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John Edwards A Tax System that Embraces Fairness and Equality THERE WAS NOTHING GOOD ABOUT THE GOOD FRIDAY WHEN THE GREAT Emancipator was shot. It was 140 years ago tonight that John Wilkes Booth climbed the steps to President Abraham Lincoln’s box at Ford’s Theater. We know that the president fought for nine hours to live. He perished from this earth the next morning, but his country still lives. What most people don’t know is what President Lincoln had in his pockets that tragic night. He had two pairs of glasses, some lens polisher, a pocketknife, handkerchief, a $5 Confederate note, and nine newspaper clippings. One of those clippings was of Lincoln and Johnson’s platform. The article read, “That the national faith pledged for the redemption of public debt must be kept inviolate, and that for this purpose we recom­ mend economy and rigid responsibility in the public expenditures, and a vigorous and just system of taxation.” There it was in a time of great struggle a simple statement of principle—“a vigorous and just system of taxation.” And during the Civil War, Lincoln signed into law the Internal Revenue Act of 1862. Lincoln believed that it was imperative that the Union pay for the Civil War and not pass that burden on to future generations. At first, there was the idea to increase tariffs and other consumption taxes. But when it became clear that would place most of the burden social research Vol 73 : No 2 : Summer 2006 431 on the poor, and on the working m en and women, Lincoln found another way. He believed that if you had been blessed by living in America and had benefited from what this country has to offer, then you should do more for your country. So if you hate the income tax, blame Abraham Lincoln. One hundred forty years later, we still need a “vigorous and just system of taxation.” Not because we like taxes—nobody does. But, because, as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society. We have been having this tax debate for more than a century. There is nothing new about calling the income tax “a punishment of the rich man because he is rich.”There is nothing new about the shouts of class warfare. And there is nothing new about saying that some lead­ ers are giving big tax cuts to their wealthy friends on Wall Street. They said it all a hundred years ago. But what is new about today’s debate should alarm every American. Not only is the current system already stacked against work­ ing Americans, but our opponents want to make it even worse. Our opponents want to shift the tax burden from unearned income straight on to the backs of working people. They want to give the wealthy more favors and call it reform, and they want working people to foot the bill. This radical notion turns on its head the very values that built America—rewarding hard work. This is the time for us to draw the line in the sand as Americans and say that this debate has gone on long enough. This is the time to stand up for the great American value: work. This is the time to say that a stockbroker should never pay a lower tax rate on wealth than a secretary pays on work. This is the time to say that the wealthy and powerful shouldn’t have access to special shel­ ters and loopholes that regular people can’t use. And this is the time to say that we want a tax code that rewards everyone’s work to build everyone’s wealth. This is what Lincoln valued—this what we should always value. 432 social research Sometimes I hear wealthy and successful folks say, “I earned this money. The government shouldn’t take it away.”And they’re right; they did earn their money, and government shouldn’t take a nickel more than necessary. But the truth is nobody earns his or her money alone. They earn it thanks to America. They earn it because America protects private prop­ erty, enforces...


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