The Nation's Pulse

Coffin Up the Taxes

Has the wonderful Art Linkletter outlived the death tax?

By 1.5.10

As 2009 limped into its final days, I found myself scanning the Arts & Letters section, plus all the celebrity links on the Net, hoping not to find Art Linkletter. Sure enough, the plucky raconteur, age 97.5 and counting, watched the I drop out of MMIX without losing his place. He still walks in the land of the living, as he promised in 2001 on the Rush Limbaugh show.

Back then, the Congress (yes, Virginia, there was once a Republican Congress) was enacting a bill as deeply unpopular in Washington as it was popular in the rest of the country. You see, once upon a time the government had merged the certainty of death and taxes by fashioning the death tax. The Republicans passed a slow-motion repeal which eliminated this levy by 2010.

At that time, Linkletter, on the threshold of his 90th birthday, assured the audience he would endure into 2010 to keep Uncle Sam's grubby mitts off his estate. My skeptical contemporaneous response is hereby withdrawn retroactively.

This tax was euphemistically dubbed the estate tax by its proponents for many years, so opponents countered with the dysphemistic strategy of labeling it the death tax. This approach sort of worked and the rollback was passed. But in a species of insanity endemic to D.C., the law expires after ten years, meaning the tax returns in 2011. This is known in political parlance as a law with a sunset. If this drama had a musical score, "If I Were a Rich Man" would precede "Sunrise, Sunset" on the play list.

The New York Times and Washington Post, standard-bearers of more-for-the-government-less-for-the-people democracy, have already editorialized against this anomaly of one year when the legacy of a lifetime can be bequeathed as a legacy. They insist the Senate rise to its moral duty of changing the law in mid-2010 to close this loophole in the circle of life.

Of all the mulcts milked by leftists over the years, this one is easily the most offensive. You pay your taxes as you earn your money, as you spend it, as you invest it, and as you dwell in the property it may purchase. Yet after all that, the transfer to heirs is viewed as such a privilege rather than a right that a majority (generally 55 percent) must be confiscated by the government for the general welfare.

Throughout history, people of character worked mostly for the sake of their children. "When will I also do something for my family?" is the question Jacob asks in Genesis (30:30) after working for years on salary without the chance to build savings. A man had not lived a complete life if he had to leave this earth without leaving a piece of it for his offspring. Which explains the etymology of the word "patrimony" in case you were wondering.

Cutting, or significantly attenuating, the link between each generation and its posterity debilitates one of the civilizing structures of society. Giving parents incentives to take care of children and giving children incentives to be considerate to parents supports a vibrant polity. Giving the occupants of the present a stake in the development of the future is a powerful guarantor of productivity and progress.

It becomes apparent here, as in so many areas, that the left does not see the accumulation of wealth by individuals as a virtue. Although human nature shows the desire for such accumulation to be the engine of job creation and technological advancement, it is deemed so offensive by these secular moralists that society-wide poverty is preferable. The noble savage is an ideal for which they are prepared to savage the noble.

My hope is that the Senate will be impeded from canceling this tax holiday. They will not let us live free anyway, piling on layers of intrusive mandates without limit and limits without mandate; let us at least die free. The law should be rendered permanent and the tax repealed forever, but these patricians will not brook our patrimony. Still, for one year, a year that slipped between the cracks, it would be nice to see a little sliver of light, a glint of justice, a flash of freedom.

As to Mister Linkletter, may he live to 120 (a Jewish blessing, based on the life of Moses) and enjoy the prosperity he earned.

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About the Author

Jay D. Homnick, commentator and humorist, is deputy editor of The American Spectator.