Politics & Policy

The weight of taxation, &c.

Tax Day isn’t very fun, is it? I mean, we all want to pay taxes, or at least don’t mind doing so — price of civilization and all. But we do mind when we think the taxes are too high and too numerous; when we think that they’re onerous and counterproductive. That is the way many of us feel right now. I don’t speak only of federal taxes, but of state and city taxes as well. They keep coming and coming . . .

I grew up listening to George McGovern say the following, all the time — whenever the subject of taxes came up: “Well, my dear old dad used to say, if you’re paying taxes, you’re doing pretty well.” So we were all supposed to shut up about taxes: because, if we were paying them, we were richy-riches. You know how it goes.

I think I’ve told you this in Impromptus before: Bill Buckley and I used to share a complaint about the tax code, and this is the way we would put it, when complaining together: The tax code pits Americans against one another. It pits homeowners against renters, married people against unmarried people, people with children against people without children, people with children going to college against people with children going into trades — and on and on. The tax code is packed with social policy, and bias. That’s one reason I say, a pox on it.

And what did Jimmy Carter call it? “A disgrace to the human race.” About one thing, at least, he was right.

I also think that every worker should pay taxes — which I know is not a popular position. I think the pimply kid just starting out at McDonald’s should pay taxes, and that Donald Trump should pay taxes. Everyone contributing to the commonweal. The pimply kid contributes a little; Trump contributes a lot — but it’s equitable.

Finally, I want to share a memory — I think I’ve mentioned this in Impromptus before, too. When a conservative friend and I first started paying taxes — beginning of college, basically — we liked to imagine that our particular taxes were going to particular purposes. Laudable purposes. For example, we’d say, “Our taxes are going to pay the salary of Elliott Abrams,” the whip-smart, conservative, and stirring young assistant secretary of state who appeared on Crossfire now and then. We’d say, “Our taxes are going to pay Cap Weinberger,” the secretary of defense. And so on.

It was kind of fun. And it made us feel better about paying taxes. You may wish to try it. For example, you could say, “My taxes are going to subsidize ACORN.”

Oh, no, that won’t work . . .

‐I don’t know if you saw the exchange between the Russian president, Medvedev, and George Stephanopoulos. Go here, for the bit I have in mind. Medvedev praises Obama as “a thinker,” someone who “thinks when he speaks,” unlike George W. Bush, Medvedev all but says. Stephanopoulos gets a good laugh out of this. The two of them have a merry moment together.

When the Russian president and Stephanopoulos are yukking it up about how stupid Bush is — doesn’t that make you feel even better about Bush? That president, too, could be praised by the Kremlin — if he had downgraded our missile-defense program, shafted the Czechs and Poles, and . . . You get my drift.

One more thing: Has Stephanopoulos ever really stopped being a Democratic-party personality? I leave it to closer students of television than I to answer that. Very nice hair, regardless.

‐On the subject of television: I saw a headline, “CNN chief defends its formula of non-biased news.” I realize I have been out of touch with television for a while — but has CNN been utterly transformed? When last I watched it — it was as unbiased as, oh, the Amherst poli-sci department. (Assuming that Amherst has such a department. Do they just read Dickinson there or what?) (Just reading Dickinson is not a bad way to spend several years, I hasten to say.)

‐On the streets of Manhattan recently, I saw a young man, strolling with his posse, who had a T-shirt that said, “I survived the Bush administration.” And there was a picture of the Bush cabinet, I believe, with the members’ eyes blacked out (or something — I did not get that close). I wondered: Will the young man ever grow to regret that? To consider the T-shirt, and the sentiment, silly?

‐As readers may know, I’m not big on presidential apologies — especially those issued by U.S. presidents. But sometimes, a presidential apology is justified and even touching. See what you think of this:

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Croatia’s president apologized Wednesday for his country’s role in the Bosnian war, the clearest message of reconciliation to date from any leader of the three nationalities involved in Europe’s bloodiest conflict since World War II. . . .

“I’m deeply sorry that the Republic of Croatia . . . has contributed to the suffering of people and divisions which still burden us today,” President Ivo Josipovic told Bosnia’s parliament, describing the politics of the 1990s in the countries involved in the war as planting lasting “seeds of evil” in Bosnia.

For that article in full, go here.

‐Did you hear what happened in Wigmore Hall the other day? “The Wigmore,” as locals know it, is a London concert hall and sort of a shrine of music. The Jerusalem Quartet was giving a concert, and anti-Israeli demonstrators disrupted it. They staggered their disruptions so that the concert could never proceed with security. The critic Norman Lebrecht has a column on the affair, here.

It’s often hard for Israelis to move about in the world. I have athletes and musicians in particular in mind. Wherever they go, they are harassed or threatened with harassment. (Of course, at the Munich Olympics, athletes were murdered. Talk about harassment!) Earlier this year, a female tennis player was playing a match in New Zealand. Protesters shouted at her throughout the match. She won anyway, in a wonderful display of sangfroid.

And I’ll tell you this: The only time I have seen security screening at Carnegie Hall, ever, has been when the Israel Philharmonic is playing. (Original name of the orchestra: the Palestine Orchestra, of course — Bronislaw Huberman founded it; Toscanini conducted it.)

The goal of the anti-Israel crowd — which is perhaps too big to be called a “crowd” — is clear: to make Israel a pariah state, just as South Africa was in apartheid days. Not for nothing did our 39th president, a Nobel peace laureate, title one of his books “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”

You remember how people would hound that trackster, Zola Budd? They do that to Israelis as well.

In my view, standing up for them — the Israelis — is a plain imperative of our time. It is part and parcel of standing up for humanity and civilization.

And let me say one more thing about the Wigmore Hall affair. The anti-Israeli, pro-Palestinian disrupters? Jews — I’m tempted to say “of course.” In every generation, there are such people. David Pryce-Jones talks about Dr. Hans-Joachim Schoeps, who had a group that was kind of a Jews for Hitler. Some liked to joke that its slogan was “Raus mit Uns” — “Out with Us.” And, as DP-J says, the “Raus mit Uns” spirit is always alive and well.

‐Was interested to read an interview with Harold Rhode (no, not Rhodes) in the Jerusalem Post. (If the people in Wigmore Hall hate the Jerusalem Quartet, they must really hate the Jerusalem Post.) Rhode is a very savvy, very well-informed American analyst of the Middle East. And let me give you a line from his interview that sort of tickled my fancy — he’s talking about the prospect for Iranian democracy, basically:

“It’s a little like Ravel’s Bolero. It goes up, it goes down, there’s a plateau, but the general direction is toward the climax.”

‐I offer you good news out of Havana: “A surprisingly small crowd sweated and sang along to performances by Cuban rock, folk and salsa stars Saturday, at what the communist government billed as a politically important ‘concert for the homeland.’”

The article continued, “Organizers had said the show would be headlined by Cuba’s most famous folk singer, Silvio Rodriguez. But instead the pro-Castro government activist made fans wait for an hour in unrelenting afternoon sun before he took the stage, read a letter defending the single-party communist system — and then left without performing.”


‐Did you notice that word “homeland” above? “. . . at what the communist government billed as a politically important ‘concert for the homeland’”? That’s why I was so sorry that the American government adopted “homeland,” as in the Department of Homeland Security. “Homeland” is a word that has long been used by dictatorships and other unsavory regimes, and it just does not ring quite American to me. I’m glad to say that the late Gen. Vernon Walters felt the same way. He was on the National Review cruise shortly after 9/11, when this “Homeland Security Department” was being proposed. We agreed that the word made us uneasy.

But, of course, one gets used to almost anything . . .

‐A reader in California sent me an article about a man who has had something precious built for him: a replica of “Che Guevara’s Tank.” Isn’t that way cool? And to think that some people settle for a T-shirt.

I wonder whether the tank-owner would like a replica of El Paredón — the wall against which Guevara shot many of his victims. Don’t skimp on the blood stains!

‐A different reader sent me a video of a song about Guevara — not a song of praise. A song of reality. Fascinating, that such a thing could have come into being. The song is, “You Don’t Know Che.”

‐I have mentioned before that there are bloggers in Cuba — people who risk everything to write about life around them and then send those writings to contacts abroad, who post them. Would you like to read some of those postings in translation? This site, Hemos Oído, is what you want. What a valuable service, to the bloggers and us.

‐Let’s have a little golf. As this article informs us, Jerry Rice, the great wide receiver, is turning pro — is going to play professional golf. Others athletes have done this: come from other sports to play golf. John Brodie, the quarterback, most famously. And Esteban Toledo, the boxer.

Go get ’em, Jerry.

‐To conclude today’s column, I want to publish a letter from a reader — just because I think it’s so wonderful:

Dear Jay,


In high school, I had the same history teacher for two consecutive years, ’70-’71 and ’71-’72. A young, handsome, charismatic fellow, recently graduated from some Ann Arbor-like hellhole, he did his best to spread the party line. I was an eager and conscientious follower. I became his loudest, most ruthless, and most strident supporter. In our class, we had six or eight loudmouths like me, a mass of students who didn’t care, and Ed Saputa.


Ed was a rather dorky guy with thick glasses. Hopelessly uncool. Ed argued against us, holding his own pretty well against our flowery rhetoric. His parents were Polish refugees who had seen Communism firsthand and managed to escape. He spoke boringly on things his parents told him, and we all knew parents were fools, and parents of teenage fools doubly foolish.


Rebels and nonconformists should realize something: You never know how long it will take for someone to recognize a brave stand. Forty years after scoffing and sneering at Ed, I wish like heck I could call him and apologize. He was so right, we were so wrong, and our teacher should have been and still should be ashamed for allowing us to rant and squawk and belittle the only person who knew what the f*** he was talking about.


One more thing: My journey from armband-wearing spouter of clichés to (I hope) principled conservative had many “aha” moments, but one of the best was when I attended a school-board meeting here in Kansas City. The subject was charter schools. I was a teacher in the district in its magnet days. There was a movement to allow something called charter schools, and the board was vehemently opposed. They kept calling the schools racist. Case closed.


Listening to these belligerent and ignorant people seeking to shut down their Ed Saputas, tar-and-feathering them as racists, made me retch. I tried hard to maintain some respect for my elected representatives, but it was the most disgraceful and pitiful governmental display I have ever seen.

Have a great day, dear readers (April 15 or not) — and a special salute to all the Ed Saputas.





The Latest