Jeb Bush has come out with a proposal for re-vamping the tax code. You can get a pretty good idea of the substance of his proposal by reading the article in today’s New York Times. But people typically don’t read newspaper articles in full; they read the headline and maybe the first paragraph or two. If that’s as far as you get, you will have the impression that Bush is departing significantly from long-held conservative dogma about taxation. The headline: “Jeb Bush Tax Plan Makes Forays into Populism.”
A more accurate headline would have read simply, “Jeb Bush Proposes Massive Tax Cuts.” A more tendentious, but still entirely accurate headline would have read, “Jeb Bush Proposes Massive Regressive Tax Cuts.” The great bulk of the Bush plan is the kind of stuff we have come to expect from the Republican right: Bush’s “forays into populism” call for steep cuts in the top marginal individual tax rates and in corporate taxes and an end to the estate tax. The result would be a significant redistribution of after-tax income in favor of the wealthy. Where, then, is the populism? Mostly, in Bush’s proposal to end the so-called “carried interest” tax break for hedge fund managers. Also, Bush would levy a one-time tax of 8.75% on corporate profits sitting overseas, in an effort to encourage business reinvestment back home. That’s it: a couple of populist nuggets in a treasure chest of baubles for the one per cent.
So, how can the Times headline trumpet the Bush plan’s populism? In a fine critique, Jonathan Chait faults the mainstream media for going along with the spin put out by Bush spokesmen. He finds an important difference “between journalists who write narratives drawn from quotes from campaign sources and those who build their coverage on data.” I think in the Times’ case it’s a typical attempt by our liberal Newspaper of Record—always a target of contempt on the right–to demonstrate its neutrality by being nice to Republicans. Another example of what I have called misguided even-handedness.