Vic Harris: The Tea-Bagger Tax Protest Lacks Substance, Conservatives Lack Good Ideas

Vic Harris sent me this article. Vic’s previous post can be read here.

Conservatives around the country will conduct “Tea-bagger” protest parties on April 15th — Tax-day. Historically, the Boston Tea Party’s central complaint was not just that the British demanded a tax on tea and other goods. The complaint was that taxation was imposed without representation. Because the colonists had no representatives in the British Parliament, these taxes were viewed as tyrannical.

I’ve been wondering what the Tea-Bagger protest is all about. The modern-day Tea-baggers are fully represented in Congress. The only tea-baggers who can complain about taxation without representation are those who live in Washington DC.

The modern day “Tea-baggers” are not protesting their lack of representation. They are protesting taxes in general. Tax protest is always “red-meat” for conservatives, but, the fact is, President Obama and the Democrats have just passed the largest middle-class tax-cut in history. Let me write that again: the largest middle-class tax-cut in history.  Most Tea-Baggers, I imagine, have incomes of less than $250,000 a year, so most Tea-baggers, therefore, are protesting high taxes even though President Obama and the Democrats just cut their taxes. For the rich conservatives who will watch the protests at home on the “Fair and Balanced” Fox “News,” a network that has been shamelessly promoting the events, their taxes will go up in 2010, but will still be 10 percentage points lower than they were under their Patron Saint Ronald Reagan.

Tea- baggers also protest what they see as a spread of dreaded Socialism. Conservative leaders, evidently, hope that their followers will not be able to distinguish socialism from communism. I guess they know their audience. At a Tea-Bagger rally, I can hear someone shout out the question, “Who hates Socialism?” And I can hear the Tea-Baggers predictably roar, “We Do!!!” But, I doubt any Tea-bagger will tear up their Social Security card, or refuse government Medicare payments to their grandma. These government programs, initially condemned as socialistic, are hugely popular and beneficial — even for protesters.

Tea-Baggers are also protesting government deficit spending. Conservative leaders have been carping about spending for months because of the price of the President’s Stimulus Package. But where was their protest when former President Bush took a $1 trillion surplus bequeathed him from President Clinton, and turned it into a $1 trillion deficit? Two trillion dollars gone. The dollars vanished on tax-cuts for the wealthy, expensive wars of choice and huge pay outs to drug companies. Yes, to be fair, I’m concerned about our growing national debt, but, I was also concerned about the huge debts run up by Bush. Conservatives who now talk about fiscal principles, but when they had the chance, failed to hold Bush accountable to those principles, hardly seem credible.

It seems to me that forces behind the Tea-Baggers are not really so concerned about high taxes, high spending, or the deficit. The truth is, conservatives and the Republicans who lead them have no ideas. Their message is simply one of fear. It’s a fail-safe technique: scare the hell out of the fringe in the base, spread the fear to rest of the base, and bring enough moderates along to make a majority.

But, the country has changed.  The scare-tactics that worked so well for so many years are less effective in a country tired of war and uncertain of its economic future.  This is a time to encourage hope and to appeal to the best in each of us. This is not a time to fear-monger or to appeal to our darkest instincts. Conservatives only chance to gain the support of the American people is to craft a message of hope, based on valid ideas. Until they can present solid ideas people can embrace, conservatives can symbolically fill all our nation’s waterways with tea and it won’t matter.

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4 Responses to Vic Harris: The Tea-Bagger Tax Protest Lacks Substance, Conservatives Lack Good Ideas

  1. Stan Hirtle says:

    The Jeffrey article on this subject is interesting but doesn’t accept comments. He suggests that Montgomery County, where Obama did less well than other urban Ohio counties (even Hamilton county which is usually considered staunchly conservative) is primed for anti-Obama sentiment. There is clearly some limit to governments’ ability to tax, print or borrow money and then spend it, whether it is to fix the economic mess, give to banks, or fund wars and tax cuts for the wealthy. So there would be a subject for rational discussion. Here however the medium dominates over the message.

    We will see who shows up. I suspect that Paul Krugman is correct when he says that these events are Astroturf (fake grass roots) being promoted by right wing millionaire funders, politicians and the conservative opinion media such as Fox. Fox’s columns are already declaring that the tea parties are being unfairly ignored by the biased mainstream media, so either way they have a headline the day after. ;

    /14/deseno_tea_party_media/ The tea parties also have the assistance and energy of local conservative students and WHIO, the local radio version of Fox. (So there is some grass mixed in with the astroturf perhaps) All of this suggests that the anti tax wing of the conservative movement, and the conservative opinion media, are seeking to take the lead in filling the post McCain vacuum in Republican political leadership. The antitax group was the least invested in Bush and may therefor be the quickest to rebound. They also seem to be making some efforts to capture the image of nonpartisanship, which Obama campaigned on but has been stonewalled by the solidarity of Republican opposition to his proposals. Polls show that hyperpartisanship is very unpopular with the voting public, even though it is promoted by the structure of the political system.

    Whether the tea parties succeed in turning out the numbers they predict, they are certainly dominating this blog in terms of numbers of recent posts, suggesting the creation of the appearance of an internet media event, whether there is any substance to support it. Commenters claimed that Obama made the better of use of the internet during the campaign and that the Republicans needed to catch up. So this may be an effort in that direction.

    The most significant question may be how significant the internet will turn out to be in changing and ideally democratizing the political system. I am somewhat sceptical. Though the internet allows like minded people to be in touch with other, motivate each other, embrace emotions or ideas good or bad, and perhaps promote events like this, it is not clear how they then access the levers of power to accomplish change. Most likely the internet only works in conjunction with other institutions of political power. in the case of the Tea Parties those are the conservative legislators, their funders and their supporters in the opinion media.

    If the Tea Party movement fails to catch on, it might be because the original Boston event, whether seen as rebellious protest against taxation, government, corporations or foreign occupation, is now so foreign to the sensibilities of its target post 9/11 middle class American audience that they just won’t relate.

  2. EPHIPPS says:

    Real Conservative were pretty pissed at President Bush and the out of control spending of Republicans as well…

    As far as the Social Security being yanked from our Grandmas…and all the other entitlement spending that liberals love so much and sadly so many have come to rely on solely for retirement, etc…and the debt incurred in fighting wars…

    In the Constitution’s Preamble (yes some of my generation actually have read it) it says,
    “PROVIDE for the common defense, PROMOTE the general welfare”. Americans and politicians on both sides of the aisle would do themselves well to actually read our founding document and see what the role of government really is.

  3. Scott says:

    the majority of us were opposed to the stimulus… our “representatives” passed it anyway without even reading it. I don’t know what your definition of representation is, but that isn’t mine.

    You know who else hates socialism? Socialists. To fall over a cliff because it looked like the right direction is almost excusable, to follow them over is just stupid. You seem to want so badly for this to be about the man or the party… it’s about the ideology. You want a better idea: FairTax. And it’s not a conservative idea, it’s an american idea… but maybe you’re right, these days that makes it mostly a conservative concern. It’s entirely apartisan unless you ask some progressives who insist it’s a right-wing initiative because it threatens to reverse some of the “progress” that they’ve made toward a nanny-state.

  4. Stan Hirtle says:

    Anything whose proponents label it as “Fair Tax” has to be a con. If it were actually good you could label it accurately, “sales tax on consumption as the only tax” or something similar, and let people figure out if it’s fair or not. I guess they think if you repeat that it’s fair often enough, people will believe it.

    There is a discussion of this tax proposal in the latest City Paper. The editors point out that the tax code has increased significantly in complexety, growing from 20,000 pages in 1998 to 70,000 today, and resulting in people having an increased dependence on paid tax return specialists, to say nothing of computerized ones. This goes back even further, certainly to Jimmy Carter who campaigned against the unfairness of the tax code but the resulting changes also added to complexity.

    I have always thought that this is a tactic of conservatives to get rid of the progressive features of the tax code, just by making it so complex that everyone hates it and will throw out the baby with the bath water. On the other hand conservatives have been quite willing to blast Obama appointees for their failings as taxpayers, but if the tax code is so incomprehensible that no one can understand it, who is there to cast the first stone?

    Luedtke, the City Paper’s conservative in their weekly debate feature, makes a number of assertions that are totally inconsistent in support of the so called “Fair tax”. First that everyone gets to keep their entire paycheck and immediately have a higher standard of living. The change is allegedly “revenue neutral” so we don’t get less service from the government that we are used to (whether the figure of 23% that they use for the tax is accurate is disputed, but that’s all math, right?). Then this tax is so wonderful for businesses, owners and investors that the US becomes a “tax haven” and all the investors and Fortune 500 companies bring their money and jobs and plants back to the US (at least until some other country lowers their tax to 22%). If a liberal promised that much inconsistent stuff about a government program, conservatives would go bonkers.

    Luedtke is right that there are enormous costs in the complexity of the tax code, which employs lots or private and public bureaucrats (no small thing in a recession I suppose, although the money could be better spent on schoolteachers and infrastructure.) But the solution to that is to simplify rather than complexify the tax code, while retaining progressive qualities, and if conservatives had wanted that, these increases in the code would not have happened.

    Stanley, the the City Paper’s liberal in their weekly debate feature, quotes Ron Paul, the candidate who cmpaigned on the “Fair tax” in the Republican primaries. Paul says that their real fight is about reducing government expenditures, not about any “fairness” in the tax code. Other conservatives during the Bush years liked government expenditures as long as they were on things conservatives believe in, wars, breaks for businesses, “faith based” subsidiies for churches and income transfer to the rich. To some extent they are battling for control of the Republican party. Paul’s statement suggests that those opponents who say that a rate of 34% would actually be revenue neutral and that 23% is a stealth tactic to shrink the government, are probably more accurate.
    In summary, don’t vote for anything that calls itself the “fair tax.”

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