September 15, 2008
Professor Marjorie Kornhauser, of the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, spoke recently at Cambridge University's Centre for Tax Law at a conference on the role of tax history in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States.
Kornhauser's presentation, "Remembering the 'Forgotten Man' (and Woman): Hidden Taxes and the 1936 Election," discussed the fact that hidden, or indirect, taxes were a major theme in the Republican Party's attempt to defeat incumbent President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
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"Republicans argued that New Deal programs were not free, but rather, were funded by the very people they were supposed to help - the common or 'forgotten' men and women - who paid in the form of increasingly heavy hidden taxes on everything from bread to electricity," Kornhauser stated. "By stressing the issue of hidden taxes, Republicans hoped to reveal Roosevelt's hypocrisy, raise the average voter's 'tax consciousness,' and thereby undermine support for Roosevelt."
Roosevelt was re-elected, but the anti-tax campaign tactics are still in use today and remarkably similar to those used in 1936: "partisan attacks that confuse more than they illuminate (estate tax effects and burdens), catchy phrases (the death tax), attention-getting gimmicks (re-enacting the Boston Tea Party), and the same strident rhetoric about soaking the rich and burdening the forgotten (middle class) taxpayer," Kornhauser stated.
In the end, voters do not have any better understanding of the true tax burden and tax reform remains a dream, she concluded.
Judy Nichols, mailto:Judith.Nichols@asu.edu"> color="#0000ff">Judith.Nichols@asu.edu
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law