Warren Buffett has been in the news quite a bit this week. Yesterday Buffett announced that he was diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer. His prognosis, according to his doctor, "is great." That's certainly good news.
A couple of days ago, Senate Republicans blocked President Obama's "Buffett Rule" which proposes a minimum tax rate for millionaires. The measure received majority support, 51-45, but 60 votes were required for the legislation to advance. Obama issued a statement after the vote vowing to press Congress to help the middle class.
The Buffett Rule has been talked about for several months. Alex wrote a smart piece about taxes and Warren Buffett in July 2011. In fact, Alex implored Buffett to write an open letter to congress to fight for fairer taxation. One month later, Buffett wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times denouncing our country's befuddled tax structure.
The United States tax code is a cluster-you-know-what. One of the smartest people alive, Fareed Zakaria, described it best:
We have what I would describe as the world’s worst tax code. It is the longest, the most complicated, riddled with loopholes, exceptions and deductions--all of which are fundamentally institutionalized corruption.
(Tell us how you really feel, Fareed.)
Our horrific tax code isn't a newfound revelation. So why did it take so long for something like the Buffett Rule to gain traction?
Because somebody finally got the message right. It happened when Buffett announced his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he does.
That one statement resonated with millions of Americans. It made people angry because a secretary should never have to pay more than a person who has a secretary. Like, never ever.
Buffett struck a brilliant chord. If he would've replaced "secretary" with "middle manager," his message wouldn't even have resonated with middle managers (probably because they don't identify themselves as middle managers).
But a secretary? The job of a secretary is so underappreciated that we dedicate a specific day to recognize their contributions. And the job title is so outdated that Secretaries Day is now called Administrative Professionals' Day.
So in one succinctly-brilliant, emotionally-charged sentence, Warren Buffett grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. He not only grabbed our attention, he made us understand why our tax code is unfair.
The White House recognized the emotional connection Buffett created. They capitalized on it by creating a Buffett Rule Calculator on their website. Just enter your wages, salary, and the federal income tax you paid. And then you'll see how many millionaires paid a lower tax rate than you did. You'll likely get pissed. And then you can share your disdain on Facebook and Twitter with a pre-formatted message citing the approximate number of millionaires who paid a lower rate than you did.
The Buffett Rule might have stalled in the Senate, but it reinforced how powerful a message can be. The perfect message is always a simple one. It's easy to remember. Easy to repeat. Talk to people, not demographics. Because people relate to other people. And people will fight for what's fair.
By Gino Bona
Photo via CNN