.

      1. Harry Harris

        I’ll summarize it.
        Cuts top corporate tax rate to 20% from 35%. Cost 1.5 Trillion (Whoppee! Dividends!)
        Repeals Estate Tax after 2024. Cost 150.7 Billion (Hang in there, Rich Grandad.)
        25% top tax rate on pass-through businesses like K Corps and partnerships. Cost 596B (Trump Inc says “Thanks.”)
        Higher child credit and family credit. Cost 430B ( We oldies are mostly out on this one.)
        AMT for individuals nixed. Cost 695B. (Trumps cheer again.)
        Larger standard deduction. Cost 921B (More have no need to itemize).
        New tax rates and income threshholds. Cost 1.1Trillion. (Mixed bag of tricks and treats)
        Foreign dividend benefit for corporations. Cost 205 B (Investing overseas becomes more fun.)

        Taketh away:
        Repeal personal exemption. Gain 1.6 Trillion. (There goes 167% of that standard deduction increase. Wonder who’s getting the money?)
        Repeal deductitions of State and local taxes, medical expenses, employee expenses. Gain 1.3 T.
        Less generous inflation measure (for COLA’s, etc.) Gain 128B. (Tough luck, pensioners)
        Slower research deduction. Gain 108B. (Research should be its own reward).
        Limit interest deductions to 30% of taxable income. Gain 108B. Leveraged players, beware.)
        Net operations loss deduction changed. Gain 156 B. (Give back some of that cut, businesses.)
        Repatriate foreign earnings at a super low rate. Gain 293B. (Give your top execs a bonus check)
        Repeal credit for testing drugs for rare diseases. (Cure them on their own dime – they can’t deduct it, either.)

        All of this adds about one trillion EXTRA to the deficit over 10 years – even with dynamic (attributable growth corrected) scoring.

        The thought of passing this without proper scrutiny or adequate discussion is chilling. This is what the Republicans have been after for years.


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