What could be more American than firing up the grill on Memorial Day, loading up on sparklers for the Fourth of July?
We’ll celebrate by filling our gobs with coleslaw and giving some snappy lip service about our founding fathers and servicemen, then nod in unison between swigs of beer. After all, we are a patriotic bunch. Ask any group of foreign visitors what is most striking about America and you will frequently hear that they notice all of the American flags, not just on government buildings but on private homes, vehicles, and clothing.
Americans are terrifically proud of our ancestors’ rebellion against the world’s most powerful nation in the 18th century. And our Great Experiment in Democracy has been, mostly, a resounding success, and one that continues to inspire the world over. Yes, even in light of our historical pockmarks, from the treatment of American Indians, to the enslavement of Africans, and to the internment of Japanese Americans.
In 2010, the Tea Party movement tapped into our nation’s patriotism and penchant for thrift-store costuming. Angry grandparents everywhere armed themselves with poster boards and Sharpies to decry the level of national spending and any suggestion of a tax increase. No doubt, they fancied themselves the modern equivalents of those rapscallions who dumped the crates of tea into Boston Harbor in 1773. Stand back, they said. We’re about open up a can of Freedom on your ass! Then they trotted out the Gadsden Flag, featuring its bewitching Snake o’ Freedom that hisses, “Don’t Tread On Me.” Oh, snap!
But who is doing the treading? In 1773, the colonists weren’t objecting to the taxes; they were objecting to being taxed not by their colonial assemblies, but by the British Parliament. From those taxes, Parliament was paying the colonial governors and administrators, thereby keeping those administrators loyal to the crown and not to whom they were actually governing. Further, the colonists held no seat in Parliament. They had no one to speak for them. The British government took their tax money but gave them no voice in how that money was spent. “No taxation without representation.” Indeed.
Let’s compare that to today’s Tea Party. These people are getting all Joe Pesci over a proposed tax increase from 35 percent to 39 percent for households earning over $250,000. “It’s Socialism,” they caterwaul, as their eyes glisten over with misty-colored memories of Ronald Reagan running shirtless through the foamy surf, glistening from a suntan and just the right amount of Bryllcreem. Hold up, Mr. Middle Management in the feisty tricorn—the tax rate under St. Reagan was 50 percent in the years 1982-1986. But hey, that doesn’t make him a Socialist. It’s not like that money was going to feed poor kids or anything. No, hell no. That money was going to keep us in big-ass shoulder pads, Aquanet (in the pink can) and a nuclear arsenal, the likes of which the world has never seen.
Reagan knew that big military expenditures needed significant tax revenue. It’s not like he went and started two wars and cut taxes by 4 percent at the same time. What’s important here is that the so-called job creators are able to live comfortably and not be inconvenienced by these wars, so that they can go about the business of creating jobs — never mind that most of those jobs are overseas.
During the 2008 election, Joe Biden was lampooned for saying that the wealthiest Americans should show their patriotism by paying higher taxes than the 35 percent they are currently paying. Señor Tourettes is well known for his outrageous, yet earnest gaffes, but here he is spot-on. During World War II, both political parties understood that tax revenue was important to fund the war effort. The top marginal tax rate ranged from 81-94 percent for the duration of the war. Let’s take a moment and reflect on those numbers, shall we? Millionaires were paying 94 percent of their income in taxes in 1944 and 1945. Furthermore, President Eisenhower kept taxes at 91 percent for the wealthiest Americans throughout his two terms. Yet no one calls Ike a Marxist. Oh no, comrades. They actually minted his mug on money.
So what happened, America? How did we get to the point where blue-collar workers are frothing at the mouth over a 39 percent tax rate for people who make ten times their annual income? How is that we have been embroiled in two wars for ten years and yet most Americans haven’t been asked to sacrifice anything? Where’s the War Bond Drive, the Victory Gardens, the feeling that we’re in this together? When our soldiers are doing five, six, or seven tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, why is it wrong to ask millionaires to have some skin in the game?
The GOP likes to talk values, so let’s talk values. What does it say about a country that delays or cuts corners on treatment for 9/11 First Responders (the Zadroga Bill stalled for years by Republican Congressmen)? What does it say about a country that forsakes its commitments to active duty soldiers and veterans (Republicans voted against: Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, a pay raise for the troops, extending the G.I. Bill for children of fallen soldiers, and a tax incentive for businesses hiring veterans)? What does it say about a country that cuts back on the hiring of teachers and firemen in order to save the wealthiest 2 percent some money (Senate GOP blocks Obama’s Jobs Bill)?
The true measure of a people, of a nation, is how it cares for its own. Flag waving isn’t patriotism. Sacrifice is.