The Battle Over Taxes: How Americans Have Become Stingy With Uncle Sam

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I want you…to pay your taxes. Where did the arguments come from?

“Raising tax rates is unacceptable,” Republican House Speaker John Boehner told Diane Sawyer in his first interview following President Obama’s re-election. “Frankly, it couldn’t even pass the House. I’m not sure it could pass the Senate.”

Taxes, taxes, taxes: liberals want more of them, conservatives can’t cut enough. Truth is, our taxes are a necessary sacrifice for those less fortunate, because as a nation, we’re only as successful as those who struggle the most.

“We Built It”

The left argue that increasing taxes on the wealthy is about making the well to do pay their fair share. They pointed to Governor Mitt Romney’s 14.1 percent effective tax rate and said that a man wealthy enough to build a $55,000 elevator for his cars at his home in California should be paying the same tax rate, if not higher, as a schoolteacher.

Conservatives, however, say the mega-millionaires of the world need lower rates in order to create jobs. Most economists support this trickle down theory, but others such as the President himself say the “trickle” dries out before reaching the shallow end of the pool.

The President has also continuously made the point that part of the reason so many small businesses succeed here is down to years of government investment in roads, technology, research grants and and other vital infrastructure. Revenue for those investments come from taxes. Unfortunately, because of the way he communicated that message in the middle of a stump speech, conservatives heard what they wanted to hear and lo, “You didn’t build that” became, and still is, a hotly contested non-issue with accompanying attack ads.

Whatever point conservatives were making in the battle to keep taxes low was lost in the cacophony of brain-damaging “We Built It” memes, played up by country music stars and just about anyone with a poor understanding of how infrastructure works.

The conservative argument became a circus, as most tend to these days, with small business owners and Republican candidates arguing that their success was created entirely on their own with a little bootstrapping and elbow grease — or something. If anything, the evil government was a burden, what with their incessant need to tax property and profits.

Soon, conservatives had a rallying cry centered on the belief that if they could create a successful business, there’s no reason a family on welfare can’t either. Therefore, taxes going to safety net programs to help the worst off were only holding them back.

They forget how a father on welfare can raise a son or daughter who becomes wildly successful. They forget how our taxes build infrastructure so customers enter the marketplace. In fact, it seems Americans have forgotten where roads come from!

Suffice it to say, the idea that the government should keep their grubby Big Brother hands out of our pockets wasn’t always the prevailing attitude of the Republican Party, let alone the American populace. To the contrary, there was a time when Americans, regardless of social status, understood the important role taxes play in constructing a functional society where businesses and people can succeed.

That time was during World War II when Americans of every stripe came together to defeat the biggest threat to mankind in modern history. It was a time when Uncle Sam was taking names and kicking ass in Looney Tunes and Disney cartoons, as opposed to being chastised as he was during the Republican National Convention when country singer Lane Turner sang, “I built it, no help from Uncle Sam.”

The Sacrifice of Abraham

There’s a small exhibit at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood, Ohio called “The Sacrifice of Abraham.” The exhibit showcases a letter written by Abraham Kramer, a first-generation immigrant whose son was fighting overseas in World War II.

The letter entitled “A LETTER OF THANKS TO UNCLE SAM” reads as follows:

Enclosed please find my check for the first half of 1941 income tax period, which I am proud to be in a position to pay and to live in a country where people live well, eat well, sleep well, and die well.

There is no other country in the whole world except that of the United States where people can say that. I am proud that I have an only son who is able to serve the United States of America and its people. His income tax check you will also find enclosed. As badly as I needed him in our business, I still believe that he is fighting for a worthy cause.

I arrived in this country in 1906 with a dime in my pocket, but Uncle Sam always took care of me. Although I regret I could never serve him physically, I am happy to pay him dividends for what he did for me.

Keep them flying and ask for more!

Respectfully yours,
Abraham Kramer

He said what now about sending his taxes early? My, how times have changed.

But I don’t want to  fall victim to the trite remark that everything was better back then, expressed by many of the era’s contemporaries as of late. Certainly the United States has advanced tremendously on Civil Rights and women’s rights. Hell, even gay Americans have something to celebrate these days!

But there’s no doubt the average perception of how Uncle Sam treats our tax dollars has taken a Petraeus–sized hit. Maybe it was the cost of the Iraq War, which some experts place around $4 trillion. Perhaps it’s because most of us are no longer first-generation Americans who can appreciate just how luckily we 300 million are to have been born in this country.

“America The Beautiful”

Regardless of how we ended up in this hate-hate relationship with taxes, the sooner we come to the understanding that our nation is only as successful as those we’ve pushed to the projects of our inner-cities or to ends of Appalachia — the better. We cannot continue with this idea that those who are unable to find employment are bums, or those who need government assistance are moochers. If that were the case, then corporate executives and upper middle class families with clever accountants are the worst offenders.

We need a jolt of that American spirit that says we’ll lend a helping hand to those in need — whether it’s literal, or with our taxes. We need people to chip in from all sectors of life and society. We need that can-do attitude that made the United States the shining beacon on a hill for millions around the world. It’s the kind of corniness that reeks of apple pie, baseball, and Ray Charles singing “America The Beautiful” in a Frank Capra film, but it’s what we need.

About Joe Baur

Joe Baur is a freelance writer, filmmaker and satirist with a diverse array of interests including travel, adventure, craft beer, health, urban issues, culture and politics. He ranks his allegiances in the order of Cleveland, the state of Ohio and the Rust Belt, and enjoys a fried egg on a variety of meats. Joe has a B.A. in Mass Communication with a focus on production from Miami University. Follow him at joebaur.com and on Twitter @BaurJoe
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