As teacup tempests go in this presidential election so roiled by them, the recent back and forth between the vice presidential candidates about taxes and patriotism was briefer and milder than most – but also more revealing than most.
The Democrat, Joe Biden, had said during a TV interview that sometimes stepping up to a tax increase could be the patriotic thing to do. The Republican, Sarah Palin, pooh-poohed such a link and predicted economic disaster from any tax increase. (Shouldn't she have said “more economic disaster”?)
Biden's being honest
Biden said that in an Obama administration people with incomes of more than $250,000 a year should expect their taxes to go up. “It's time to be patriotic,” Biden said. “Time to jump in. Time to be part of the deal. Time to help get America out of the rut.”
Palin shot back, “To the rest of America that's not patriotism. Raising taxes is killing jobs and hurting small businesses and making things worse.”
Obama's plan would cut taxes for 95 percent of the households with kids, 80 percent of the rest, and – Palin to the contrary notwithstanding – would ease some small-business taxes. It would return the rates for high incomes to the levels they were before the Bush tax cuts. John McCain proposes a far more modest middle-income tax reduction and would leave the upper brackets at their cut rate.
More of Bush
McCain, over all, would continue Bush's trickle-down economics, hoping more years of it would finally work where eight years of it have not. On Bush's watch, median household income has decreased – by an average $1,100 in six years.
But put aside the dollars-and-cents wrangling. More disturbing is the instinctive dismissal by the Republican vice presidential nominee of any relationship between taxation and our common interests – a rejection seconded with noisy contempt and ridicule in the sputterings of demagogic right-wing radio talkers and conservative bloggers.
Historically cautious and prudent, the Republican Party in recent years has become, instead, radical – doctrinally anti-tax, any tax of any sort for any reason. No Republican politician dares question the dogma that lowered taxes are a sovereign remedy for every civic ill. Democrats are daunted from stepping forward for fear of the fatal fusillade they know awaits them if they do.
Use your eyes
So look around the country, at the public infrastructure and parks crumbling into seedy disrepair, at the dilapidated schools we send new learners to, immediately signaling them how little we regard education. Witness an army that can't keep up with the materiel demands of what is, after all, a fairly small war in Iraq. Consider municipalities across the country scrapping social services, even dumping public safety personnel here and there.
The Bush tax cuts, weighted to the wealthy, were supposed to ignite such a boom your ears would hurt. Instead, they have us again nearing record deficits, a factor in the current financial collapse and a leading complication for any effort at recovery.
You will recall the president told us that rather than paying for war, our duty was to go shopping. We have put two wars on the cuff and now are putting a trillion dollars in buyouts there, too – dumping ourselves and our future into still deeper hock to the Chinese and the Mideast oil states.
It is difficult to see all that as patriotic.