Lots of people are ticked off about taxes, but why waste a bunch of tea?

By JAYSON JACOBY March 27, 2009 10:18 am

When I think about the income taxes I pay — and I do so as infrequently as I can manage — I feel a peculiar mixture of patriotism and regret.

On the one hand I know I’m contributing, albeit in a meager way, to the most generous country on earth. I know the modest fruits of my labor help to heal and feed kids who are sick and starving in some wretched place.

On the other hand I’m also paying for manure odor studies and Barney Frank’s salary.

Ponder that for a few seconds and see if you can still smile.

Still and all, my disdain for certain of the federal government’s spending habits is not so great that I think it’s appropriate to compare Barack Obama to King George III.

Obama hasn’t sent any redcoats to billet in my spare bedroom, for one thing.

Also, his name was printed on the ballot in a free election that met muster with the United States Constitution.

I voted for John McCain, but I have not seen any evidence that convinces me James Madison, were he still knocking around Washington, wouldn’t address Obama as “Mr. President.”

It was an e-mail that prompted me to ponder the connection between Obama, who spent a year and a half on the campaign trail, and an 18th century monarch who probably would have chuckled at the notion of participating in a debate.

The e-mail was from Americans for Prosperity.

(I’ll bet an outfit with that name has little trouble recruiting members. Who, after all, would admit to being against prosperity?)

The organization’s Oregon operation is planning “Taxpayer Tea Parties” in 15 Oregon cities on April 15. Baker City isn’t on the list, but La Grande is.

According to the e-mail, the purpose of these rallies is “to protest wasteful spending in government.”

If your goal is to get people so riled up that they’ll come to your rally, you could hardly pick a more compelling subject than wasteful spending in government.

(Although an event designed to denounce George W. Bush remains a surefire way to draw a crowd in most large cities or college campuses.)

Yet it seems to me that AFP could have left out the “tea party” moniker without diluting its message.

Chastising the federal government for its current profligacy has at most a tenuous link to the colonists 236 years ago who protested punitive taxes levied 3,000 miles away by people the colonists couldn’t vote out of office.

Besides which, how long has it been since you heard anybody whining about the price of tea?

It’s cheaper than coffee.

Considering the recent trend in postal rates, the Stamp Act seems to me the more inspired choice if AFP is determined to stay with the Revolutionary theme.

Despite the flimsy logic of its historical comparisons, I was eager to endorse AFP’s parties because wasteful government spending is one of those rare political topics that needn’t be strictly partisan.

Except it usually is.

As I scrolled down the e-mail, it became clear to me that what rankles AFP is not wasteful government spending in general, but wasteful government spending perpetrated by Democrats.

“Americans have quickly become fed up with the Obama administration’s wasteful spending, restrictions on freedoms, broken promises and massive new debt packages not even our great-grandchildren will be able to pay off,” said AFP-Oregon State Director Jeff Kropf.

“Taxpayer Tea Parties give people a chance to vent their frustrations in a peaceful, productive manner. Oregonians who are concerned about the current expansion of the federal government into our lives and pocketbooks should plan on attending a local Tea Party.”

Obama wants to spend a lot of our money, to be sure.

And I think it is fair to describe some of that proposed spending as wasteful.

But those statements are equally true when applied to every president since FDR, a span that includes half a dozen Republicans.

(And you could probably go farther back than that. I imagine Rutherford B. Hayes squandered tax dollars, too. I just couldn’t find his administration’s budgets online.)

As for our great-grandchildren, they’ve been on the hook for their ancestors’ tab for generations now.

Yet I don’t recall AFP putting on any tea parties during the Bush administration.

Either of them.

I’m puzzled, too, by Kropf’s reference to the “restrictions on freedoms” that Obama is pursuing.

This is a typically puerile political tactic, of course, a snide ploy to scare people.

At least it’s a bipartisan one.

George W. Bush’s critics devoted six years to their campaign to convince Americans that the president’s henchmen were tapping every phone conversation in the country.

Except the ones they missed because they were prowling through your dressers while you were at work.

Those allegations seemed to me as exaggerated, and frankly as silly, as the present implication that Obama wants to subjugate all us under the shackles of socialism.

I’d rather AFP focus on taxes. Those, at least, are real — I can see the evidence for myself, tallied neatly on the pay stub I get every two weeks.

The thing is, AFP’s take on taxes is about as convincing to me as its appropriation of the term “tea party.”

So far as I can tell, the Obama administration, to borrow AFP’s phrase, isn’t expanding any deeper into my pocketbook than Bush’s did.

In fact, Obama probably won’t get his fingers in as far.

This isn’t the case for everyone’s wallet, though.

Obama says he wants to cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans.

He ought to cut taxes for 100 percent.

On this point, if no other, I suspect AFP and I agree.

Ronald Reagan, another big spender, proved that the federal government can cut marginal tax rates for everybody and end up collecting more money.

There’s nothing regressive about trimming taxes across the board, either, despite what certain pundits contend.

Even if Obama left the top tax rate at 35 percent instead of raising it to 39.6 percent, a tiny minority of Americans — fewer than 5 percent — would continue to pay more than half the nation’s income tax bill.

Yet some people insist that that wealthiest minority ought to pay even more. They delight in citing statistics showing that the income gap between that group and everybody else is widening.

I don’t care that it is.

The people who complain about wealth disparity seem to think that every dollar the rich get is a dollar that someone else was entitled to.

This, of course, is nonsense.

There is no finite supply of dollars, and I have just as much right as Bill Gates has to go after them.

Some rich people have more money than I have because they’re smarter than I am.

Most of them, I suspect, work harder than I do.

A few are just lucky.

Those last bother me a little bit.

What bothers me more, though, are politicians who claim as one of their duties deciding who deserves the Porsche and the vacation home on Mount Hood.

And what bothers me most of all are politicians who tinker with tax rates to make the numbers come out so they can boast to certain of their constituents about how they’re protecting the middle class by soaking everyone who drives a Jaguar.

I’m pretty sure that sort of thing annoys AFP, too, and to that extent I am sympathetic to the group’s cause.

But why not have the rallies, drop the tea party stuff, and leave the inane comparisons to the kooks who put Bush and Hitler on the same roster.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.