Calvin Freiburger

Media Matters Grasps at Straws Trying to Pit Hannity Against Bush

Posted on December 16 2010 11:00 am
Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College. He also writes for the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.
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Attempting to paint one political opponent as undermining another is an especially tempting line of political attack, sometimes so tempting that a propagandist will settle for the most contorted, threadbare argument to that effect. Such is the case with Media Matters’ latest attack on Sean Hannity. Seizing upon Hannity’s latest interview with GOP Congressman Steve King about Congress’ current tax bickering, Media Matters claims to have caught Hannity admitting that the Bush tax cuts were “madness”:

Speaking with Rep. Steve King about the estate tax, Hannity made the following complaint:

HANNITY: If you died last year it was 45 percent, if you die this year it’s zero percent, if you die next year, it could be 55 percent: Only Washington could think of this madness.

That’s so true. Only in Washington could such a crazy plan be hatched. Only in the Bush White House, to be specific. Bush, and a Republican led Congress chose to have the Bush tax cuts “sunset” on the last day of 2010, largely because Republicans neglected to propose any way to pay for the hugely expensive cuts, and letting them expire after nine years mitigated the enormous price-tag that accompanied these cuts (because price estimates are calculated over a 10-year period).

First, our leftist friends apparently hope none of their readers will stop to think about what a sunset provision is. Sunset provisions set a date by which a measure will expire, unless it’s reauthorized. Note well the last part: politicians know when something is going to happen well in advance, and have to act to decide whether or not to do anything about it. In effect, it’s not much different than if there were no sunset provision—today we could just as easily be arguing about whether or not to repeal the indefinitely-continuing Bush tax cuts, and most of the players would be taking the same stances—though it does change which side has the added burden of having to proactively change something, rather than simply keeping their heads down and letting the gears already in motion keep turning.

Second, Media Matters is playing fast and loose with history—“Bush, and a Republican led Congress” actually wanted to make the cuts permanent, but had to agree to sunset them to get them through the Senate, which, at 50-50 in the wake of Election 2000, was hardly under firm GOP control, and shortly flipped to the Democrats in the wake of Jim Jeffords’s defection. In fact, Bush and the GOP repeatedly pushed to make the cuts permanent throughout the rest of Bush’s presidency.

Third, Media Matters’ appeals to fiscal discipline would be a bit more convincing if not for the fact that the estate taxes to which Hannity refers, an intrepid Media Matters commenter points out, the estate tax Democrats want to preserve are hardly serving that end. According to the Heritage Foundation:

Outside the narrow special interests that benefit from the death tax, there no longer exists any justification for the tax. When Congress passed the death tax in 1916, it was originally intended to serve two purposes: (1) raise revenue for the federal government (World War I was the original impetus for extra revenue); and (2) prevent the build-up of wealth in a concentrated number of families.[5] The death tax serves neither of these purposes today.

The death tax is no longer a vital source of federal revenues. In 2008, it raised about $24 billion, just above 1 percent of total federal tax collections. This is down considerably from 1940, when the estate tax raised more than 5 percent of all federal revenue.[6]

In other words, relatively insignificant compared to the price tag for the rest of the current president’s agenda—which Media Matters isn’t terribly worried about.

Sean Hannity’s criticism of the economic uncertainty surrounding the current fight over the Bush tax cuts’ sunset clause and the possibility of increased estate taxes doesn’t show what Media Matters claims it does, inasmuch as Hannity’s side didn’t want the cuts to sunset and regardless. Granted, those tax cuts did accompany plenty of fiscally-irresponsible GOP policies, but Hannity’s a critic of the party’s drunken sailors. Once again, in grasping for a new conservative pelt, all Media Matters has to show for it is a handful of straws.


Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College.  He also writes for the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.

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