Many Americans feel a certain sinking in their stomach this weekend, as we approach that national non-holiday marker: Tax Day. April 15th has long been vilified. Paying taxes isn't fun for most; and filing taxes is just as bad. In the end, most people would rather pay less.
The one more notable exception, of course, is Warren Buffett, whose crusade to pay a higher tax rate (which is, I admit, different than "paying more") has earned his name the top-perch on an Obama initiative that is sure to play a recurring role in this election season.
"The Buffett Rule" was inspired by the revelation that billionaire Buffett pays a lower tax rate on his vast income than his secretary does. This misalignment has become a rallying point in this season of the 99 percent and the 1 percent, and now will dog Mitt Romney who had legally and successfully accrued incredible wealth and shielded an incredible amount from taxation. The fact that Romney isn't portrayed as a criminal - rather a "vulture capitalist" - demonstrates that this is a policy problem, not just an enforcement one…a policy issue that the Democrats are belatedly trying to solve and that a President Romney, presumably, would not address.
Calling for higher taxes on the wealthiest isn't new, and the debate over the Bush Tax Cuts raged through the '08 election and the 2010 midterms, but affixing Buffett's name to the drive helps reposition it. It's no longer a campaign to "soak the rich" -- such an effort would appeal to many, but would smack as "class warfare" to many others. How could this be class warfare, though, when the 1 percent of the 1 percent believes in it? Instead, this is a fairness campaign. And it's a patriotic campaign.
While Americans may get uneasy punishing people for their wealth and success, we are comfortable asking those winners to acknowledge their gains were made in a system to which we all contributed. That's all the Buffett rule suggests; but it's not the operating system of Bain capital.
The key to this fight, though, is that Buffett can't be the only one ready to pony up. We all have to be willing to pay our fair share -- as most of us do, with some complaint and trepidation, but in a timely and orderly fashion.
The challenge for progressives is that too often we buy into anti-tax rhetoric. However, taxes are what fund our national aspirations, strengthen our common resources and contribute to our communities. We can't hate on taxes then cheer for Buffett -- we have to take the political risky step of embracing taxes and celebrating what they pay for.
In the past, Living Liberally has played with calling April 15th "Invest in America Day" (Dunkin Donuts has given away free donuts on Tax Day with the promise of making a bad day better - in the past, I had to deliberate whether to enjoy the sugary treat, or reject the anti-tax rhetoric… in the end, the Boston Kreme won), and just last year progressive organizations held gatherings at libraries, post offices, schools, transit hubs, police stations and other public institutions funded by our tax dollars.
I'm not saying it won't sting if you have to write a check; and I wish the process were simpler too -- but this Tax Day, we can't just cheer for Buffett…we should cheer with him. This isn't only Buffett against Grover Norquist, or Obama against Romney or Occupy against the Tea Party. This is all of us -- being FOR all of us.
So join the debate. And Happy Tax Day.