Happy Tax Day! A special shout-out to those of you who are operating under the delusion that your taxes have gone up this year — a belief shared by a slim majority of Americans, according to recent polls. (I’m assuming this column isn’t read by a Forbes-like audience of the super-rich, for whom taxes actually did go up this year … though not to a level anywhere near that imposed by previous presidents like, say, Ronald Reagan.) One needn’t harness the overwhelming brainpower in effect at a tea party rally to figure out why Americans are so disconnected from the reality of tax policy; enough ”objective” media repetition of the lies and rabble-rousing propagated by the Teafoxlican crowd can’t help but open a chasm between perception and fact.
Of course, tax chicanery is only part of the right wing’s mindless, universal contrarianism. That package of financial-industry regulations working its way through the Senate — the one that specifically empowers the government to break up large institutions that are out of control and failing? A guarantee of ”constant bailouts,” according to the ever-more-laughable Mitch McConnell. That new deal with Russia to cut each nation’s nuclear stockpile by about 30 percent — a decrease far smaller than the 50-percent reduction achieved by Reagan and George H.W. Bush in the START negotiations two decades ago? Certain to weaken our credibility as an international power, say the neocons and the Fox harpies — and, of course, they’re right, because now we’ll only be able to flatten the entire planet seven times over instead of 10. Heck, Barack Obama can’t even lean over to lessen his height advantage over some shrimpy Asian leader without being accused of selling out our national security.
Yet even as conservatives continue to insist the sky is falling — in fact, they seem more and more to be demanding that it fall, just so they’ll be right about something — we’ve seen signs lately that significant portions of the economy are Turning The Corner, and we’ve begun hearing from a variety of voices that it’s time for Americans to stop being so goddamned cranky all the time. Retail sales are way up; so is the Dow. And business inventories are creeping back upward, too — so much so that economists expect a boost in hiring as companies face increased needs to manufacture, transport and stock goods. Economic growth is anticipated to remain at 4.5 percent or higher for the first quarter of 2010. Of course, huge problems remain — a new wave of foreclosures apparently is on the horizon, and no one who remains un- or under-employed should be expected to take too positive an outlook — but there is some reason to hope that the economy will continue to recover.
Meanwhile, the new issue of Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine is encouraging its readership to ignore, for just a minute, ”the panoply of things we have to complain about” and indulge in its list of ”100 Things That Are (Actually) Getting Better” — from ”dads” to ”robots” to ”Betty White” to ”wind power” to ”our reputation around the world” to ”Hillary Clinton.” And in last Sunday’s Parade newspaper insert, counselor-to-too-many-presidents David Gergen bemoaned the nation’s generally ”gloomy” demeanor and suggested it is time to, as his meticulously nonpartisan piece was titled, ”Cheer Up, America!”
Gergen’s cheerleading mostly entailed comparing today’s enlightened society with the ills of yesteryear, from impoverished seniors (a thing of the past, thanks to Social Security and Medicare — institutions of which even vast majorities of Teafoxlicans approve, according to recent polls) to the onetime repression of women and minorities (women now outnumber men at the top medical and law schools, he reminds us, and hey — we’ve got a black president! Isn’t that neat?). However, he also reels off a series of statistics concerning America’s continued intellectual and competitive might. Recent Nobel Prizes in science and economics: USA 30, China 1! Percentages of new patents awarded lately: USA 49, China 1! World Economic Forum rankings of the world’s ”most competitive” nations over the last three years: USA #1! (or #2, behind Switzerland, but so what?) USA! USA! USA! ”Enough of the gloom and doom,” he concludes. ”We are still strong, resilient people when we pull together.”
Wow, that’s a nice sentiment, Dave — but what are the chances of Americans ”pulling together” anytime soon? Can you imagine the Teafoxlicans pulling together with the majorities in Congress, or with the White House, on anything these days? The last time we were naturally inclined to pull together, after 9/11, our then-president used the occasion to advance partisan goals (union-busting, dissent-crushing, tax-cutting, Iraq-invading, etc.) rather than universal ones — with the result that Americans now couldn’t recognize statesmanship if it smacked us in the face (or gathered a bunch of international leaders to rid the world of loose nukes). Considering that supermajorities of 80 percent or higher consistently said the nation was off track under the last administration, yet nearly-as-large majorities of 65-70 percent say the same thing now, when exactly is this ”pulling together” going to come about, and how?
Of course, both Oprah and Gergen’s assessments of the ”good” are debatable in a political culture in which everything is now debatable. Oprah herself, of course, is hopelessly politicized after going ga-ga over Obama during Campaign ’08 — and you won’t find many Teafoxlicans supporting her magazine’s notion that America’s image in the world is improved, or that Iowa’s a better place now that gay marriage is legal there. (Even O’s apparently nonpartisan suggestion that ”Your chances of visiting the moon” have improved — thanks to Richard Branson’s loony Virgin Galactic initiative — rings hollow when one considers the viciousness of right-wing ridicule that accompanied Obama’s decision to scuttle W.’s back-to-the-moon NASA program … proving that slashing needless government spending is only a good idea when the Teafoxlicans suggest it.)
Meanwhile, Gergen’s happy pill of a column leans entirely too much on unreliable juries (those Nobel committees? A bunch of freakin’ liberals!) and … horrors … international organizations (the World Economic Forum? Sounds like the New World Order to me! Sovereignty Now!). When all sources of information, save Fox News, have been discredited among a small, stupid but disproportionately influential segment of the population, no good news goes unpunished.
Beyond that, Gergen’s statistics should raise questions even among those of us who don’t worship at the altar of Sarah Palin. If America is a society that promotes such high levels of entrepreneurship and invention, why does it no longer create manufacturing jobs? If we have so many high achievers in science and medicine, compared to the rest of the world, why are our educational rankings among civilized nations generally so low? If we’re so universally self-satisfied about the advances attained for seniors, women and minorities over the last century — most of them tied inextricably to government action and, yes, spending — why did conservatives try so mightily to rend the nation in two over the possibility of making further advances in health-care provision?
You’ll never guess, but the answer to each of those questions circles back to … taxes. Simply put, we don’t like to pay ’em, and conservatives think we shouldn’t have to. For three decades, conservative politicians have insisted that we don’t have to, even as they pursued arms races (in the ’80s) and pointless scandals (in the ’90s), not to mention budget-busting pre-emptive wars and prescription drug programs … and de-regulation efforts that led to massive bailouts and an economy so far in the tank that it required enormous government stimulus spending.
Today, as far as you and I are concerned, the bill for all that (and more) is due. Pay Up, America! And Happy Tax Day!