Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Untaxed Tax Protesters

The ironic statistic du jour is that, despite Tea Party howling, 47 percent of American families are paying no federal taxes on their income this year.

Most are households with young children and (pace the white-haired, red-faced ragers at rallies) the elderly, benefiting from Obama-sponsored stimulus measures, most notably a 2009 reprieve from mandatory withdrawals from their pension plans.

As instant-gratification Baby Boomers begin to qualify for retirement, much older members of that group may see their surge of anti-government feeling as owing more to an exaggerated sense of entitlement than the loudly proclaimed Tea Party yearning for a more pristine past.

The really elderly remember a post-World War II era, presided over by a popular Republican in the White House, when the top tax bracket was 84 percent rather than today's 35, with no public outcry.

The only audible grumbling came from those New Yorker cartoon figures in upper-crust men's clubs and, on one occasion, John Wayne, the celluloid cowboy, whom I told, "If I were getting that many millions of dollars for making faces at cameras, I wouldn't complain about giving most of it back to people who buy tickets to see me do it."

But those were other days, when mainstream patriotism was about loving America rather than hating other Americans in a time when most of those elected to serve in Washington were working against prejudice rather than stoking it for political gain.

There won't be any easy escape from today's economic distress and soaring budget deficits, which will require tradeoffs and sacrifices, but putting on Colonial hats and holding public temper tantrums in Washington and elsewhere only obstruct the hard choices that will have to be made, no matter which party is in power.

It would be encouraging to see Mitch McConnell, John Boehner et al getting involved in that process rather than trying to hold the government hostage to public anger. As they talk about a new "Contract With America," they may want to remember that the first in the 1990s did not work out too well for Newt Gingrich and his gang.


JSpencer said...

Excellent post Robert. As usual you hit the nail smack on the head. Somewhere there has to be a kernel of reason in the minds of even the most irate partisans, and they badly need to get in touch with it. As you suggest, history is a guide and is an excellent informer of what are useful sensibilities... and what aren't.

mlhradio said...

I can't believe I'm defending the tea party nutcases and weirdos, but I find the whole "half the tea partiers don't pay taxes therefore they can't complain" argument disingenuous.

Whether you pay *personally* a million dollars in taxes, or if you pay nothing in taxes, that does not invalidate anyone from holding the opinion that the American public *in general* is paying too much in taxes. The concept of paying less in taxes as a nation, while naive and misguided, is a valid idea. Whether or not you actually pay taxes on a personal level is not a condition necessary to argue that point -- being an *American citizen* is.

- mlhradio

Unknown said...

The attitudes in the NYT poll of Tea Party characteristics fit very nicely with the fact that 47 % of Americans paid no federal taxes. The Tea Party is a well educated, well off 18% of the population who believe that they are paying for others who don't work hard enough. The 47% are obiviously the slackers who the tea party complains about, and the tea partiers could be taxed less if those lazy good for nothings would just pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

Joking aside, this 47% statistic is likely to inflame rather than pacify the tea party.

Fuzzy Slippers said...

Actually, Tea Partiers are upset that such a large percentage of the American public pay no income tax; that puts the burden squarely on the shoulders of the other half who are. Right? So taxes keep going up for people with jobs, people not leaching off the system (i.e. the Tea Party patriots themselves, who as it turns out are better educated and wealthier than the general public: via NYT