Pretty much everything that is exasperatingly off-putting about Hillary Clinton and her presidential campaign can be summed up in her campaign pledge not to raise taxes on anyone earning $250,000 a year or less.
Clinton makes this promise often on the campaign trail. It doesn’t get much attention, perhaps because no one believes she will keep her word.
Listening carefully, one gets the sneaking suspicion that not even Clinton herself believes her tax promise. She stated it earlier this month at the UNLV presidential debates: “I have said repeatedly throughout this campaign: I will not raise taxes on anyone making $250,000 or less.”
It’s a subtle distinction. Clinton didn’t repeat the promise anew; she just reported that she has said it repeatedly in the past.
Does she expect anyone to trust her?
Consider the recent history. George H.W. Bush made a “read my lips” pledge, then broke it by raising income tax rates in 1991 on married couples earning more than $82,150. Bill Clinton ran for office promising a middle-class tax cut, then raised income tax rates in 1993 on families earning more than $140,000. President Obama, campaigning in 2008, made a “firm pledge” that “no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase.” Yet Obama broke that promise by raising taxes on cigarettes and on tanning services, and by imposing a tax penalty on Americans without health insurance.
Americans For Tax Reform points out that Hillary Clinton has already expressed willingness to raise taxes in several ways that blatantly violate her own pledge. She backed a soda tax and a gun tax, and she or her campaign has said that she is open to a carbon tax and a payroll tax increase.
If not even George H.W. Bush kept his tax promise, does Hillary Clinton really think she’s fooling anyone this time around? These campaign “promises” are not so much solemn as they are a kind of make-believe. They aren’t real promises. They are pretend promises, pledges issued only to be broken later on. Maybe it’s Clinton’s way of indicating that her tax increases will be less bad than voters might otherwise fear if she weren’t going around making this so-called promise.
Beyond undermining Clinton on the “trust” issue on which she is already vulnerable, the tax pledge undercuts her whole campaign theme. Her slogan is “stronger together,” and she and her surrogates regularly fault Donald Trump for what they call his divisiveness. But Clinton’s arbitrary $250,000 line — as definitive and impenetrable as Donald Trump’s border wall — splits Americans, by income level, into two camps. Those who earn less than the Clinton-approved maximum are carefully shielded from any additional sacrifices. Those who earn more are targeted for plundering, so that Clinton and her fellow politicians can take away the money they earned and use it for redistribution and additional government spending.
Like many government programs, Clinton’s $250,000 cutoff takes a static view of the world. It doesn’t take into account the fact that because of inflation and the debasement of the dollar, a family earning $250,000 today earns, in real terms, significantly less than a family Barack Obama was talking about when he made the same hollow promise eight years ago. It doesn’t take into account that $250,000 goes farther in Nevada than it does in New York or California. It doesn’t take into account that the couple that earns $250,000 in one year may have earned much less a few years before and may earn much less, again, a few years later.
I earned less than $250,000 last year and don’t want my taxes raised, so I suppose on some level Clinton’s pledge is trying to appeal to me.
It’s a strange politician who, even when she’s trying to pander, winds up alienating.
Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of “JFK: Conservative.” His column appears Sunday.