PORTLAND – “Tell it slant but tell it true,” the revered New England poet Emily Dickinson said, a thought that has stayed with us over a century for its wisdom.

In other words, something is lost, even wrong, when we try to hammer home meanings and values. People aren’t timber.

So, syndicated columnist Cal Thomas can take a lesson from Emily.

His July 14 column accusing our president of undermining the rich and “punish(ing) success and the values needed to attain (wealth)” hits hard and is rife with false assumptions and misleading, sloppy thinking.

One of the fallacious assumptions running through Thomas’ column is that the only mark of success is super wealth. The rest of us not earning millions and billions of dollars are all wannabes.

If the president and Democratic liberals — (notice, too, the subtle, continuous Republican endeavor to negatively taint the good word “liberal”) — weren’t blunting a universal ambition for every American to become a billionaire, Thomas says, “there would be far more of them And that would be a good thing, because it would mean more people are succeeding.”

By his standard, my life as a poet and teacher, in which I’ve shunned wealth, is a failure.

By his standard, any of us who choose a life based on a standard of value other than a monetary one are failures and deserve a pittance of our nation’s financial wealth.

By his standard, the Beetho-vens, the Van Goghs, the Nijinskys, the Motherwells, the Robert Frosts — most artists, musicians, dancers, poets — deserve a place in relative poverty.

Another fallacious assumption on which Thomas bases his column is that the super-wealthy already make a fair contribution to running our country.

“Take a look at one of the tax loopholes that congressional Republicans are refusing to close, the ‘carried interest’ loophole (that) President Obama is pushing to close,” Nicholas Kristof wrote in The New York Times recently.

Is this the “punishment of success” to which Thomas refers? Closing this loophole for the wealthy “would raise $20 billion over a decade, but congressional Republicans walked out of budget talks rather than discuss raising revenues from measures such as this one,” Kristof wrote.

Thomas goes on to claim that taxing the super-wealthy in a more equitable way would thwart the motivation of those bent on a lifetime of financial aggrandizement from wanting to become millionaires and billionaires.

“This president,” he says, “is determined to punish and discourage success the hard work, risk-taking and values by which one must live in order to attain it.”

Oh, my! — how much he seems to know what “punishment” is, what “success” is, what “hard work and risk-taking” are. I feel so sorry for the money brokers and bankers and CEOs with million- and billion-dollar incomes. What dangerous lives they lead!

The “carried interest” loophole Kristof refers to above, who does that benefit? — managers of financial partnerships such as hedge funds, private equity funds, venture capital funds and real estate funds, “among the highest paid people in the world,” Kristof says.

And what do they risk more than the farmer, the civil rights lawyer, the elementary school teacher?

The richest 1 percent of Americans have a greater collective net worth than the entire bottom 90 percent.

“The rich and powerful get away with murder,” says Victor Fleischer, a law professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Thomas would have us believe our economy’s health is based on the employment of workers to build yachts for the rich.

Our country is in financial crisis, he would have us believe, “because Democrats persuaded (George H.W.) Bush to sign a bill increasing the luxury tax on yachts.”

What nonsense — but pernicious nonsense, because with their billions, wealthy corporations and individuals, and their political propagandists in columnist’s clothing, have most people believing these distortions, dare I say lies.

Why else would anyone but the wealthy vote for Republicans?

“Wealth is a sign of achievement,” Thomas writes. “There is something deeply repulsive, even un-American about this war on achievers.”

So we’re to believe the lot of us — that is, workers, farmers, lawyers, teachers, secretaries, doctors, artists — everyone, even journalists, for goodness sakes, who don’t either have (I won’t say earn) or want to have billions — are “repulsive” and “un-American.”

“What do the unsuccessful produce?” he wrote. Will somebody please tell him: Everything, everything of value in this world besides money.

Cal Thomas’ column neither tells it slant nor tells it true, whether out of a need to believe his baseless opinions or out of an outright intention to mislead.

This essay not being a poem, I’ll sidestep being slant but will tell it true.

Since Thomas’ “opinion” column occupies a regular space in the state’s largest newspaper, it carries with it a responsibility for truth, of which it’s woefully short.

Journalistic integrity and opinion are not mutually exclusive.

– Special to The Press Herald