Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will be on 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper this Sunday, and the short clip below, in which she discusses the need for higher taxes, has made the social media rounds today. Watch:
“You look at our tax rates back in the '60s,” she said, describing progressive tax rates of the past, “and when you have a progressive tax rate system, your tax rate, let's say, from $0 to $75,000 may be 10% or 15%, etc. But once you get to the tippy tops, on your 10-millionth dollar, sometimes you see tax rates as high as 60% or 70%.”
A few things to note here:
1. Anderson Cooper calls this a “radical” idea. Insofar as he's referring to current American politics, he's right, but it leaves out a piece of important context, which is that current American politics are extremely radical. By any western standard, including our own from as little as three decades ago, the tax rates on the highest levels of wealth in modern America are obscenely low. If I had one nitpick for Ocasio-Cortez, it would be that she made this point rather than saying, “yes, I'm radical, but we need radical change.” In fact, the top rates she suggests in this clip are rather ordinary by former American and current European standards, and wouldn't even represent a full return to our previous status quo. Look:
2. More importantly, this country can’t enact sweeping progressive changes without higher taxes, and that means, in turn, that we can’t enact sweeping progressive changes without convincing Americans that higher taxes are a good thing—a positive change that will end up saving us money and improving our quality of life. That needs to be a central talking point of every progressive politician and every Democrat, because people like Anderson Cooper and Chris Cuomo and Jake Tapper will routinely put on their most solemn frowns and declare such proposals “radical.” Which, of course, is far more mild than how the Fox News zealot brigade will react. The discourse needs to be transformed.
3. Even when someone like Ocasio-Cortez is bold enough to suggest that higher taxes are a good thing, there is a knee-jerk reaction to immediately assert that this only applies to the wealthy. And while, yes, the wealthy should be paying a much higher rate, we need to get to a place in this country—as difficult or unrealistic as it seems today—where even the middle class accepts that their taxes have to go up at least a little. In Oct. 2017, Bernie Sanders made this point in a CNN town hall while debating tax reform with Ted Cruz, and it was an important moment in how it attempted to shift the Overton Window on acceptable rhetoric. Crucially, Sanders also knew the best way to frame it (which Ocasio-Cortez might too, but not in the clip above):
But I would suggest that the average American would rather pay $3,000 more in taxes and see a $5,000 premium to a private insurance company disappear…Maybe you’re a family of four today on an individual insurance account and you’re paying $15,000, $20,000 for your family. And if I ended that private insurance that you’re paying to Blue Cross Blue Shield or some other private insurance company and said you’re going to pay $8,000 more in taxes, you’d be $12,000 to the good. And you and your kids would have comprehensive health care.
It is, in fact, not that complicated. People will get it—decades of Republican brainwashing on taxes can be undone if the explanation is compelling and simple enough.
4. Finally, Ocasio-Cortez’s position should be the baseline stance of every single Democrat in Congress. If there are senators and representatives who don’t want to raise taxes, at least on the wealthy—and there are lots of them, of course—then it’s also true that they don’t believe in fundamental progressive reform. Because, again, without higher taxes, free health care or free education or free child care or even cheaper versions of these things than we have now, not to mention a real fight against climate change…none of it is possible. Democrats who don’t believe in raising taxes are useless to us. They’re just moderate Republicans, and moderate Republicans will watch the world burn before they lift a finger to disrupt a ruinous status quo. That’s why, even if her framing wasn’t perfect, it’s incredibly refreshing to see someone like Ocasio-Cortez tell the truth on such a massive platform. I hope her fellow Democrats tune in on Sunday night.