The moment George W. Bush announced his new tax plan, I knew I would be losing a good night's sleep. Sure enough, just as I dozed off last night, I heard my bedroom window open, the curtains stir and a pair of feet hit the floor. It was my long-dead grandfather. "Hey, you, wake up!" he suggested.
"I was expecting you," I said. I reached for the text of Bush's economic speech and various articles from the Wall Street Journal to rebut my grandfather's outdated ideas. "You're here on account of the president's tax program."
"No, I'm here because I want to meet the Bachelorette. Of course I'm here for the tax program. The boys sent me down to talk to you. 'Go see your grandson, the hot-shot columnist,' they told me. 'Talk to him about fairness.' They're right. With Bush, the rich are going to make out like bandits -- which they already do, of course."
"I know, I know," I said wearily. "It's true that most of the package, about $364 billion, would go to the rich when the tax on stock dividends is eliminated. But that would make the stock market surge and create jobs and, besides, the rich pay most of the taxes already."
My grandfather's eyes glowed with contempt. "Of course they pay most of the taxes. They have most of the money. Who else is going to pay most of the taxes -- the poor, the working man? Now the rich who live just off their investments are going to pay no taxes -- not a thing! This Bob Gates -- "
"Bill, Shmill. Who cares? This Gates owns more than 600 million shares of Microsoft. If the company should decide to pay a dividend of just $1 -- one lousy buck -- he would make $600 million a year and not have to pay a dime on it."
"But he's an entrepreneur. He created a company, jobs."
"Okay, forget Bob Gates. How about Bush himself and his cronies -- that Cheney and the others. What jobs did they ever create? Bush used his family's money and his father's connections and still couldn't make an honest dollar. And that Cheney, he went to work for Halliburton and made millions. Name one job he created -- just one! This is the rich taking care of the rich."
"Oh, no," I objected. "These are the men who made America great. These corporate executives -- "
"Stop. Don't make a fool of yourself, college boy. You got stock?"
"In a 401(k)?"
"So your dividends are not taxed now. But they will be when you retire and cash out. But this Bob Gates, his dividends will never be taxed. You know what I call this?"
"Funny? I'll tell you from funny. A single guy making $500,000 a year -- say a lying Wall Street analyst or a thief from Enron or maybe a hip-hopper with 10 pounds of chains around his neck -- is going to pay almost $10,000 less in taxes under this plan. What's he gonna do with his $10,000? He's going to take another day's vacation or take out another floozy or maybe buy another chain for his neck. This is fair? The money should go to the poor, to the working man."
"But everyone's taxes are going to be reduced, Grandpa. That's why this plan is so marvelous."
"What did you study in college? For this, your parents scrimped and saved? A guy who has one kid and makes $40,000 is going to pay $400 less in taxes. You call that money? That's nothing, chicken feed. What's $400 going to do for a working family? Send a kid to college? Get them out of the ghetto? What are we talking here? We are not talking social justice."
By now, the moon was up and I could see my grandfather better. He was wearing his usual three-piece suit. His mustache was neat, but beads of sweat had appeared on his brow.
"Listen, Mister Know-It-All," he went on. "For this, to make the rich richer, the government is going to go deeply in debt. It would be one thing if it was doing that to help the needy or to increase social services. But it's not. Write something in protest."
"I'll be accused of class warfare."
He smiled indulgently. "Look, boychick, it's always been this way. When the rich take from the poor, it's called an economic plan. When the poor take from the rich, it's called class warfare."
He smiled again. "Give my love to your mother and tell her she's still my little girl," he said. Then, with a stirring of the curtains and a closing of the window, he was gone -- and, like much of America, I slipped into a deep, forgetful sleep.