Let me start by saying that I like Bill Clinton and Al Gore. I think they're both smart, capable, well educated and well intentioned. I also like and respect Hillary.
I share Clinton's disdain for President Bush's "vision thing" deficiency. Oh, and what is it with the "family values" fixation all of a sudden? Since when has it been the president's job to inspect our personal lives and tell us how we ought to interact with our own spouses, parents and children?
The only serious problem I have with Clinton is his plan to finance federal spending with higher taxes on the "rich." According to Clinton, any family making $200,000 a year is "rich" and should pay more taxes. By that definition, I suppose my wife, Terri, and I would be considered fabulously wealthy (although we fall far short of the "super rich" category of families making more than $1-million a year). I am a 34-year-old partner in a successful law firm. Terri is a physical therapist with a thriving private practice. We don't need any sympathy and I don't mean to whine. But, like the shampoo model who implores us not to hate her because she's beautiful, I urge Clinton not to punish us because we're successful.
My wife and I are not "idle rich." We each spent more than 20 years in school before even qualifying to begin our professions. We have put in thousands of hours of hard work each year for more than a decade to build our careers. We are not bad for the economy or bad for America. Together, my law firm and Terri's business employ hundreds of people, pay millions of dollars in salaries annually and spend millions more on rent, supplies, equipment, utilities and services. We donate time and energy to needy members of our community and money to worthwhile charities.
We also pay taxes. Boy, do we pay taxes. This year, our combined bill for federal, state and local levies will be well over a quarter of a million dollars. We are only in the eighth year of our marriage, but we have already written checks for joint tax payments exceeding $1-million. We like being Americans, but for us it is a very expensive privilege. And now Clinton is suggesting we pay even more.
If I am to support Clinton enthusiastically, I need help understanding what I am getting for a couple hundred thousands bucks a year. I feel I owe my wonderful parents more than I can ever repay. They gave me love, confidence, sustenance and cultural and educational support for a lifetime. (Talk about real "family values"!) On the other hand, I'm hard pressed to call to mind millions of dollars worth of privileges or benefits I have received _ or ever will receive _ from the government I support.
Sure, I can afford to pay a lot of taxes and I won't starve or become homeless if I have to pay more, but that doesn't make my tax pill any easier to swallow. After all, McDonald's doesn't charge me $23 for a cheeseburger just because I earn 10 or 20 times the median income and could pay the price. And I would love to hear Clinton, Bush or any politician explain to someone who really makes a lot of money _ like Oprah, Madonna or any left-hander with an ERA under 3.00 _ why it is fair to him or her to have a tax bill of millions of dollars every year.
So if Clinton wants me to wish him a healthy and productive eight years as president, I would ask him to consider economic equity for the "rich." We may not be a very big special-interest group. We don't have nearly as many votes as most racial and ethnic minorities, organized labor, the "middle class," farmers or the urban poor. Never forget, though, that everyone wants to be treated fairly _ and the truly special thing about our special-interest group is that almost every American aspires to be a member.
Blaine Greenberg lives and works in Los Angeles.
Washington Post Writers Group