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Dan Rather: 'Wealth Can Never Be a Measure of Worth'

Protesters on Capitol Hill shout their disapproval of the Republican tax bill. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

Last week, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, exposed the thinking of the owner class in America.

“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing,” Grassley said during a conference call with reporters about the Republican tax bill, “as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”

Grassley was responding to a question from the Des Moines Register about the estate tax, which affects estates valued over $5.5 million for individuals and $11 million for couples. Now, the seven-term senator and senior member of the Senate Finance Committee wants to walk his words back. Too late.

Veteran journalist Dan Rather shared his thoughts on class warfare in a powerful Facebook post Monday:

When the time comes, and I hope it comes soon, to bury this era of moral rot and the defiling of our communal, social, and democratic norms, the perfect epitaph for the gravestone of this age of unreason should be Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley’s already infamous quote:

“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing… as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”

Grassley’s vision of America, quite frankly, is one I do not recognize. I thought the heart of this great nation was not limited to the ranks of the plutocrats who are whisked through life in chauffeured cars and private jets, whose often inherited riches are passed along to children, many of whom no sacrifice or service is asked. I do not begrudge wealth, but it must come with a humility that money never is completely free of luck. And more importantly, wealth can never be a measure of worth.

I have seen the waitress working the overnight shift at a diner to give her children a better life, and yes maybe even take them to a movie once in awhile – and in her, I see America.

I have seen the public school teachers spending extra time with students who need help and who get no extra pay for their efforts, and in them I see America.

I have seen parents sitting around kitchen tables with stacks of pressing bills and wondering if they can afford a Christmas gift for their children, and in them I see America.

I have seen the young diplomat in a distant foreign capital and the young soldier in a battlefield foxhole, and in them I see America.

I have seen the brilliant graduates of the best law schools who forgo the riches of a corporate firm for the often thankless slog of a district attorney or public defender’s office, and in them I see America.

I have seen the librarian reshelving books, the firefighter, police officer, and paramedic in service in trying times, the social worker helping the elderly and infirm, the youth sports coaches, the PTA presidents, and in them I see America.

I have seen the immigrants working a cash register at a gas station or trimming hedges in the frost of an early fall morning, or driving a cab through rush hour traffic to make better lives for their families, and in them I see America.

I have seen the science students unlocking the mysteries of life late at night in university laboratories for little or no pay, and in them I see America.

I have seen the families struggling with a cancer diagnosis, or dementia in a parent or spouse. Amid the struggles of mortality and dignity, in them I see America.

These, and so many other Americans, have every bit as much claim to a government working for them as the lobbyists and moneyed classes. And yet, the power brokers in Washington today seem deaf to these voices. It is a national disgrace of historic proportions.

And finally, what is so wrong about those who must worry about the cost of a drink with friends, or a date, or a little entertainment, to rephrase Senator Grassley’s demeaning phrasings? Those who can’t afford not to worry about food, shelter, healthcare, education for their children, and all the other costs of modern life, surely they too deserve to be able to spend some of their “darn pennies” on the simple joys of life.

Never mind that almost every reputable economist has called this tax bill a sham of handouts for the rich at the expense of the vast majority of Americans and the future economic health of this nation. Never mind that it is filled with loopholes written by lobbyists. Never mind that the wealthiest already speak with the loudest voices in Washington, and always have. Grassley’s comments open a window to the soul of the current national Republican Party and it it is not pretty. This is not a view of America that I think President Ronald Reagan let alone President Dwight Eisenhower or Teddy Roosevelt would have recognized. This is unadulterated cynicism and a version of top-down class warfare run amok.

The tax bill is all part of a morally bankrupt Republican plan. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., explained in an email to his supporters on Tuesday:

Let me be very clear about what is happening here. It is an extraordinarily cynical “two-step” process. First, Republicans are looting the Treasury. They are stealing trillions of dollars from the American people in order to give huge tax breaks to billionaires and large corporations. Second, as their tax breaks increase the deficit by $1.4 trillion, they will come back and, in the name of “deficit reduction,” propose major cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education, nutrition, affordable housing and other programs desperately needed by the shrinking middle class.

… Once they pass this bill, they will claim we need to deal with the deficit by cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. You don’t have to take my word for it. Here is what the New York Times wrote this weekend:

“As the tax cut legislation passed by the Senate early Saturday hurtles toward final approval, Republicans are preparing to use the swelling deficits made worse by the package as a rationale to pursue their long-held vision: undoing the entitlements of the New Deal and Great Society, leaving government leaner and the safety net skimpier for millions of Americans.”

The GOP tax plan has gone to a committee for the House and Senate to sort out their differences. Sanders wants the American people to “stand up and fight back” and urge Congress to vote against the tax bill by signing his petition.

Eric Ortiz
Managing Editor
Eric Ortiz is the managing editor of Truthdig. A journalist and innovator with two decades in digital media, Ortiz founded the mobile app startup Evrybit, a live storytelling and reporting tool, as a 2014 John…
Eric Ortiz

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