From Obama to The Daily Show, Talk of Fair Taxation

Cliff Vaughn


From Obama to The Daily Show, Talk of Fair Taxation | Cliff Vaughn, Taxes, STSD, Barack Obama, Jon Stewart

Graham Reside, left, joins about 20 students, mostly from Vanderbilt Divinity School in Tennessee, who viewed a screening of EthicsDaily.com's "Sacred Texts, Social Duty." (Photo: EthicsDaily.com)
President Obama spoke from the Rose Garden last Monday morning about economic growth and deficit reduction. He talked about a government that spends less and collects more, the latter through changes to the tax code.

"It is wrong that in the United States of America, a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker who earns $50,000 should pay higher tax rates than somebody pulling in $50 million," said Obama. "Anybody who says we can't change the tax code to correct that, anyone who has signed some pledge to protect every single tax loophole so long as they live, they should be called out."

"Now, we're already hearing the usual defenders of these kinds of loopholes saying this is just 'class warfare,'" said Obama. "I reject the idea that asking a hedge fund manager to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or a teacher is class warfare. I think it's just the right the thing to do."

"This is not class warfare," said the president. "It's math."

Two days later, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels appeared on "The Daily Show with John Stewart" while promoting his book, "Keeping the Republic: Saving America by Trusting Americans."

Stewart described Daniels as "a smart, fiscal conservative" and engaged him on taxation and wealth.

"It seems like the Republicans are doing everything they can to protect the wealthiest people in this country through policy and through rhetoric," said Stewart. "And I guess I'm just not understanding why."

"This decade has not been a bad decade for the wealthiest of Americans," he continued. "And if they are the job creators, why are they not creating ..." he said, trailing off. "It feels like a false argument to me."

Daniels said he was the wrong guest to respond to that particular issue, but he did say: "It is not our business to see that people of great means make more money. It is our business to see that people without much money have a chance to make more."

"So in your mind," asked Stewart, "is the rhetoric that you're hearing from your party misguided?"

Daniels said it could use some improvement and referred to what he was trying to do with his book.

"First of all, let's try to speak the language of unity," Daniels said, elaborating on the necessity of meeting the budget crisis.

Stewart: "In the language of unity, what would be your three steps?"

Daniels first proposed not only saving the safety net of Social Security and Medicare but also letting current and upcoming recipients know they have nothing to fear while everyone works hard to figure out what "Social Security 2.0" looks like.

But then, the "language of unity" began to slip as Daniels referred to Obama's "obsession with wealthy people."

Stewart didn't miss it. He asked Daniels if restoring the tax rate to the Clinton era constituted an "obsession with wealthy people."

Daniels flinched.

"Do you really consider that this president has been bad for rich people in this country?" asked Stewart.

"Well, that's not what I mean," said Daniels. "The constant bashing. For one thing, it's a distraction. You can confiscate all the wealth of those people and we wouldn't be anywhere."

Watch the clip. When Daniels makes the last remark, the camera is solidly on him – with Stewart barely visible on the frame's right edge. But you can see Stewart well enough to watch his head slide into his hands when Daniels employs the phrase "confiscate the wealth."

"Let me just again go to the language," said Stewart. "Obsession, bashing and confiscate. Now I understand the language of unity, and I'm not sure that's it."

Daniels ruffled and seemed to say, "Fair enough."

"If I got a little defensive, it's because you're asking me to defend positions I haven't taken," said Daniels.

It appeared to me Daniels' rhetorical filter kicked into overdrive as he launched a final statement.

"I think the heart of our challenge is to restore and strengthen the upward mobility in this country and the possibilities for a stable and a hopeful middle class."

Something else happened between the president's Rose Garden address and the fascinating Stewart-Daniels discussion. It didn't get any press, but if it's not at the heart of Obama, Stewart and Daniels' talking points, I don't know what is.

The Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership in the Professions at Vanderbilt University hosted a screening of and discussion about "Sacred Texts, Social Duty," an EthicsDaily.com documentary about faith and taxes.

The program, directed by Graham Reside, is "dedicated to discussing and promoting moral values relevant to the professions." About 20 students, many from the Vanderbilt Divinity School, enjoyed lunch while taking in excerpts from the hour-long documentary, produced in 2010.

Their comments and questions were informed, compassionate, grounded and insightful – what you would hope for from an audience, especially one interested in moral leadership.

One of the sponsors of the event was also Tennesseans for Fair Taxation (TFT), an early and faithful promoter of the documentary, which was originally produced for ABC-TV but never aired when ABC demanded the omission of segments dealing with progressive and regressive taxes, as well as the lottery.

At the beginning of the screening, TFT's Bill Howell asked students if any of them had ever heard a sermon on taxes preached from the pulpit.

One student raised her hand.

"Which tradition?" I asked.

"United Methodist."

How did it go?

"People got up and left," she said.

It's not that our Scriptures are silent on this matter. It's that we're afraid to listen.

Cliff Vaughn is managing editor and media producer for EthicsDaily.com.

To learn more about "Sacred Texts, "Social Duty," click here.