Caught in the Spin Cycle

One of the rules of thumb we’ve developed since we fell into this bottomless pit of blogging three years ago is Always double-check ThinkProgress transcripts. We’re all for afflicting the comfortable, but TP has a nasty habit of being too, um, enthusiastic in their mission. There’s plenty of outrage to go around without sexing up the dossier.

But Monday afternoon, we were asleep at the switch:


“By the time I feed my family, I have maybe $400,000 left over.” –Louisiana GOP Congresscritter John Fleming, adding that “class warfare has never created a job”. [ThinkProgress]

This was, how you say, not quite right. The sentence doesn’t end where ThinkProgress ended it:

“The amount that I have to reinvest in my business and feed my family is more like $600,000 of that $6.3 million,” Fleming said. “So by the time I feed my family I have maybe $400,000 left over to invest in new locations, upgrade my locations…”

That version of the quote is from TPM, which went with the implied $200,000 in Fleming’s family food budget.

But even that is misleading. In fact, of everybody who decided to run with that quote, the only reasonable voice was Fleming himself.

So let’s back up. John Fleming is a Subway and UPS franchisee, whose stores enjoy an annual revenue of $6.3 million. His net income off that revenue is $600,000 — presumably after taxes, the way he expresses it. So he’s running a profit of around ten percent, which is how America is supposed to work. No problems there.

But Fleming’s not wasting it all on hookers and blow — his family lives quite well on a only third of that profit, or $547.94 a day. The rest he reinvests.

Let us be clear: There is nothing wrong with this.

If anything — setting aside what he probably pays his Subway employees — this is the kind of capitalism we’re supposed to encourage. John Fleming is running businesses, not living off a robber-baron trust fund, or conceiving government-backed Ponzi schemes on Wall Street. He’s earning a reasonable profit, not monopolizing the market.

And — yes — he’s not paying enough in taxes. Because he’s still in the top two percent of American incomes.

So we still disagree with him. But what he said wasn’t worth making him an object of ridicule.

That was our fault. Because we forgot our rule: Never take ThinkProgress at face value. They’ll burn you every time.

[clarification via Sully]

Bah, I don’t think apologies are warranted in this case. Of course Andrew Sullivan is going to be moved by that reader’s e-mail, because at heart he’s still a conservative who believes that taxation is “punishing success.”

But let’s look at the facts a little more closely. Even if we accept that Fleming is 100% above board in what he says, consider:

Being left with $200,000.00 to spend after taxes is equivalent to having a pre-tax income of some $250-300,000.00. Cry me a river.

Furthermore, the $400,000.00 that “doesn’t count” because he might presumably spend it upgrading his businesses and starting more businesses is like having access every year to a $400,000.00 interest free loan. You know how many small businessmen would kill for a $400,000.00 interest free loan just once in their lives… let alone every calendar year?

We should all be as burdened as this guy.

And to be, er, fair… it’s not like he’s investing in millions of dollars of expensive manufacturing equipment. It’s a bunch of Subways and UPS stores.

Oh boy, a new toaster oven. Hey, here’s a new barcode scanner.

And the kicker is? They’re tax writeoffs.

Speaking of taking things at face value, what about Fleming’s claim that he must take money out of his franchise profits to “feed [his] family”? He lives near Shreveport (cost of living 13.2% lower than the national average), has no dependent children, and earns $174,000 in Congressional salary (not to mention the sweet pension; he’ll be vested in two-and-a-half years).

For only $1,643.83 a day, you too could support a Congressman’s family. Won’t you think of the children and give today?

Meh, screw it. Did Al Gore ever actually say he invented the Internet? Was ACORN ever anything that a grassroots organization to get disadvantaged people involved in the political process? Is Obama a gay islamifacisist crack-using Marxist Stalinist incompetent omnipresent puppetmaster bent on selling us to the Chineese or Al Quieda?

This is a war, and war is not the time to be gentlemen, particularly when dealing with people who lie with every other breath.

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