Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Of Taxes and Teabags

So this is the day that federal income tax returns are due. Not to get all smug or anything, but I did mine back at the end of January. My return is so simple — single, one income, no mortgage, no business deductions, etc. — that the longest time I spend doing it is waiting for Turbo Tax to update. But I’m also the kind of person who, even if I owed additional taxes, I wouldn’t put it off. I blame my distaste for having to work up against a deadline… and the fact that I always get a refund.

So, having nothing better to do, I’ve been enjoying watching the big build-up for the “Tea Party” protests taking place today, which are about as spontaneous as a parade at Disneyland. Even though it’s hard to keep a straight face with all the unfortunate metaphors going around about tea-bagging, turning otherwise serious commentators into giggling twelve-year-olds, there is something odd about people being ginned up to protest against the president’s tax policy that has resulted in a tax cut for most of the people who are taking part in the demonstrations. (It wasn’t a lot, but my last two paychecks were larger thanks to the changes in the tax rates made possible by the stimulus package passed by Congress.) Joan Walsh at notices the irony:

Of course, the real irony, maybe even tragedy, of the Tea Party movement is the fact that it’s Obama who kept a campaign promise and lowered taxes on roughly 95 percent of American taxpayers. How many folks attending the protests do you expect will know that? There may even be a significant percentage of Tea Partiers who could be penalized by high-balance fees by the credit card companies or who might ultimately need help with their mortgages. Sucks to be those guys! Expect the president to spend much of April 15 talking about his tax cuts and other assistance for struggling, middle-income Americans. Let’s hope his message gets through, even to some of the Tea Party attendees. There’s still so much class-unconsciousness going on.

The other element of this story is the people who are running the show.

To me the most laughable aspect of the Tax Day protests is the leadership role taken by has-beens like Newt Gingrich and the ever-creepy Dick Armey. (No teabagging jokes, please!) Let’s remember when Armey insisted President Clinton’s minor tax increases in the mid-’90s would destroy the economy; of course the Clinton years turned out to be an economic golden age. Why does being wrong never hurt guys like Dick? As Joe Conason notes, when Armey left Congress for his banking- and tobacco-funded golden parachute Freedom Works, his first failed project was to try to organize Astroturf groups supporting Social Security privatization. I expect Armey’s Tea Party movement to be just as effective.

Not to be a complete cynic, but I doubt that either Mr. Gingrich or Mr. Armey are in this because they actually care about the people who think they’re getting screwed on their taxes. Both of them are in it for their own interests — I know; I’m shocked, too — and their knee-jerk negative reaction to anything put up by the Democrats. The thrice-married Mr. Gingrich is making plans to run for president in 2012 as the candidate of moral purity, and Mr. Armey is in it because he has nothing better to do than put his mug on cable TV.

I wonder if there will be anyone at the Tea Parties holding up a sign saying that they’re being used and then tossed — just like a tea bag — by the people who put them up to this?