The Washington Post

Elizabeth Warren and the bogus `hypocrisy’ charge

Steve Benen and Paul Krugman both have nice takedowns of this Politico story reporting that conservatives are opening a new attack line on Elizabeth Warren by targeting her personal wealth. The idea seems to be that because Warren herself is wealthy, it’s somehow “hypocritical” for her to support higher taxes on the rich, because, well, she’s employing soak-the-rich rhetoric for political gain even though she’s rich herself.

Of course, calling for higher taxes on her own class — ones that would mean she has to pay more — is the exact opposite of hypocrisy. This is absurdly obvious, but would be hypocritical if she were calling for higher taxes on others of her class while sidestepping higher taxes herself.

What’s more, the argument that this is “hypocrisy” is rooted in the thoroughly phony larger idea — widely pushed on the right in response to Warren — that calling for higher taxes on the wealthy is somehow an attack on wealth, success, and individual initiative. In reality, it’s an argument over what constitutes a fair tax rate under a system that even most conservatives already accept as generally legit — i.e., one in which democratically elected members of Congress have the power to set income tax rates. It’s an argument over degree, not one over fundamentals.

But that aside, this raises an interesting question: What percentage of wealthy people, like Warren, support higher taxes on themselves? If the number is high, the anti-Warren “hypocrisy” argument looks even more ridiculous.

It’s not easy to pin this down, it turns out. There was that recent poll finding a majority of millionaires support it, but that poll was flawed. So I asked the Post polling team to take a look at their data. The high end income group that has an acceptably high sample size is comprised of individuals making over $150,000 — not ideal for measuring the sentiments of the top one percent, obviously, but still useful, the polling team tells me. Post polling guru Peyton Craighill looked at the last three Post polls measuring support for tax hikes on those over $250,000, and concluded:

Based on combined Washington Post-ABC polls from the spring and summer about six in 10 of those with incomes of $150,000 or more support raising taxes on those with incomes of $250,000 as a way to reduce the deficit.

It looks like there may be a lot of rich “hypocrites” like Elizabeth Warren out there.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.


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