Sunday, April 19, 2009 | 2 a.m.
The first Tea Party started a war.
It was the Revolutionary War. It started 236 years ago and it is a darned good thing we had it. Otherwise, we’d all be speaking English and we’d be paying our taxes to the king or, as is currently the case, the queen. In short, the American Revolution was our effort to obtain our independence from Mother England. And it has worked out pretty well ever since.
So, what were Wednesday’s “tea parties” all about? It is hard to say except for the fact that it gave a bunch of people something to complain about on the one day a year that our taxes are due. And they chose to market those complaints around the tea bag in an effort to invoke patriotic memories of real American heroism.
What happened last week was not heroic — there was no life or liberty threatened. And while it could be called classically American — protesting something, anything, that government does in the name of the people — there was nothing classic about some of the invective heaped upon otherwise decent public officials who are guilty only of trying to fix the myriad problems that threaten this great country.
So, for the record, let me suggest that this year’s “tea parties” were a colossal flop.
Let me tell you why.
Walk into any room, in any building, in any city, in any state in America. Ask for a show of hands of all those people who really don’t enjoy paying their taxes. I will bet my last year’s tax bill that an overwhelming majority of folks will raise their hands, signifying that they would rather not have to write those checks.
In that same room ask the people how many of them think they are paying too much in the way of taxes. Except for those present who aren’t paying anything, I would bet this year’s tax bill — which is significantly less than that of the prior year — that everyone else would answer affirmatively and that they think they are paying far more than their share.
So, by extrapolation, given that there are about 100 million taxpayers in this country and most of them don’t like paying taxes, the few thousand people who showed up across America to boo and hiss their government and their tax bills was, well, pretty much a failure!
What it was, though, was somewhat of a marketing success for Fox News and other conservative institutions that were looking for some cause celebre to rally the troops around, given that they took such a bad beating in November. That’s not a bad thing, mind you, but it should be kept in perspective. And the perspective is that this was a “gripe session” that gained national attention because other news outlets had nothing to cover other than this manufactured media event.
So what was all the complaining about? Who knows? The best I can tell is that those people who showed up in parks and public places to decry their tax bills, the Obama bailouts and other and sundry forms of government action were people who oppose public school systems, oppose any kind of health care or other safety nets for poor and less fortunate people, and people who aren’t that keen on providing for the common defense — as it is stated in our Constitution.
I say this because it is a function of simple math that if we stop paying our taxes, then we can no longer expect government to provide standing armies, health care for those who are indigent and public schools for our children. It is also a known fact that taxes can be paid only by those who have the money to pay them. Therefore, it is from the haves that tax money will flow and it is usually the have-nots who are beneficiaries of that economic largesse.
And let me be clear. It is OK to be against public education, providing for the security of Americans and any kind of minimal health care. I just don’t believe that is where the overwhelming majority of Americans live.
And I believe it is fully appropriate and wholly American to have a debate about the nature and extent of public education and other forms of citizen services — who gets them and how much we deliver. But, that is not a debate about taxes. It is, rather, a debate about how much of our taxes the particular government program will use.
In 1773 a group of patriotic soon-to-be United States citizens rebelled against King George and his edicts of taxation without the consent of the people. They showed their displeasure by dumping the good king’s tea overboard without so much as a lump of sugar to sweeten the pain.
Last week a rather smallish group of Americans tried to wrap themselves in the symbolic patriotism of a tea bag — thereby conjuring up a false sense of historic perspective — and fell flat on their faces when their numbers complained mostly about having to pay taxes, in the imposition of which they have been fully represented.
I say that was petty, unpatriotic and un-American. As much as we may not like to do so, paying our fair share of taxes is an American duty as well as a privilege. Rather than look at our tax dollars as something confiscated by our government — that’s us, by the way — we would be better to understand that paying taxes is a privilege.
There are very few people in other countries around the globe who wouldn’t pay anything they had to become American citizens and have the opportunities we have to work and support our families. As Americans, though, some of us begrudge paying this “privilege to be an American” tax, which allows our neighbors, families and friends to pursue their own American dreams and, yes, pay their privilege taxes too.
Somewhere along the line we convinced ourselves that “everything’s free in America.” A rite of passage in this country is the understanding that there are no free lunches and we really do get what we pay for.
What last week’s “tea parties” showed me is that we still have a long way to go before people grow up. Those were not patriots I witnessed in the parks that others paid for. Those were spoiled American children — older ones at that — who would rather complain than contribute.
Alas, that is their right. And it is our right to ignore them because listening to all that complaining is just too, well, taxing.
Brian Greenspun is editor of the Las Vegas Sun.