Good thing journalism isn’t a popularity contest

After several requests from friends, here’s my column for my newspaper this week. As editor, I write a column weekly. I’ve tried to steer clear of politics because the American public these days has a shocking tendency to assume that just because a writer states his or her opinion on the OPINION page, that opinion must trickle over to the rest of the newspaper as well. Maybe that’s the case in some publications (cough Fox News cough), but it’s not at my newspaper. I live in a very conservative area, so I’m likely to take some heat for this column. I’ll let you know if a good dialogue gets started. So, without further ado, my column:

While driving to work Tuesday morning, I switched my radio dial to National Public Radio. Over the airwaves came the announcement of President Barack Obama’s “compromise” (read: re-election strategy) with the Republicans to extend the Bush-era tax cuts another two years.

This is not good.

But before you throw your hands in the air and run to the telephone to give me an earful, hear me out.

The Republicans threatened to filibuster the tax deal if the tax cuts were not again extended to the wealthiest 2 percent of the American population, to people earning more than $250,000 per year. Look around you. Does you know anyone who rakes in that much dough every year? If you do, chances are you can count those people on one hand.

Chances are you know far more people who fit into the 98 percent of America. The people who do not make nearly that much. In fact, chances are most people you know make $200,000 less than that. The median income for Flathead Valley, according to the 2000 Census, was $34,466, and the median income for a family was $40,702. Males had a median income of $31,908 versus $20,619 for females.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for extending tax cuts to the middle class. To the people who need the tax cuts most. To the people who have one adult in their household out of work. To the people unsure if they will make their house payment this month. How many people do you know who have lost their jobs since the recession began? It takes far more fingers than I have on both hands to count the people I know out of work.

I am deeply opposed to extending tax cuts to people who have a vacation house in Vail, Colo. and a vacation house in Orlando, Fla. To the people who take vacations to Europe every year. And in the interest of full disclosure, I was raised in a family that took those vacations to Europe.

I think it is very accurate to say that the wealthy are holding the middle class hostage.

It is telling when people like billionaire investor Warren Buffett go on national television and ask Congress to tax them more. When interviewer Christiane Amanpour pointed to claims that the very wealthy need tax cuts to encourage business and capitalism, Buffett replied, “The rich are always going to say that, you know, ‘Just give us more money, and we’ll go out and spend more, and then it will all trickle down to the rest of you.’ But that has not worked the last 10 years, and I hope the American public is catching on.”

Quoting Founding Father Thomas Jefferson is ever popular in newspapers, but I see no sense in breaking that trend now. In a letter to James Madison in 1784, in what would become part of the Federalist Papers, Jefferson wrote: “Taxes should be proportioned to what may be annually spared by the individual.”

An independent senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, made an appeal to the president on C-SPAN that eloquently summed up the problem: “In the year 2007, the top 1 percent of all income earners in the U.S. made 23.5 percent of all income. More than the entire bottom 50 percent. The top one-tenth of 1 percent earns about 12 cents of every dollar earned in America. Since 1980 to 2005, 80 percent of all new income created in this country went to the top 1 percent.”

Are you feeling the trickle down? I most certainly am not.

“We used to read the text books which talked about the banana republics in Latin America … about countries in which handful of people owned and controlled most of the wealth of those countries,” Sen. Sanders continued. “Well guess what, that exactly what is happening in the U.S. today.”

The tax cuts being extended to the top 1 percent of all American income earners will over a 10-year period equate to $700 billion in tax breaks (enough to pay for the health care bill, you know). If the legislators of this nation are truly concerned about helping the middle class and beating back a mounting federal deficit, they will see the error of their ways and extend tax cuts only to the people who make less than $250,000. People like you and me.

So what do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Why?