Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Fighting for their constituencies

Perfect. The five-paragraph dispatch was buried deep in the Wall Street Journal, as befits news of class struggle in this moment of capitalist triumphalism. The small, laconic headline was:

Moynihan Plan Opposed

By Manufacturing Group

The board of the National Association of Manufacturers had met and frowned mightily against Sen. Moynihan's proposal to cut Social Security payroll taxes. Such a cut would partially unmask the real deficit, would cost the government $62-billion over the next two years, for starters, and would (one can hear NAM say) cause grass to grow in the streets of America's cities.

The NAM statement says, with more fervor than rigor, this: Changing the schedule of Social Security tax increases adopted in 1983 would "erode whatever confidence remains that any tax structure adopted by the Congress will actually remain in place for more than a few short years."

NAM's statement is admirably forthright: "The sharp increase in the deficit would generate intense pressure for off-setting spending cuts andor tax increases, with the likeliest result politically being income-tax increases, especially on corporations."


The NAM story was datelined Boca Raton.

A famous book on Europe's revolutionary tradition is titled To the Finland Station, a reference to the Petrograd railroad station where Lenin arrived in 1917, bearing the revolutionary impulse. When the history of America's non-revolutionary tradition is written, it should be titled To the Boca Raton Resort and Club. That is where the ruling class goes to recuperate from the rigors of capitalism.

The NAM is putting up a proper defense of its constituency's interest. What is indefensible is the Democrats' invertebrate response to Moynihan's idea. Does the Democratic Party differ in any interesting way from the NAM? Are the constituencies the same?

Felix Rohaytn, the financier and Democrat who helped New York City through its fiscal crisis in the 1970s, says any analysis of the increasing regressivity of social policy should examine state and local taxes, too. He says the effect of Reagan-Bush policies has been to enlarge the mandates of state and local governments, while shrinking the federal resources for them. Thus local governments have been driven into deeper reliance on regressive sales and property taxes.

Many Democrats say Moynihan's proposal would provoke a "crisis." In Washington, "crisis" is a noun denoting any situation in which politicians must make choices that are preceded by a modicum of thought about large questions and followed by the need to say something intelligible about the principles that dictated the choices.

Yes, cutting Social Security taxes without knowing what compensatory action would be taken would be risky. Or, as Democrats like to say soberly, it would be "irresponsible."

Moynihan's Democratic traducers say: Gee, if we open large questions of taxation and distributive justice, who knows what the majority might do to us? The rumor persists that Democrats are the majority. But rumors often are wrong, such as the rumor that Democrats comprise the "opposition." That canard is refuted by this fact: Oppositions oppose.

Democrats lack confidence in themselves, and who shall say they are wrong? But politics would be more satisfying if they had the brio of the Catholic priest who, when asked how one could come to know the church's view of heaven and hell, said: "Die."

Washington Post Writers Group