Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Topics: Rick Warren
Twitter was jumping for hours after the Obama-Boehner debt-ceiling throw-down Monday night, but one tweet cut through the chatter. Rev. Rick Warren, the conservative impresario of Saddleback Community Church known for his work on poverty and AIDS issues, let loose mid-evening with the observation:
HALF of America pays NO taxes. ZERO. So they’re happy for tax rates to be raised on the other half that DOES.
That’s a right-wing meme spreading wildly of late. It’s absolutely false. Thanks to the Earned Income Tax Credit, a bipartisan innovation adopted under President George H.W. Bush and expanded under President Clinton, it’s true many low-wage workers pay no taxes and may even get government subsidies to bring them above the poverty line. As many as 47 percent of workers today pay no income tax, a number that jumped substantially during the recession. They do, however, pay payroll taxes and of course the regressive sales tax, which disproportionately burdens the poor, so it’s false to say they pay no taxes. If you’re not happy with the EITC, you might want to think about what it means that so many jobs pay poverty level wages in the U.S. today. The low-wage workers aren’t the moochers; in fact, the subsidies benefit industries that profit from low-wage workforces. But the EITC has become a new obsession of the right wing; Andrew Leonard broke it all down here.
So it was a little weird to see such an ignorant Rush Limbaugh talking point coming from Rick Warren. Although he’s a conservative, Warren is widely credited with having a social conscience. Obama courted him in the run-up to the 2008 election, appearing at Saddleback twice. I thought he sandbagged Obama in his joint appearance with John McCain, allowing the Republican to hear earlier questions, telling Obama supporters who complained that it was “sour grapes,” and opining skeptically, after the whole infomercial for Saddleback ended, that Obama would have to do more than “talk faith” to win Saddleback votes. Nonetheless, Obama invited Warren to do his inaugural invocation. That irked some Obama supporters because Warren is anti-gay, and had recently campaigned for California’s Prop. 8, which banned gay marriage.
I’m not a huge Warren fan, but given his history of caring about poverty issues and his sometimes bipartisan posture, I was surprised to see him take such a conservative line on taxes, and on the low-income workers who get the EITC. It doesn’t seem like Obama’s devoted outreach won Warren over, that’s for sure. So I sent him a few messages via Twitter:
Hi @RickWarren many hard working but low-paid Americans don’t pay taxes, thanks to a George H.W. Bush era charitable move to bolster income
I assume @RickWarren won’t be giving the invocation in 2013. He lacks a preferential option for the poor. Very sad.
Class warfare against the poor. Is that what Jesus would do? @RickWarren
Warren ignored me but began tweeting to the general public:
Never engage those who insult you online. They’re just looking for a fight, not clarity.
“Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions” Prov18:2
Around the same time he sent me a private message via Twitter:
I take zero salary & we feed over 2000 familes a wk. But thank u Joan for the opportunity to pray God blesses your life greatly
That sounded a little snarky, but then I’d been snarky in my tweets, too. (I will take the prayers, however, and include him in my own. Thanks, Rick.) Taking “zero salary” didn’t particularly impress me, because Warren is a wealthy man thanks to his publishing empire.
In these times of polarization, I’ll count that as a victory: Either Warren realized his wasn’t the most Christian take on taxes and the poor – or that it sounded too mean for a guy who’s trying to be the kinder, gentler Christian-right leader. Maybe he can pray that his Republican friends see the light and realize their tax policies hurt the poor — and that they’re anything but Christian.
Joan Walsh is Salon's editor at large and the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America." More Joan Walsh.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)