Ari Fleischer Can Still Crank Out the Dullest Spin

I wonder what sort of editorial disaster struck the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion section yesterday. Did someone miss a deadline? Were they perhaps planning to run an op-ed on how Mitt Romney’s Olympics service showed his dedication to individual merit as opposed to the “You Didn’t Build That!” ethic?

Whatever happened, the WSJ was somehow forced to resort to the ultimate default-drive column: Ari Fleischer (last achieving notice as damage control maestro for Tiger Woods), in his legendary, mind-numbing manner, cranking out a tedious defense of the wealthy as Atlases threatening to shrug under the weight of an unfair federal tax burden. Just read a couple of lines, and find yourself transported to the salad years of the Bush White House:

President Obama says that “for some time now, when compared to the middle class,” the wealthy “haven’t been asked to do their fair share.”

He’s right that the system isn’t fair, but not because the top 1% pay too little. It is because they pay too much.

Mr. Obama has said that some wealthy employers pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries. True, some are able to lower their effective federal tax rate by giving millions to charity. Or because they derive much of their income as capital gains or from tax-free municipal bonds.

But middle- and low-income Americans who do not invest also pay lower rates thanks to the deductions they receive, such as a $1,000 per child tax credit (which phases out for couples who make more than $110,000), or the Earned Income Tax Credit, which no one making more than $50,000 is supposed to receive.

Feel that familiar sense of tedium rushing right back? It gets worse, right up to the less-than-stirring coda:

One reason our country is so divided is because the president keeps dividing us. If taxes need to be raised to fight a war or fund a cause, the president should ask everyone to pitch in. If the need is national, the solution should be national—and that includes all of us.

But that’s not how Mr. Obama governs. We learned during the 2008 campaign that he believes in spreading the wealth around. And recently we learned he doesn’t believe that successful people made it on their own. Without the government, the president tells us, job creators and entrepreneurs would not be able to make it in America.

It’s really the other way around. Without job creators and the successful, the government wouldn’t have any money. So next time Mr. Obama meets someone in the top 1% or even the top 20%, instead of saying they’re not paying their fair share, he should simply say thank you.

Part of me wants to shout at the screen: “Payroll taxes, Ari! What about payroll taxes!” Or maybe: “State and local taxes, Ari; they count, too;” or: “After-tax income, Ari! What about after-tax income?” Or even: “Ever heard of the idea of progressive tax rates, Ari?”

But I know that even if he could hear me, he wouldn’t respond. Communications, Fleischer-style, involves the repetition of the dullest, most mendacious talking points, delivered with that signature soul-deadening lack of flair.

It almost makes Mitt Romney sound like a blithe spirit full of spontenaiety. Maybe that’s the whole idea.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.