April 19, 2009

Connecting the dots: From Tea Parties to taxes

Posted in media coverage, President Barack H. Obama, taxes, U.S. Economy tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 10:14 pm by realitytax

Let’s skip the loaded debate over who benefited from Bush-era tax cuts, and move right on to the guts of the current question: are taxes unfair, and is a tea-bag an apt modern rallying symbol?

People having trouble making ends meet have reason to wish bank and credit-card fees were less onerous, and they naturally resent the inevitable burden of any tax they think is unfair. Yet nobody in the U.S.A. wants our local, state, or federal agencies to outright shut down the way they have in Somalia. We value the services the government provides even though we hope Obama can cut costs and reverse the run-away growth of the U.S. federal government that has characterized the beginning of this century.

Fair, easily understood taxes are a reasonable means to pay for public education, defense, bridges & roads, and so on – so long as they aren’t roads and bridges to nowhere that benefit some special interest that donates to a congressional campaign to win favors. Nobody doubts we need on-going investments to keep this country a great place to live, work, and raise families – yet amid the on-going economic meltdown there’s a natural anger when we hear about bailout money going to folks who earn more in a single bonus than most Americans earn in a lifetime.

So when we argue about tax cuts, let’s make sure we’re clear on just whose taxes are being cut. We’ve been giving tax breaks to oil companies, and now Exxon’s atop the Fortune 500 – it doesn’t take an accounting degree to know that’s not fair to people trying to pay for health care, college tuition, and the home they live in. Congress has been looking out for the already-rich at the expense of the rest of us by creating byzantine, opaque loopholes in exchange for campaign donations and junkets, and that has simply got to stop. People aren’t upset about taxes, they’re upset about not being sure if everybody’s paying their fair share.

In the late 1700s, in an era when nobody dared drink unboiled water, merchants and bureaucrats conspired to tax the tea sent to America – the tea that made getting enough fluid more palatable – at exorbitant rates. In a gesture not unlike cutting off their noses to spite their own faces a boycott was enforced – and a message sent – by vandalizing private property, thus insuring that the captains had no merchandise to sell and no collected taxes (or profits) to take back to England. Naturally coffee filled in the gap in the colonies for some time. (The U.S. didn’t immediately become a coffee nation, though. That change is usually tied to the tea embargo during the War of 1812.)

In modern terms, tea is considerably more central to the daily living of people in Europe and Asia. The fact that every student of U.S. history learns about the “Boston Tea Party” apparently made it seem a  catchy sound-bite as behind the scenes operatives sought to foment a movement timed to use as a media event on April 15th, but the effect of the media coverage seems to have given us more sense of Alice’s Mad Hatter than colonial rebels battling distant rich despots. The President’s shining success at the Summit of the Americas further diminished the amount of attention the story got in various media.

Curiously, in hindsight the naive echoing of the slang-term “tea-bagging” by conservative pundits probably drove more web traffic to Google and the UrbanDictionary than the actual events. It certainly detracted from impact of the hype leading up to the not-so-grassroots parties.

I’m betting the folks with Google Ad Sense terms tied to those searches, and “astro-turfing”  are enjoying a brief bonanza of exposure.

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