By Suzy Khimm,Conservative activists have created a Tumblr called “We are the 53 percent” that’s meant to be a counterpunch to the viral “We are the 99 percent” site that’s become a prominent symbol for the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Tumblr is supposed to represent the 53 percent of Americans who pay federal income taxes, and its assumption is that the Wall Street protesters are part of the 46 percent of the country who don’t. “We are the 53 percent” was originally the brainchild of Erick Erickson, founder of RedState.org, who worked together with Josh Trevino, communications director for the right-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation, and conservative filmmaker Mike Wilson to develop the site, according to
The overriding message is that the protesters have failed to take personal responsibility, blaming their economic troubles on others. “Suck it up you whiners. I am the 53 percent subsidizing you so you can hang out on Wall Street and complain,” writes Erickson, in the Tumblr’s inaugural post. “I don’t blame Wall Street because it doesn’t matter what Wall Street or anyone else does. I am responsible for my own destiny. I will succeed or fail because of me and me ALONE,” writes another contributor, who describes himself as a Marine Corps veteran. Another irate contributor writes: “I take risks so my kids can have a better life. Not so you can sit on your [expletive] at my expense.”
Trevino explains the message he believes the “53 percent” could bring across. “Even if you’ve had a difficult time, that this is America, and there is still value in hard work, and individual self-reliance...times are hard, we are in the worst economic crisis since Great Depression, but nonetheless, the same American values are really the way out of it,” Trevino says. He adds: “On a more visceral level, there’s always the reaction against the hippies.”
But there is some tension between the site’s critique and conservative tax policy. Part of the reason that over 40 percent of Americans don’t pay taxes is because of the continual push to lower them — a cause that conservatives have championed. For example, while the Bush-era tax cuts benefited the wealthy, they also lowered taxes at every income level, making it “relatively easy for families of four making $50,000 to eliminate their income tax liability,” as the Associated Press notes. Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts, similarly, took many lower-income Americans off of the tax rolls, an accomplishment about which the Gipper was quite proud.
Altogether, about 23 percent of Americans don’t pay federal income taxes because their incomes are too low, according to a July 2011 paper by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center. The other 23 percent of Americans don’t pay federal income taxes mostly because of tax breaks given to the elderly, low-income working families, government welfare recipients, and students, the Tax Policy Center’s Roberton Williams explains. “Many of those who don’t pay income tax do pay other taxes — federal payroll and excise taxes as well as state and local income, sales, and property taxes.”
What’s more the “53 percent” Tumblr also implies that there’s a certain mantle of responsibility that paying taxes confers upon people — i.e. grown-up, self-directed Americans like us can earn enough money to pay taxes, so you should, too. That’s an unusual message coming from conservatives who’ve pushed so mightily for an anti-tax agenda.
Trevino responds that most conservatives would agree that “paying taxes is the responsible thing to do,” saying that the question of whether taxes are too high is another issue altogether.