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Tax day “tea parties” make splash

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By Rick Howell

    Tax Day 2009 had a new feature this year: so-called tax day tea parties, where people showed up to replicate the old Boston Tea Party and express their opposition to, well, paying taxes, I guess.

    Held in cities all across the country, including Roanoke, participants bemoaned the Obama stimulus package, the various government bailouts, and of course, the Internal Revenue Service, everyone’s least favorite government agency.

    The Roanoke organizers actually told reporters that the event was “not political in nature.” Really? That was hard to determine by all the anti-Obama signs and by the conservatives who organized the events.

    According to an Associated Press story, the tea parties were the brainchild of something called “Freedom Works,” a nonprofit organization founded by no less a conservative than Dick Armey of Texas, a former high-ranking Republican member of Congress.

    Right-wing talk radio star Sean Hannity, who is little more than a better-dressed Rush Limbaugh, broadcast his show from the site of one tea party in Atlanta. It’s not difficult to dispatch with the “non-political” claim for these rallies.

    So, what was the message? Basically, this: We don’t want to pay any more taxes for any reason whatsoever, not even to help America get out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

    There was much talk about “our children’s legacy being saddled with the debt” that’s now held by the federal government. That’s a very legitimate concern, but it didn’t start with the new administration of President Barack Obama.

Indeed, where were all these folks when George W. Bush was spending the surplus, throwing billions, then trillions, into a needless war in Iraq, and giving tax cuts not to working people but only to the richest among us?

    Funny that they didn’t feel the need to organize any anti-tax tea parties then, isn’t it? Also, I couldn’t help but notice that most of the people at these rallies were white, employed, and dressed well enough in many cases to pass for yuppies. In other words, these were mostly conservative people who have done well enough to easily afford their tax burden.

    The Americans who are really suffering now are not the ones whining about taxes, they’re the ones who have lost their jobs, seen their home foreclosed, or have had to live in cheap motels or move in with relatives until things improve.

    Their perspective, their problems, their hopes and desires are what we ought to be listening to, not the complaints of prosperous people who simply don’t want to pay taxes. I guess those people just weren’t invited to the “tea party.”

    Hatred of taxes just simply gets back to hatred of government. We can all argue about how much we pay, or how much somebody else pays. But unless we need to be reminded about the old saying on death and taxes, well, we will all pay them.

    Some analysts have speculated that the national Republican Party is so impotent and leaderless at the moment, it has stepped aside to let these non-profit groups wage the fight against Obama. You’ve probably seen the television commercials from these groups, the ones that were against the stimulus package.

    This view may well be correct, because conservative Republicans have shown themselves utterly unable to articulate any smart alternative to Obama’s attempts to handle the economic crisis. On taxes, one poll shows that 62 percent of Americans approve the president’s handling of it.

    The tea parties made a splash; lots of publicity and lots of opportunity to criticize the new president. But they didn’t change the most important fact: he’s right and they’re wrong. Most people support the president, not the tea partiers.

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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, is a member of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com