Last week, in reference to columns by Ross Douthat and Senator Jim Webb, I wondered why poor whites are now at the center of our collective concerns (as maybe they should be). I think that it came to me while staring at a beautiful rock, running away from a bear, or maybe going up a fourteener. This is a story about Grover Norquist, our derision for paying taxes, and the Roberts Court.
Be warned: the air was quite thin.
After wondering why so many different voices are now advocating for the plight of the white poor, I came upon a piece (by Joe Conason in Salon) about Grover Norquist’s weekly meetings with conservative leaders in and out of government "to set movement priorities, plan strategy, and adopt talking points." We don’t know who takes part in these meetings, of course, but isn’t it just a bit too coincidental that Webb and Douthat would both publish columns advocating for poor whites within the same week?
Assuming you agree with me that this was in fact Norquist’s brainchild, the next obvious question is, why would good ol’ Grover care? What is in it for him? To ask this question is to ask, how does the plight of the white poor connect with the abolition of the tax code? This is where the Roberts Court enters the picture.
Go ahead and take a look at both Douthat and Webb’s columns again. When you read them, you should get a very strong impression that poor whites are now the new discrete and insular minority, losers in the world of politics and at the bottom of our collective well. They are the one group asked to shoulder many of the country’s burdens, from relinquishing their spots in elite institutions of higher education to staffing most of our military in order to fight multiple wars at once. They are, in a word, screwed.
Once we come to understand them as a discrete and insular minority, the rest is quite easy. We would only need the Roberts Court to recognize them as such – and for all we know, the Chief Justice was part of the Norquist group as well – and the rest just follows as simply as a hot knife to butter. And this recognition by the Court should not be difficult ; again, who is more beaten, more discrete, and more insular, than poor whites?
I can already imagine the first case: it will be one with facts so stark, so heart-wrenching, that only a grinch could side any other way. It will probably be a case about a poor white applying to the University of California, or the University of Virginia, or even the University of Michigan, for the sake of consistency. The facts will show that few poor whites ever gain admission, while many Blacks and Latinos gain admission. Borrowing from Douthat, the facts will show that poor whites are in fact discriminated against during the admission process. This will lead the Court to conclude, four justices dissenting, that poor whites are in fact discrete and insular minorities, and that the Court is the only institution capable of protecting them.
If you have read this far, you may still be asking, how in the world does this help Norquist in his crusade against the tax code?
Here’s how: once the Court declares poor white a discrete and insular minority, any economic discrimination is then subject to strict scrutiny and presumed unconstitutional absent a compelling governmental reason. For example, rich people could then bring suit in federal court complaining that the food stamp program is unconstitutional as unfair to them, not to mention the fact that it stigmatizes poor whites and makes them feel lesser than a full citizen. Means-tested educational opportunities, such as the Pell grant, are also gone for similar reasons; ditto for the WIC program (rich women and children need to eat, too).
You can see where this is going. Norquist himself will bring the next case: Americans for Tax Reform v. Holder. This will be a case filed by a hard-working poor auto worker from Michigan who happens to be white, maybe even a member of the local UAW affiliate, complaining about the burdensome nature of the tax code. The argument will be breath-taking in its simplicity: how to justify the various brackets of the tax code? Is there a compelling reason for the government to tax rich people at higher rates as poor people? You already know the answer. And just like that, the progressive tax code will be history, struck down at the hands of the Roberts Five.
This, by the way, would not be an act of judicial activism by any definition of the term but, rather, a faithful reading of the constitutional text by the hardest working judicial conservatives in history (everybody knows that, by definition, it is the liberals who are the activists, anyway) . Any honest and hard-working American would agree.