The other billionaire boogeyman

For quite a while, there was no real doubt about which billionaire the right loved to hate. The “billionaire boogeyman” was George Soros, the financier and philanthropist whose name became synonymous with nefarious misdeeds in the minds of paranoid conservatives.

But Soros has apparently been replaced. Warren Buffett, the Berkshire Hathaway CEO, despite limited interest in politics and a record of relative non-partisanship, has become a new public enemy for the right. His efforts to promote tax fairness and support President Obama’s agenda has, to put it mildly, made Buffett severely unpopular in Republican circles.

E.J. Dionne Jr. knows why.

Advocates of higher taxes on the wealthy do not want to “punish” the successful. Buffett and Doug Edwards, a millionaire who asked Obama at a recent town hall event in California to raise his taxes, are saying that none of us succeeds solely because of personal effort. We are all lucky to have been born in — or, for immigrants, admitted to — a country where the rule of law is strong, where property is safe, where a vast infrastructure has been built over generations, where our colleges and universities are the envy of the world, and where government protects our liberties.

Wealthy people, by definition, have done better within this system than other people have. They ought to be willing to join Buffett and Edwards in arguing that for this reason alone, it is common sense, not class jealousy, to ask the most fortunate to pay taxes at higher tax rates than other people do. It is for this heresy that Buffett is being harassed.

I agree with this assessment wholeheartedly, though I’d emphasize one related point: the right also hates it when the left gets cover for their economic ideas, and Warren Buffett is doing an excellent job providing some.

When Democrats, for example, press the need for tax fairness and public investments, Republicans and their allies much prefer to present the debate to the public in cliched terms: successful “job creators,” innovators, and captains of industry have no use for these wacky progressive priorities. The American mainstream, we’re told, should listen to trusted leaders from the private sector, not liberal eggheads and union bosses.

But Buffett, in addition to sparking the debate Dionne explained the right prefers not to have, is also committing another heresy: he’s telling the public that there’s nothing incompatible with being pro-business and wanting to strengthen the social contract by asking the wealthy to make additional sacrifices.

It’s no wonder the GOP has come to hate Buffett so intensely.