Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tea-Baggers: Hypocites, Rubes or Both?

Gatherings of like-minded anti-tax citizens earned wide media coverage this week as part of a conservative-sponsored "Tea-Bagging" day. The meetups were to protest the notion that Americans pay too much tax and that we should not be pleased by emergency government investment in certain sectors to help save key industries like banking, lending, auto manufacturing and real estate.

The tea reference alludes to the
Boston Tea Party in which wealthy white aristocrats dressed up as Native Americans and went "tea-bagging." In the parlance of the times, this means they dumped bags of British tea into Boston Harbor in protest over the notion that American colonist should not be forced to pay a tax on tea by a government in which they had no representation. That, and, the tax in question was also part of the larger Tea Tax law that actually made British tea cheaper overall...cheaper than the previously low price Dutch tea that many in the Americas bought from smugglers. That had something to do with it too, but you don't hear much about that.

Anyway, the phrase "tea-bagging" that protesters initially used for their actions this week has a more modern sexual connotation. So, it's kinda funny for a bunch of conservatives to openly be participating in "tea-bagging." But, there's been plenty to chuckling over that already. So, lets set that aside.

Lets also set aside for the moment that overall, income tax rates are lower today than they were when Republicans ran things in the Regan era...and certainly lower than the Eisenhower or Nixon administrations.

Lets set aside the fact that one of the key contributing factors to the economic crisis our nation now faces
is exactly the supply-side, deregulation/small government, deference to corporate America, tax cutting economic religion that conservatives so love to talk about.

And finally, lets set aside the fact that unlike Colonial tea partiers, today's Americans do elect their government representatives.

No, instead, to measure the credibility of these modern day tax protesters, lets do a little experiment. Lets look at the front page a newspaper from a city in a conservative area - one that has covered the tea-partyers festivities recently. Lets look at the
Charleston Post & Courier from April 16.

their featured story, you can see that there was quite a turnout in Charleston, SC to "protest" taxation overall and government investment to save or salvage key industries. OK, now, lets see how many other stories on that front page include or relate to services provided by public tax money. There are a lot actually, but here are just four:
  • There's a story here about a student arrested for trying to stab his teacher. Do tax protesters like the fact that there were police who could intervene here and arrest the suspect? How about the fact that there was a school in the first place, not to mention roads for the teacher, students and police to get to and from the property?
  • And oh, over here there's another story about a chili cook off to raise funds so a local middle school can afford computers for its classrooms. So....right. Don't tax me, but why is it that I have to throw a chili cook off to make sure my kid can learn some computer skills in school?
  • And, here's one about the state senate having to cut $202 million from the budget - a move that will mean significantly cutting police, social services and environmental and economic development programs. And why? The governor won't accept Federal stimulus money.
  • And, perhaps most telling, here is this story about a Charleston high school student who has filed a lawsuit in attempts to force the governor of South Carolina to accept $700 million in Federal stimulus funds to help keep government services, most importantly schools, up and running during the financial crisis. Parents are holding chili cook offs to raise money for computers in their kids' classrooms while the state government contemplates gutting major social services...and the governor is un-accepting of Federal funds to help in all of these areas because of some conservative small government belief that the Feds shouldn't be spending money on states' matters? Wow.
You get my point? These people out protesting "too much taxation" in an era of relatively low taxation or "socialist government" in an crisis instigated by unfettered capitalism can only be doing so if they are purposefully trying to be hypocritical for short term political gain...or because they are, well, stupid. Yes, stupid rubes being used as pawns by wealthy conservatives who don't have any interest in their lives, but can gin them up on the notion that "the liberals" are jacking them around with taxes and "socialism." How else can you explain how reality so diametrically opposes the anti-tax rhetoric?

In either of these cases - the protest is fake. It's not real. If followed through upon it would mean more financial ruin for the very people holding up the signs and shouting out the slogans at rallies this week...but also spectacular wealth for a very, very few people and corporations.

Look, I don't like taxes just as much as the next person, and yes I know there are certain taxes that could be done away with that would make our lives a little better. No argument. But, I think many people - and certainly the media - is missing the boat here. These protests are manufactured events created to try and generate a perception that Americans are over taxed and don't want the government "interfering" with anything. The truth is, we're not over-taxed compared to our history or to the rest of the world today.

Another truth is that, just like the original "tea-baggers" of 1776, the rallies this week were orchestrated by a bunch of wealth aristocrats and business owners who don't want to pay taxes - and who don't like the way the government now is trying to bring back some sanity and equity to society.

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