Monday, May 27, 2024

Tax fears were a theme Wednesday at a tea party rally on Boston Common. (Photo: John A. Macy)

For most of the country, it’s tax day — here in Middlesex County, recognition as a rain-soaked disaster area gives the flooded and unflooded alike until May 11 to send in returns — and the Tea Party Express took its show to Washington, D.C., to play on citizens’ dislike for both.

Thursday’s tea party rally in the nation’s Capitol was surely just like Wednesday’s on Boston Common, with speakers Sarah Palin and Victoria Jackson whipping up outrage over how the hard-working, decent people in this country are paying for all the slackers and immigrants.

From walking around the Boston rally for a few hours, I know tea partyers don’t need the encouragement. From the many conversations I listened to or took part in, it is clear taxation and the tea partyers’ responsibility for pretty much everyone else are the alchemical energies that power the Express’ perpetual motion machine. It isn’t necessary to go into details on this elemental fixation; everyone’s heard the talking points, and some of them were mentioned here Wednesday anyway.

One conversation that wasn’t mentioned in the Wednesday article involved two proud working-class guys who complained of how unfairly rich people were taxed and how Democrats wanted to tax the rich even more. They felt that when rich people got taxed more, they would flee the country, ruining the U.S. economy. (They clearly didn’t remember President George W. Bush’s explanation Aug. 9, 2004, of why high taxes for the rich are a failed policy: “The really rich people figure out how to dodge taxes anyway.” Nor did they consider how U.S. tax law would change to address that problem. Nor did they recognize that other rich people would replace them. Nor did they seem to grasp how unique the United States is among Western nations in allowing the outrageous accumulation of wealth.)

When I mentioned the radical, increasing divergence between rich and poor, and tried to talk about how better off the country was shortly after World War II with a growing middle class and more heavily taxed upper-class, I was cut short by their question:

“So if you won the lottery, you’d be okay giving half of it away to taxes?”

I stunned them, for a quarter of a second, with my answer: Absolutely.

They probably didn’t believe me — they probably figured I was insane or lying — but, in fact, whenever I see a lottery jackpot and fantasize about winning it, I always cut the amount in half, figuring that takes care of taking the prize in a lump sum and the subsequent taxation. Then I imagine what I would do with what remained.

This is what’s a little weird about tea partiers, or at least the two I spoke with. On Tuesday, the Mega Millions prize was $105 million, and these guys — who spoke so proudly of how hard they work for their meager wages, just to see it wasted on the layabouts populating our Welfare state — wouldn’t be happy with $52.5 million. I’m not even sure I could spend $52.5 million in what remains of my life. But I know I’d rather have it than zero millions.

Steve Almond, over at Salon, seems to have a better understanding of the tea partyer mindset and what’s wrong with it. He has a funny and insightful essay called “Suck it, Tea Party: I love Tax Day” posted right now, and it’s definitely worth a read.

It doesn’t have to read today, of course. Here in Cambridge, any day through May 11 would be perfect.