Founding father and fourth president of the United States, James Madison once said, “A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a tragedy or a farce, or perhaps both.”
Madison’s words ring sadly prophetic when viewing the TEA party spectacles taking place across America. In my own town of Franklin, North Carolina, one such rally took place on July 2nd of this year. Slogans from the signs of participants and statements given to the press on that day indicate the members of this grassroots movement are unfortunately misinformed, and the resulting government they would install would indeed be, in Madison’s words, both a tragedy and a farce.
Let’s look at a few of the TEA party’s laments. The basic premise of their platform is they are “taxed enough already.” A basic piece of the misinformation the TEA party embraces is the notion that individuals are taxed heavily under the current federal administration. This misconception is fueled by pundits on Fox News and other far-right conservative forums. The conservative Heritage Foundation claims that Obama’s ambition is to instill “European levels of taxation (1),” which is a frightening thought for undereducated Americans that do not understand the principles of progressive taxation.
In fact, one of the first acts of the Obama administration was to reduce taxes for 95% of average Americans, who today enjoy a lower tax rate than they did under conservative darling, Ronald Reagan. To date, the administration has only suggested a repeal of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and a correction to Social Security taxes, which currently place an unfair tax burden on the poor.
Currently all Americans incomes under $102k/year are taxed for Social Security at a rate of 15.65 percent, with portions of the total paid by both employer and employee. Individuals making more than $102k per year enjoy a cap to the amount they are required to pay, so someone making $1 million/year pays the same amount as someone making $102k. For someone making $1 billion/year, the same holds true. In conclusion, those individuals who can most afford to pay their fair percentage to Social Security are not required to do so. It’s no wonder the system is on the verge of collapse. One swift repeal of this ridiculous policy would save the program in one fell swoop.
When faced with the above realities, many TEA party adherents maintain that the Obama administration has a hidden agenda to raise taxes, and in the words of one Franklin protester begin a reign of “communism we can believe in.” These outrageous conspiracy theories have no place in intelligent political discourse, but unfortunately, it would seem a misguided and manipulated populace is swayed by emotional rhetoric rather than facts. Glen Beck and other pundits insist without any evidence that Obama is secretly plotting a communist takeover of America. Sadly, ignorant TEA adherents don’t realize that under such a regime, we would be relieved of the burden of taxation completely with all revenues generated by industry going directly to government and our salaries consequently supplied by that same government.
If the TEA party were to have its way, taxation would be reduced to the absolute minimum level necessary to maintain a skeleton government. The taxes that currently support Social Security, Medicare, education, public safety and public infrastructures to name a few would be slashed. The end results would be catastrophic. Senior citizens with no other viable sources of income would become homeless and hungry. Millions of seniors and handicapped individuals would die every year from easily treatable illness, our already strapped public education system would shrink even more returning us to a near feudal state in which only elite children are educated. Citizens would need to form militias for public safety, as police and fire emergency services would no longer exist. And anybody who currently lives on a private road and has to haggle with neighbors to scrape together enough funds for road maintenance can imagine the nightmare that would become our highways, bridges and transportation infrastructures.
Although they have a bad reputation, taxes are not the root of all evil, nor are they detrimental to the economy. In reality, U.S. tax levels have steadily decreased since the Reagan administration introduced the conservative notion that tax cuts for wealthy individuals would create benefits that would “trickle down” to the rest of us. All statistical evidence since that time indicates that tax cuts for wealthy individuals does absolutely nothing to raise the standard of living for average Americans. Since the steady reduction in progressive taxation, the wealthy have indeed become better off, while the quality of life for average working people has steadily declined. Once upon a time in America, the highest income tax level hovered around 90%, and a household could be supported with one blue collar job. Today, mothers and fathers both work and barely make ends meet.
In European countries like Denmark and Sweden where true progressive taxation exists, poverty has been completely eliminated, all citizens enjoy a comfortable quality of life with safety nets for unemployment, old age and healthcare. Mothers and/or fathers can decide to stay home with their new babies for up to two years while still drawing a salary. Or, they can enroll their precious child in a community childcare cooperative with well paid, professional childcare workers. It is no coincidence that Denmark was recently voted by the National Science Foundation as the happiest nation on earth (2). And, these same European nations suffered less dramatic effects from the global economic recession and have made a quicker recovery. The European taxation which strikes fear into the hearts of conservative Americans is clearly not the great burden those “taxed enough already” believe it to be. The truth is when the wealthy get more money in their pockets due to tax breaks, they either spend it on themselves or use it to make themselves wealthier.
Perhaps the greatest irony of the TEA party spectacle is the predominance of mantras appealing to God. Apart from the fact that the installation of a Christian theocratic government would present a huge obstacle to the democratic freedoms of Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, non-believers and others in our great melting pot, it would seem that once again, TEA party adherents are woefully misinformed about the values of their own religion. Jesus healed the sick, embraced people of all genders, religions and social groups and proposed dramatic redistribution of wealth. It is difficult to imagine he would support a government that does not embrace these same ideals.