Monday, April 27, 2009

Is it still tea [bag] time?

Allow me to be the last blogger in America to weigh in on the April 15 'tea party' protests. Depending on your own political persuasion, these were either a made-for-Fox-TV fraud or a spontaneous uprising of the overtaxed majority. I suspect that both of these positions are partially true, and partially false.

I was not among the tea-baggers on the 15th. I had a deposition. I was earning money (I hope) to pay the taxes the others were protesting. A friend of mine sent me a link to the sneering CNN coverage; my friend (who was at the Chicago gathering) claims that the event shows a great and dangerous anger out there toward all incumbents.

Pish tosh, I say.

I'm no great fan of taxes either. My father always said that withholding was the greatest thing that ever happened to government: If the majority of people actually had to write checks for the money the government was taking from them, no politician would ever get reelected.

As a self-employed person, I've been writing checks for my own withholding for nearly 11 years now -- 'matching' my own FICA 'contribution' as employer and employee. For a good decade before that I was saving up money from my income to pay quarterly income taxes: As a partner in a firm, I wasn't subject to withholding. (And wouldn't you just know it? Cash flow always seemed most constricted just when the quarterly returns were due.) Come to think of it, I've been a pretty consistent contrarian in the voting booth for a long time now.

But even I still admit, however grudgingly, that taxes are a necessary evil: I can't provide so much as the nose gear of an F-35 on my own. I'm afraid that I couldn't maintain the Interstate highway system on my own either. I suppose I could save up to send an ambassador to Baghdad -- but I couldn't maintain an embassy for him or her, much less pay an appropriate salary.

I don't think the tea-baggers are against all taxes either, although some particularly inarticulate and frightening people were selected to represent the various groups on the evening news.

I think people expect there to be a relationship between the taxes we pay and the services we get: The aforementioned F-35s, for example, or the continued viability of the Interstate highways. I certainly expect a certain amount of waste -- stupid programs, bridges to nowhere, civil service sinecures for politicians' relatives. Human beings are not angels. But I and, I think, most people expect a certain positive correlation between the dollars extracted from our pockets and the services government provides in return.

Sad to say, the expectations of all but the most tolerant among us have been shattered by the events of the last several months: Our government is shoveling money in carload lots at banks, insurers, and auto manufacturers because, for varying reasons, bankers, insurers, and auto manufacturers ran their respective businesses into the ground... because our beloved government believes these entities are too big to fail.

It was the outgoing Bush administration that started the indiscriminate bailing out in the first place. Thus, the new Obama administration does not carry the entire responsibility for this debacle. (Mr. Obama does bear responsibility for his seeming inability to find people for high office that didn't owe back taxes. But that's a different story.)

And what did we get for our money?

AIG used some of that money to pay bonuses to executives -- probably not the ones who created the mess... but, still, it seemed rather tacky, didn't it? And the banks and their associated credit card subsidiaries took their money (our money!) and raised fees and late charges and interest rates. That way, the banks said, they can pay back the government for the money they got from us in the first place. It sure sounds we're going to be paying at least twice, doesn't it? And then there's the car companies: Yes, Mr. Obama made the head of GM step aside... but for all the millions and billions handed them, GM and Chrysler may yet go bankrupt. (And Chrysler -- so recently freed from the Germans -- may become an Italian company.)

The tea-baggers had a point: The government seems to have borrowed recklessly to save businesses too stupid to succeed... and left most of the people responsible for their problems in place to repeat their errors at the earliest opportunity. Congress (which had the leading oar in both administrations' bailout packages) has acted rashly and stupidly and the rascals should be turned out.

But people are fickle. Most folks have short memories. If people have jobs, if the price of gas doesn't go up too much anytime soon, people will probably return their beloved congresspeople to office in 2010.

I know they're counting on this in Washington.

1 comment:

Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

not me curmy! no way! i am voting all of them out. i may not be successful but i am still going to do it. term limits!!!

smiles, bee