One of the most frustrating things about being a Republican in presidential election years is the media’s unwillingness to debate Democrat’s policy ideas. As Jonah Goldberg wrote after the first Democratic debate,” Republicans are always asked to justify their conservatism in a way that puts them either at odds with their supporters or with the public.” Democrats aren’t put in a similarly difficult position.
For example, on abortion, Governor Scott Walker was asked a question over his opposition to rape and incent exemptions in pro-life legislation and whether that put him “too out of the mainstream on this issue to win the general election.” But Senator Marco Rubio, who favors pro-life exemptions in extreme cases, was asked, “[H]ow do you justify ending a life because it begins violently, through no fault of the baby?”
One question was designed to poison the well with pro-choice voters, the other aimed at turning off pro-life advocates. To be clear, these are tough, but legitimate, and even fair, questions. To the extent that the abortion issue is a voting cue, these questions helped clarify the stance of the candidates.
But shouldn’t we expect the same type of questions to be asked of Democrats? If Republicans are being asked to walk through fire in order to smelt out their base elements, shouldn’t Democrats face the same test? Absolutely. As a corollary to the questions above, Democrat candidates should be asked whether they believe that it should be legal to abort a healthy 8-month-old fetus for nonmedical reasons. It’s a sticky, hard question, but it at least forces the candidate to tell us something that we didn’t already know and allows voters to distinguish between the viewpoints of the people onstage.
As Goldberg continued, in a post for National Review following the first Democrat debate, the problem extends up and down the issue list.
[I]n the Democratic debate, where trillions of dollars in new spending was proposed by the various candidates, the question of how to pay for it rarely came up, except when the candidates themselves shouted about how they’ll make the rich pay for everything. It’s a remarkable thing: When Republicans talk about how they want to let more Americans keep the money they earn, they are grilled about how much that will cost. But when Democrats talk about how much of our money they want to spend, they’re rarely held to account for how that would work.
It’s simply taken at face value that everything can be paid for through additional taxes on wealthy individuals. No follow up questions are asked with specifics on what the rates need to be? No deep-dive into the long-term economic impacts of those rate increases? No cross examination on whether other developed nations have made similar taxing schemes work. Instead, all we’re left with is casual acceptance of Democrats’ as economic magicians.
Take, for instance, Bernie Sanders, who became a cult political figure over his willingness to embrace “democratic socialism,” which is just like any other brand of socialism, but supposedly without all the negative Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, etc. references. To Sanders, this means a robust package of social welfare services ranging from more robust Social Security benefits, to single-payer health care, to expanded daycare subsidies, to nearly anything else you could think of. But discussing what services government can provide is only half of the equation. After all, someone has to pay for all of this stuff at the end of the day. But Sanders, somehow, seems to get a pass on that side of the ledger.
And it’s a hell of a pass. To understand why just take a look at the tax systems in Sanders’ preferred part of the world. Fortunately, the Tax Foundation has crunched the numbers:
[T]he United States’ top marginal income tax rate is higher than Norway’s and only 18 percent lower than Sweden’s, yet raises 40 percent less income and payroll tax revenue than Norway and 50 percent less than Sweden.
Scandinavian income taxes raise a lot of revenue because they are actually rather flat. In other words, they tax most people at these high rates, not just high-income taxpayers. The top marginal tax rate of 60 percent in Denmark applies to all income over 1.2 times the average income in Denmark. From the American perspective, this means that all income over $60,000 (1.2 times the average income of about $50,000 in the United States) would be taxed at 60 percent.
Sweden and Norway have similarly flat income tax systems. Sweden’s top marginal tax rate of 56.9 percent applies to all income over 1.5 times the average income in Sweden. Norway’s top marginal tax rate of 39 percent applies to all income over 1.6 times the average Norwegian income.
Compare this to The United States. The top marginal tax rate of 46.8 percent (state average and federal combined rates) kicks in at 8.5 times the average U.S. income (around $400,000).
You wouldn’t know it from all of the gnashing of teeth over the income gap (which is a real problem), but the U.S. tax code is the most progressive in the developed world. If Sanders or any of the other Democrat candidates really want to expand the social safety net, they can’t pay for it by increasing the marginal tax burden, they’ll have to do it by flattening rates, which is really just a nice way of saying that they’ll have to raise a crapload of tax revenue from the middle class.
Are Democrats ready to defend that concept? Who knows! No journalist or debate moderator will even ask the question.