Recently, the Rachel Maddow Show did a “call out” on various Republican members of Congress. All of them had voted against the stimulus bill. All of them had made numerous public statements about it being a failure. The same ones who were then seen praising the stimulus funding in their district, busily taking credit for the money, and doing everything possible to make sure they could to get their share. While pointing out the hypocrisy is amusing, it’s actually a function of one of the most common political hypocrisies around. Every politician will cheerfully make thundering speeches about the evils of pork barrel spending. Every politician will rail against “government waste.” It really doesn’t matter what party they’re in, they’ll be more than happy to tell you all about it. Ask the public, and it’s a popular argument. It’s hard to find people who won’t agree with the politicians on that. They’re also not happy that their tax dollars are being “wasted” that way. Unless it’s in their district. Then it’s necessary. It’s not pork, it’s bacon! Everyone loves bacon!
That’s where people tend to have a blind spot. Unless they can see the direct result of their tax money, and it’s being spent on them, then the tendency is to consider it “unnecessary.” There’s a disconnection between the idea of taxes paid and services received. I had a good example of this a while back in a conversation with a friend of mine. She was going on about the tax burden in this state, and complaining about the overwhelming amount of money the state was spending. It was amusing to me for a reason, which I pointed out to her. You see, her husband was a retired state worker, and she was currently working for a state agency. In other words, she and her family were dependent for their livelihoods on the very same taxes and government spending she was griping about! My pointing that out did cause her to stop and think about it for a moment.
That disconnect is one of the reasons why anti-government or anti-tax movements often sputter. It’s when the lack of government services and spending directly impacts them, that they suddenly turn around. The people in Colorado Springs are getting an object lesson in the result of not enough tax money. It’s easy to be against taxes. It’s easy to be against a government program. It’s easy to be against government in general. Until it gets down to brass tacks. When suddenly services and things you’ve taken for granted are taken away, the realization that there’s a need sinks in.
I believe that government has a purpose, and yes, we do need taxes for that. There are all sorts of things my tax money pays for, and that I benefit from. I have roads to drive on, I know that my food is safe, the drugs I get prescribed have been through a process to insure they’re effective and relatively safe. I go to parks, the local children go to school, my roads are plowed, there are police and fire departments, among many other services. There’s a host of things that I benefit from, directly and indirectly. They have to be paid for – and that means taxes. No taxes, or not enough, and something I like or benefit from doesn’t get done. I understand the need for regulations, and enforcement of them. I’ve seen the results of not having them, not having them strong enough, or not enforced. I might agree that a few aren’t necessary, or go too far, but that doesn’t mean I don’t agree with the need for regulations in general. That means people are needed to enforce them, and they have to be paid. I understand that sometimes what I consider “unnecessary” may well be necessary for someone else.
That doesn’t mean that I’m in favor of all-encompassing government, and massive taxes. There are things that government can’t – and shouldn’t – do. We may agree to disagree on those specifics. I’m very much of the mind that people need to keep a close eye on their government, and insure that the tax money raised is wisely spent. But to say that government is “evil” and taxes aren’t necessary? Sorry, no. They are. If you’re making that argument, then you’re a hypocrite. Go ahead and rail against pork – but don’t be surprised when you’re not getting bacon.