The December 30 episode of Meet the Press was, of course, devoted to discussion of the "fiscal cliff." And NBC veteran Tom Brokaw was on hand to recycle some of the most tiresome talking points about wealth and taxes.
Brokaw explained that "the middle class is going to have a date for the prom," but that how we define that term is open for debate. And he thinks wealthy people should be counted as middle class too:
A lot of people don't realize in large urban and suburban areas of America, $250,000 doesn't make you rich. You have got two kids in college at $60,000. If you're a boomer, you may have a dependent parent of some kind you're spending another $20,000 or $25,000 on.
So we have to have a definition of what is the middle class.
Actually, "a lot of people" probably think that sounds like a lot of money– because it is. Atlantic blogger Elspeth Reeve (12/31/12) pointed out that, according to the New York City comptroller, less than 4 percent of individual filers in New York City make over $200,000. Responding to an earlier round of hey-that-only-sounds-like-a-lot-of-money chatter, Ezra Klein at the Washington Post (9/10/10) used Census Bureau data to show that about 6 percent of household (as opposed to individuals) in New York City made over $200,000.
And, of course, it's worth stipulating that the marginal tax increases under discussion would have applied to only to income over $250,000–meaning that Brokaw's middle-class wealthy family would have hardly felt the impact of the proposed tax increase. Media coverage doesn't always do a good job of pointing this out, even though it's one of the most basic facts about our income tax system.
This wasn't enough, though. Brokaw weighed in later on in the show to complain that Obama "could help himself a lot if he were tougher on the AARP" and pushed for some Medicare and Social Security cuts. ("The fact of matter is that we're all living longer as well. Social Security can go up if you give it some lead time to retire at 67 and probably 20 years from now to retire maybe at 70, because people are staying in the workplace longer.")
To Brokaw, that's what Obama should have been doing after winning re-election:
He ought to be able to raise those issues in a way that he can begin to… sell to the American people the idea that we have got fundamental reforms that we have to do… because we are going to bankrupt not just our children but our grandchildren.
Why should Obama get tough on old people and not, say, wealthy people? As Brokaw explained on a previous Meet the Press roundtable, the CEOs he talks to tell him that they're willing to pay a little more in taxes–so long as government spending is cut to their liking.