It's been almost fun to watch the tea party set go through the past week or so.
Last Thursday was the deadline for tax returns to be filed, and the tea partiers did a little protesting around the country to get some attention. Here's a guess as to what is going on, leading to a key question.
I get the distinct impression that the far right wing of the conservative side of the political spectrum started this movement. These are the people who don't trust government to do anything, including deliver the mail, and who still don't believe President Obama was born in Hawaii. I'm not sure I'd like to hang out with any of these people. Their anti-tax, anti-deficit did hit a chord with some people, due in part to the stimulus package and health insurance plan that has gone through Congress in the past year-plus.
We've seen Republicans like Sarah Palin sprint to the right to support these groups in pursuit of their energy and, no doubt, their money. Her brand of anti-intellectualism is popular in some circles but not exactly comforting. We've also seen the classic conservatives -- older and wealthier than the population as a whole -- support some of the Tea Party goals, which helps explain some of the demographic characteristics revealed in recent polls.
One of the public opinion polls circulating centers on the question, "How much are you willing to pay in taxes to the government?" And that strikes me as a far more fascinating question than you'd think.
My answer would not be in the form of a percentage, but rather, "Whatever it takes to run the functions of government properly and efficiently." Representatives figure out what needs to be done, and then collects enough to pay for it. We all might disagree what what those functions are, but that's part of the fun of a democracy.
But few of our political leaders have ever shown the courage needed to make those decisions. They have instead put off those decisions by borrowing money. Both sides have been doing this for 50-plus years. For a more recent example, President Bush started two wars in his Administration, and never bothered to figure out how to pay for them. If the Tea Parties want to hop on that bus, it's great to make room for them.
Otherwise, though, a few specifics would be nice. As in, what part of government spending should be cut -- and cut drastically -- to reduce the tax rate? Let's see -- just try to cut social security benefits and see what the reaction would be about the voting public. Same with Medicare and Medicaid. Defense spending is something of sacred trust for some conservatives. We can't exactly not pay off the interest on the national debt. And that's a vast majority of government spending.
I suppose government support of the financial system and of certain big businesses (General Motors) isn't too popular with the Tea Party set, even though most think it probably was necessary to avoid an even bigger recession than the one we had.
Some protesters will use the old discussion about reducing welfare roles, even if many have come off in recent years and a certain percentage of the population is never going to be a productive part of society. Plus, the social costs of ignoring those people are huge.
And if anyone thinks simply cutting taxes generally will magically create revenues on a huge scale, think again. President Reagan tried that -- he saw growth, but he also saw large deficits.
So, Tea Partiers, here's your challenge. Either step up and contribute some important ideas to the political dialogue, or just sit back and complain. It's a choice between good citizenship and irrelevance.