City of Brass

This year, I won’t be getting a refund – in fact I had to cut two sizable checks to the Department of Revenue and the Wisconsin Treasury. Yes, it was indeed painful.

Fundamentally, the idea of sending your money to faceless bureaucrats is one that provokes some resentment in even the most mild-mannered citizen. In fact, there’s a Tea Party rally going on right now in Capitol Square here in Madison full of people who are really angry about it, who think that taxes are a form of tyranny, who are holding signs evoking the Revolutionary War (“Don’t Tread on Me”, etc.) and who fervently believe that Barack Obama is a socialist/muslim/fascist/communist who will throw you in jail if you don’t buy health insurance.

That’s patriotism, in a way. These people believe that their liberty is being threatened, and they are making their voices heard in defense of what they believe.

However, my understanding of patriotism is that freedom isn’t free. I know that taxes are actually a fantastic deal; for my taxes, I get roads and schools, water and national defense, the Internet, NASA, and of course a social safety net that keeps millions of Americans out of poverty and in health. Here’s a fantastic, interactive graphic from the New York Times that makes it clear exactly where our federal tax dollars will be going in 2011.

In fact, most of the people at the Tax Day Tea Party rallies today would vigorously object if many of these things that are funded by their taxpayer dollar were to be cut. In fact there’s a huge disconnect between what people say should be cut from the budget and how much we actually spend on those things. And often, the people most up in arms about government handouts are the ones who benefit from federal spending the most.

Without getting into issues of race and class – even though these are at the very heart of the Tea Party anger – it’s simple to observe that most of that anger playing out today is due to a lack of information, and a deliberate strategy of mis-information. Tea Partyers are mad about lots of things that simply are not true, like being thrown in jail for not having health insurance, or about how the poor supposedly pay no taxes at all, or that the average American works four months of the year to pay off Uncle Sam.

In reality, tax rates today are the lowest in 60 years – 98% of Americans got tax cuts, directcly thanks to President Obama’s stimulus plan. And the majority of Americans think taxes are fair, putting the Tea Partiers way outside the mainstream.

Ultimately, it boils down to a question of responsibility. In a strange way, the Tea Partiers marching out on Capitol Square this afternoon view freedom and liberty, ironically, as an entitlement. I view it as something worth paying for. Who between us values it more?

I paid my taxes, and I’m proud.

Related: a new poll from the New York Times and CBS about Tea Partiers’ beliefs. (handy interactive graphic, too). Bottom line: lots of misinformation, leading to extreme views on pretty much everything. And Fox News is the primary engine for their anger and deception. And let’s not forget that the systematic and deliberate lies being fed to the Tea Partiers today has already had direct, and tragic, consequences.

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