Tea Party activists are marking the deadline for filing federal income taxes with a protest hear in Washington, D.C. Yesterday, Sarah Palin was in Boston, site of the original Boston Tea Party, giving her fair and balanced interpretation of American history and its current political circumstance.
I was not in attendance in Boston, but from the clips on television, it was unclear if Palin understood that the Boston patriots were protesting taxation without representation, not taxation per se. The Boston patriots did not say that the tax on tea was too high, they said it could only be imposed on them by their own legislature, not by the British parliament because they were not represented in that parliament. Of course, neither were most Britons represented at that time given the quirky way boroughs had been established.
Palin, who presided over a state monopoly on oil revenues that permits Alaskans to receive a government check each year – dare we point out that it is an essentially socialistic enterprise! – may be unfamiliar with tax laws. But, I do not think anyone doubts that Congress has the power to tax, that all Americans are represented in Congress (except the residents of the District of Columbia, a cause that for some reason never comes up at the tea Party protests), and that the conflation of the symbolism of the Boston patriots with the current opposition to the Obama administration is a bit strained.
It goes without saying, that the American Revolution was also motivated by less noble concerns. Those who invoke "the Founders" the way a witch pronounces a spell tend to overlook the vile anti-Catholicism that was of great concern to the representatives at the First Continental Congress. Among the "Intolerable Acts" was the closing of the port of Boston (in response to the Tea Party), but another was the Quebec Act which granted religious and civil liberties to Roman Catholics in Canada. In an address to the people of Great Britain, America’s first Congress referred to Catholicism as a "a religion fraught with sanguinary and impious tenets," and, further on, said Catholicism "has deluged your island in blood, and dispersed impiety, bigotry, persecution, murder, and rebellion through every part of the world." They warned that Catholic emigrants in Canada would "be fit instruments in the hands of power to reduce the ancient, free, Protestant colonies to the same state of slavery with themselves." Do our contemporary patriots wish to associate themselves with those sentiments too?
Back to taxes, as much as we all grimace when we see what we owe, the fact is that our taxes are too low in this country and the tax code is a mess and needs a drastic simplification. It is a crime that the first dollar a poor person makes must pay FICA and Medicare taxes, but that the billions in dollars made by investment bankers and their clients do not contribute a penny to the solvency of these most basic foundations of the social contract. Our corporate tax rate is way too high because businesses, instead of seeking a lower rate, have filled the tax code with loop holes for their companies. The super-rich, who can afford lobbyists to get tax breaks and accountants and lawyers to harvest them, should not be able to evade taxes while the small businesspeople and hard-working professional pay the lion’s share of federal tax collections.
Palin does not have the answer to the problems of the tax code. But, it is an area where the President and Congress could reach some bi-partisan solution, especially regarding tax simplification. The last major effort to eliminate special tax privileges was undertaken by GOP icon Ronald Reagan working with former Democratic Sen. Bill Bradley. That was in 1986. I suspect that Senators Brown from Massachusetts, Graham from South Carolina, Snowe and Collins from Maine and maybe others could be persuaded to adopt a tax simplification scheme. Whatever craziness exists in the Tea Party crowd’s ideology, it is matched by the craziness of the tax code.
Michael Sean Winters