WASHINGTON -- The newly minted Republican Senate nominee in Indiana, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, recently compared the divide over tax policy to the climate before the Civil War -- and cast poorer Americans in the role of those who oppose freedom.
Mourdock, a geologist by trade, often invokes Abraham Lincoln in his stump speeches, seeing an analogy in the troubled years before the Civil War to the splits in modern America. In a video recording of a speech last June that was provided to The Huffington Post by a Democratic source, Mourdock cited Lincoln's famous pre-Civil War "House Divided" speech, suggesting that the half of Americans who pay no federal income taxes are the potential enslavers.
"He made this speech and what the media interpreted it to mean was that he was going to predict that there was some terrible Civil War coming and that wasn't what he meant at all. What he did say was that a house divided against itself cannot stand, I do not expect the house to fall, however I do believe that it will cease in being divided, it will become either all of one thing or all of the other," Mourdock said at a meeting of the Whitley County Patriots in Columbia City, Ind.
"What he meant by that was that slavery was either going to be totally eliminated from the United States or it was no longer just going to be restricted to the Southern states, it was going to go everywhere," Mourdock said. He then elaborated on how tax policy leaves America in that same precarious state now, with Americans on the bottom half of the economic ladder pitted against those on the top.
"I am here to suggest to you that we are in a house divided. You know this past April, when our federal taxes were paid, 47 percent -- 47 percent -- of all American households paid no income tax," Mourdock said. His figure was accurate, although critics of that statistic note that it doesn't include payroll taxes or state, local, property and sales tax.
"In fact, half of that 47 percent almost, actually got tax money back from the government that they never paid -– because a few years ago we revised the welfare program to make it part of the tax code," Mourdock said. "When 47 percent are paying no income taxes -- they do pay Social Security -- but they are not paying income taxes, and 53 percent are carrying the load, we are a house divided."
And what Mourdock foresees is some sort of class warfare after which the working poor will either emerge paying more tax, or the forces of Socialism will prevail, crushing liberty.
"We are coming to some point in the future -- whether it’s going to be in the next two years or the next 20, I don’t know -- but I think we’re going to cease to be divided. We’re no longer going to be that country that all of us grew up in that understands that sense of individual responsibility and, yes, freedom, or we’re going to move into a country that is more like those Eastern, or, I’m sorry, the countries of Europe that are Socialist."
Economists point out that many households pay little or no federal income tax because the tax code has many deductions designed to aid the middle class, including child tax credits and mortgage interest deductions. According to the most recent Internal Revenue Service data, half of all households earn less than $50,000. Those are the people Mourdock is suggesting should carry more of the load.
At the same time, Mourdock is running on a platform that includes eliminating the IRS and abandoning the income tax in favor of a "consumption" tax. Such systems are generally regressive, taxing the poor more and the wealthy less.
Mourdock will face Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly in the general election in the fall.
Michael McAuliff covers politics and Congress for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.