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Watch that Passive Voice!

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"Watch that Passive Voice!"

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John Podhoretz offers the observation that “If Democrats offer a genuinely serious AMT reform that manages to cut taxes for tens of millions of middle-class people, the constituency for vetoing such a reform on the grounds that it would involve a tax-rate increase on those making more than $150,000 a year could fit comfortably into a Tokyo hotel room.” Larry Kudlow responds that “Using $150K as a threshold means a school teacher and a cop. Not exactly rich people.” J-Pod with a help from some readers notes in response that “Only 5 percent of American households report earnings higher than $157,000 a year” and follows up arguing that precise salaries for cops and teachers is irrelevant, the point is that “Five percent is a lot of households, true — 5 million or so. But to write as though a $150,000 salary in America puts you smack dab in the middle of the middle class, which was Larry’s rhetorical purpose, just doesn’t jibe with the way lives are lived in America.”

Kudlow doesn’t seem to have an answer to that, but Ramesh Ponnuru manages to weigh-in on Kudlow’s side with a further observation:

The Clintonites thought that they were raising taxes only on the top 2 percent of Americans and cutting taxes for a lot of people (by expanding the earned income credit). They got branded as tax hikers anyway. (And it would have been a tough vote for them even if they hadn’t raised the gas tax as part of the deal.)

Advice to always eschew the passive voice can be abused, but Ponnuru should consider the lack of agency in that story. Who branded the Clinton administration as “tax hikers” for their plan to raise taxes on a tiny minority of wealthy Americans while cutting taxes for a larger class of working poor people? Could that have been conservative politicians? And how well would that campaign have worked had the conservative politicians not been assisted by conservative pundits? These things don’t just happen.

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