Tea Party Day is coming

 

Even here in the boondocks, far from any place that Fox News has ever covered, it's impossible to escape the publicity about the impending "Tea Party on Tax Day."

First came a robocall on Saturday; a husky male voice advised me to "show that you care about our country" by "attending a Tea Party on April 15."

This morning I learned that there will be one just a few blocks away from my house. The local newspaper carried an ad, paid for by the Chaffee County Republican Central Committee, inviting me to "Join Us For a Teaparty/Taxpayer Protest Wed. April 15 at 3rd & D Streets 5-7pm."

Above the invitation was a headline, "Why the Rich Get Tax Cuts," followed by a list of income brackets and rates which implied that the rich, such as the top 1 percent of earners, were suffering from serious oppression as they were paying 40 percent of America's income taxes.

Or something like that. It was hard to tell just what they planned to complain about. But the sponsors are Republicans, after all, so maybe they believe that scores of residents of one of Colorado's poorer counties will show up on a chilly spring evening to demand a better deal for the top income tier.

There could be more to it than that, although I didn't find much besides indignation when I searched the Web for more information. I did find a lot of rallies listed at Taxday Tea Party.  They seem to be hoping that a lot of people will turn out, and given the general negative attitude about the income tax and the Internal Revenue Service, they might well draw some crowds.

As a self-employed writer who has to pay an accountant to keep me in tax compliance even though my annual income likely wouldn't cover a Wall Street parking place for an investment banker, I'm certainly no fan of the IRS, nor of our confusing tax laws.

Even so, this modern Tax Day Tea Party phenomenon, complete with right-thinking celebrity appearances in selected cities, is rather confusing. The original American Tea Party was held on Dec. 16, 1773 in Boston Harbor.

Tea was a popular beverage in Britain's American colonies, and to raise money to pay for defending the colonies against the French and the Indians, the British Parliament enact a tax on tea in April, 1773.

The British House of Commons was elected, more or less, but American colonists had no part of the elections -- yet Parliament taxed Americans. Thus arose the cry of "No taxation without representation," and to make the point, a group of men -- estimates range from 30 to 130 -- disguised themselves as Indians, boarded three ships in Boston harbor, and dumped 342 chests of tea, about 90,000 pounds, into the brine.

It was one of the seminal acts of the American Revolution. And if you want a Western connection, here's a possibility from David Lavender's book Bent's Fort: "According to an unverifiable family tradition, Silas Bent ... led one of the three bands of 'Indians' who pitched British tea into Boston's harbor." Silas was the grandfather of Charles and William Bent of Bent's Fort fame.

The Tea Party was not a protest against taxation in general. It was a protest against taxation without representation.

But that didn't appear to be the issue this year when the most recent Tea Party agitation started on Feb. 19 when Rick Santelli of the CNBC cable channel said it was time for a new Tea Party.

He was upset because the Obama administration proposed to bail out some mortgage defaulter, and this "rewarded bad behavior." As he delivered his rant at the Chicago Board of Trade, traders behind him cheered.

Santelli has a point. Is it fair that you and I must work to pay our taxes and our mortgages, when some of the tax money may go to assist people who took out bigger mortgages than they could afford? Why should I, in my 120-year-old house with one bathroom, be helping somebody else in a new house with five bedrooms, four baths, three-car-garage and granite counter tops?

Perhaps it isn't fair either that my car insurance costs more because some people insured by the same company have auto accidents. After all, I'm a fairly cautious driver, and besides, I drive less than 5,000 miles a year and haven't even had a ticket, much less an accident, for at least 15 years.

Is it fair that we peons in town pay higher fire-insurance premiums on account of the McMansion folks on their 35-acre tinderbox plots deep in the Stupid Zone?

As John F. Kennedy once remarked, "Life isn't fair." We can try to draw a line between "protection from risks" and "rewarding bad behavior," but that line will shift.

Santelli should have just called for some oversight and outrage, rather than a Tea Party, since this issue has nothing to do with "Taxation without representation." After all, we do elect the representatives and senators who levy our taxes.

And what is it that the Tea Party folks want? They seem to be upset about the federal income tax, but if they were serious, they'd agitate for repeal of the 16th Amendment to the federal constitution, the one adopted in 1913 which gives Congress the power to collect an income tax. (One state which declined to ratify this amendment was Utah).

Mostly this Tea Party agitation appears to be a project of Fox News to show that there's some grassroots opposition to the Obama administration's budget and collateral deficits. There's nothing wrong with opposing that, but why not go about it honestly, instead of cloaking it as some sort of pseudo-patriotic Revolutionary War tradition?

And besides, modern-day Tea Parties don't work anyway, as I can testify from personal experience. In Colorado, we have these regional entities called "water conservancy districts" which collect taxes and enjoy the right of eminent domain. However, their directors are appointed by judges, not elected by the public the way we select school boards, hospital district boards, and the like.

My late friend Jeanne Englert spent years fighting to make these boards elected, rather than appointed. One strategem, about 15 years ago, was to call for "tea parties" in opposition to this taxation without representation.

And so, on the appointed day at the appointed time, I found a tea bag and walked down to Salida's F Street bridge over the Arkansas River, and dutifully tossed the bag into the current.

It wasn't much of a party, since I was the only one there. And it didn't have much of an effect, since our legislature has consistently refused to change the law.

Maybe these new Tea Party goers will be more successful -- if they can figure out what they want, rather than stand around to demonstrate that taxes are unpopular. That's something most of us already knew.