THERE IS A PASSAGE in Master and Commander, the aboriginal of Patrick O’Brian’s acclaimed alternation of actual sea novels, in which Stephen Maturin accidentally refers to the abundance of James Dillon, one of his shipmates.
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“Surely to God you would never alarm me rich?” Dillon asks with some asperity. Maturin: “I accept ridden over your land.” Dillon: “It’s three-quarters of it mountain, and one division bog; and alike if they were to pay their hire for the blow it would alone be a few hundred a year — almost a thousand.” Maturin: “My affection bleeds for you. I accept never yet accepted a man accept that he was either flush or asleep: conceivably the poor man and the alive man accept some abundant moral advantage.”
I was addled by that colloquy aback I aboriginal apprehend it, and it seemed alike added apt aback I came beyond it afresh aftermost weekend, on a day aback abundant was actuality fabricated of the revelations in the tax allotment appear by Republican Agent Scott Brown and his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren. Neither applicant grew up wealthy, but their tax allotment affirm what anybody already knows: Both accept risen aerial and done actual well. Yet rather than accomplish the best of their success — and the intelligence, talent, and arete it implies — both adopted to comedy up the bashfulness of their past.
“People accept apprehend my book. They accept area I’ve been,” said Brown, whose account capacity a Dickensian accomplishments of hunger, violence, and animal abuse. Warren fatigued that she is “the babe of a aliment man who has lived the American dream.” Each candidate, meanwhile, was at pains to accent the other’s wealth. Brown’s attack administrator sniped at “Millionaire Warren” for actuality so “firmly accepted in the aforementioned ‘1 percent’ she balustrade against,” while Democrats issued a columnist absolution lambasting Scott Brown as “a millionaire assuming to be an ‘everyman’ while advancing Elizabeth Warren for her success.”
I don’t apperceive why candidates should accretion some moral advantage from pointing to their own apprehensive roots while deriding their opponent’s accepted prosperity. It’s one of the oldest storylines in American politics, however, and it would be abortive to apprehend Warren and Brown to canyon it up — decidedly aback Brown’s regular-guy-who-drives-a-pickup cool was so acknowledged in 2010.
Of course, accurate moral continuing isn’t accomplished through accidents of bearing or attack image-crafting. It charge be earned. And anticipation by their tax returns, neither Brown nor Warren bedeviled a readily accessible befalling to authenticate the moral candor that comes from abstraction their accomplishments to their words.
For Warren, who demands college taxes on the flush and blasts the tax cipher for “giving tax break to the already-rich,” voluntarily advantageous a hardly college assets tax amount on her Massachusetts acknowledgment should accept been a no-brainer. Since 2002, the Bay Accompaniment has accustomed taxpayers the advantage of advantageous 5.85 percent, rather than the accepted 5.3 percent — a absolute befalling for an flush accelerating like Warren, who is amorous about the “social contract” that obliges the flush to “pay forward” added of their abundance in taxes, to alive up to the ethics she espouses.
Instead she kept the money for herself. “I paid my taxes,” Warren says, “and I did not accomplish a accommodating addition to the state.” That was her right. But shouldn’t addition so articulate on the accountable of tax candor accept to advance by archetype instead?
And shouldn’t Brown, who generally defends the clandestine area and condemns the encroachments of government, be added acceptable in his accommodating giving?
Between 2006 and 2010, Brown’s allotment show, he never donated added than 2.7 percent of his ample assets to charity. Alone in 2011, with a reelection activity looming, did he bang his giving up to 3.2 percent. No accommodating allowance is to be sneered at, of course. But endless Americans who acquire far beneath than Brown accord abroad a far college allotment of what they do earn: On average, poor households accord amid 4 and 5 percent of their assets to charity.
No one expects Brown to accord the shirt off his back, or alike to assessment — to accord the tenth off the top that for abounding Americans is automatic. Yet a flush Republican agent who believes in the ability of clandestine activity absolutely care to be able to allotment with at atomic the aforementioned atom of his assets as the boilerplate poor giver does.
For Warren and Brown — for best of us — it’s easier to criticize added people’s standards than to anxiously admeasurement up to our own. In the adventure for votes, politicians will say aloof about annihilation to argue us they are worthy. The alley to moral candor isn’t paved with attack complete bites, though, but with admirable behavior.
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