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Taxes & Patriotism: A Tale As Old As Time From The Right

Joe Biden, 2008

“Catholic social doctrine as I was taught it is, you take care of people who need the help the most,” he said. “Now it'd be different if you could make the case to me that by giving this tax cut to the very wealthy, everybody else was going to be better off. We saw what happened the last eight years when we gave that tax cut."

He then explained his statement, first made at a rally in Sarasota, FL, two weeks ago, that asking the wealthiest Americans to accept tax hikes would be patriotic. And he added that the tax rates would still be lower than they were under the Reagan administration.

“I tell you, Democrats,” Biden said, gritting his teeth. “Don't you step down from anybody telling you that we don't value, we don't have American values. … I want this debate about values! I want this debate about American values.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1936

The easiest way to summarize the reason for this extension of Government functions, local, State and national, is to use the words of Abraham Lincoln: "The legitimate object of Government is to do for the people what needs to be done but which they cannot by individual effort do at all, or do so well, for themselves."

Taxes are the price we all pay collectively to get those things done.

To divide fairly among the people the obligation to pay for these benefits has been a major part of our struggle to maintain democracy in America.

Ever since 1776 that struggle has been between two forces. On the one hand, there has been the vast majority of our citizens who believed that the benefits of democracy should be extended and who were willing to pay their fair share to extend them. On the other hand, there has been a small, but powerful group which has fought the extension of those benefits, because it did not want to pay a fair share of their cost.

That was the line-up in 1776. That is the line-up in this campaign. And I am confident that once more—in 1936—democracy in taxation will win.

Here is my principle: Taxes shall be levied according to ability to pay. That is the only American principle.

Before this great war against the depression we fought the World War; and it cost us twenty-five billion dollars in three years to win it. We borrowed to fight that war. Then, as now, a Democratic Administration provided sufficient taxes to pay off the entire war debt within ten or fifteen years.

Those taxes had been levied according to ability to pay. But the succeeding Republican Administration did not believe in that principle. There was a reason. They had political debts to those who sat at their elbows. To pay those political debts, they reduced the taxes of their friends in the higher brackets and left the national debt to be paid by later generations. Because they evaded their obligation, because they regarded the political debt as more important than the national debt, the depression in 1929 started with a sixteen-billion-dollar handicap on us and our children.

Now let's keep this little drama straight. The actors are the same. But the act is different. Today their role calls for stage tears about the next generation. But in the days after the World War they played a different part.

The moral of the play is clear. They got out from under then, they would get out from under now—if their friends could get back into power and they could get back to the driver's seat. But neither you nor I think that they are going to get back.

As in the World War, we have again created a tax structure to yield revenues adequate to pay the cost of this war against depression in this generation and not in the next.


A number of my friends who belong in these very high upper brackets have suggested to me, more in sorrow than in anger, that if I am reelected they will have to move to some other Nation because of high taxes here. I shall miss them very much but if they go they will soon come back. For a year or two of paying taxes in almost any other country in the world will make them yearn once more for the good old taxes of the U.S.A.


Once more this year we must choose between democracy in taxation and special privilege in taxation. Are you willing to turn the control of the Nation's taxes back to special privilege? I know the American answer to that question. Your pay envelope may be loaded with suggestions of fear, and your dividend letter may be filled with propaganda. But the American people will be neither bluffed nor bludgeoned.

The seeds of fear cannot bear fruit in the polling booth.

Inside the polling booth every American man and woman stands as the equal of every other American man and woman. There they have no superiors. There they have no masters save their own minds and consciences. There they are sovereign American citizens. There on November 3d they will not fear to exercise that sovereignty.