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Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Subjects of history and economics too taxing for tea party organizers

Posted by James McPherson on April 15, 2009

age-of-reason2Conservatives are waging “tea parties” today to protest Barack Obama’s economic policies. Protests are scheduled around the country for those who want to complain visibly about their taxes–or at least those few people who aren’t at work during the day and who aren’t frantically spending their day trying to actually file their taxes by midnight tonight.

Though of course I’m happy to see political protests–and to see them covered by the news media–to call today’s protests a “grassroots movement” is somewhat silly. After all, Fox News has been promoting them for weeks. Like other conservative organizations, Fox uses the “movement” to suggest that their side is “catching up” with liberals in their use of technology. And always mindful of the benefits of fear-mongering paranoia, Fox also warns of a potential “liberal backlash,” leading one story with this: “What would a party be without party poopers?” The story manages to get fictional ACORN threat in by the third paragraph. There’s “fair and balanced” for you.

Other ironies surrounding the event stem from the fact that conservatives typically benefit more from taxes than do liberals, the fact that untold numbers of today’s protests (including the one in my city) will be held at facilities paid for through taxes, and the fact that many of those who complain the loudest actually pay relatively little while many of those who pay the highest rates view doing so as patriotic. And speaking of patriots, journalist/blogger Jeremy Styron (who is not opposed to tweaking Fox News, himself) is among those who has pointed out the historical ignorance of many modern conservatives who keep using Thomas Paine as a model.

Paine believed that everyone had a right to free land (“socialism”?), and tended to be anti-religious. He also believed in a large inheritance taxes (what modern conservatives have managed to denegrate as “the death tax”), because he didn’t believe in royalty or pseudo-royalty like that created by unearned, handed-down wealth. Paine also favored various kinds of so-called “welfare,” including (but not limited to) public works, maternity benefits, free public elementary education, old-age pensions, and aid to poor people.

Speaking of conservatives who happen to be ignorant, Glenn Beck has even apparently turned his understanding of Paine into a stand-up comedy act. Beck calls himself a “poor-man’s Seinfeld,” which is pretty funny in itself considering he makes $10 million per year on his radio program alone–not counting his Fox salary. I’ve actually recognized that Beck was hilarious for some time, though I didn’t realize he was in on the joke. Unfortunately, neither do most of the people in his audience.

Beck and other conservatives who insist on referencing Paine should at least consult The Age of Reason. And maybe an online dictionary, so they’ll understand why so many other people have trouble keeping a straight face when they hear conservatives repeatedly using the phrase “tea bagging.”

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11 Responses to “Subjects of history and economics too taxing for tea party organizers”

  1. M. Shannahan said

    Fox News has not promoted the “tea parties.” Conservative Fox Commentators are promoting the “tea parties.”

    The term “teabagging” first came to my attention through a 27 year old relatiive who lives with her parents, has had every bit of her education and day to day expenses provided to her by said parents, and does not to my knowledge pay taxes. She posted Rachel Maddow’s “teabagging” monologue on her facebook. As a non-working, non-contributing member of society, she really is difficult to take seriously. I googled the term teabagging and immediately understood that diversity and tolerance by liberals is only extended to those that agree with them. If in fact a conservative is found guilty of participating in the peaceful protest than the only due course for a liberal is to offer name-calling and vulgar insinuations–in addition to, juvenile eye-rolling and snickering.

    With regard to your comments about Thomas Paine. There is no historical confusion. Conservatives and even right of center constituents have always fought to restrain governments demand for more power all in the name of being better equipped to help the “people.” There were plenty of people prior to the Revolutionary War that believed in the altruism of King George and felt better cared for and protected by England. Conservatives are drawing a parallel between Democrats and the Monarchy. We’re not confused. His desire for an inheritance tax?? Well maybe because at the time there wasn’t an income tax. Today conservatives fight the inheritance tax because they have already paid the taxes on that money and they should be able to leave it to whomever they wish, including, less financially fit relatives. As far as your comments about religion, you are making a general assumption about all conservatives. Should I assume that all liberals share the same silver spoon mentality as my relative? You also state that the people who complain loudly don’t pay as many taxes–( your source for this stat would be appreciated) I paid plenty of taxes and don’t necessarily feel more patriotic. Maybe if Joe Biden comes to my house and sways a timepiece in front of my face whispering, ” You’ll feel more patriotic, you’ll feel more patriotic..,” Your illogical rhetoric about conservatives benefitting by taxes because they congregate in front of buildings paid for by taxes is a bit of a stretch. Ummm, I think they are going to government buildings, no? You know where the politicians are…the audience with which they hope to implore. You talk as if conservatives are anti-tax, anti-poor, anti -elderly–who exactly is the fear mongerer??

    You mention Beck. You may as well mention Limbaugh and Hannity too. However, are there not liberal counterparts? Maddow, Oberman, Matthews…

    (Funny, I just remembered I have another friend whose kid just failed out of college for the third time and likes to argue with me by using “facts” and quotes from the Jon Stewart daily show–isn’t that on Comedy Central??)

    The truth is, there are as many juvenile, irrelevant and irreverant people on the left as there are on the right and while I am so pleased about your happiness with regard to my protest, something tells me you’re not very sincere nor am I impressed with your thesis.

  2. Jack said

    This whole thing is a joke, and shows me that many people have no idea what they are talking about. I found this comment on CNN and taxes;

    iReporter Ed McQueen is a 44-year-old litigation consultant. He told CNN.com that he’s heading to a rally in Chicago on Wednesday. “I have no problem paying my taxes, but when no can tell us where this amount of money is going, no one can sketch it out for us, just seems like an injustice,” he said.

    “All I hear about [from the Obama administration] is how [it values] ‘transparency, transparency,’ but I don’t see that. … That’s a joke,” he said. “I did my taxes this year, and I noticed that I’m paying as much in taxes as I did the first year I got out of college.”

    The thing to keep in mind that we are doing taxes from last year during GW term.

  3. James McPherson said

    “Fox News has not promoted the ‘tea parties.’ Conservative Fox Commentators are promoting the ‘tea parties.'”

    The embedded link provided with the article takes you directly to section devoted to “FOXNews’ Anti-Tax Tea Party Coverage” with the subhead, “Anti-tax tea parties are taking America by storm and FOX News is taking notice.” The lead article then states, “FOX News will have all the details leading right up to April 15 tax day–from links to tea parties in you area to live reports from the scenes, analyses from the FOX Forum and FOXNews.com’s own series on the tea party phenomenon.” Sounds like promotion to me (and “Conservative Fox Commentators” seems a bit redundant).

    “You mention Beck. You may as well mention Limbaugh and Hannity too. However, are there not liberal counterparts? Maddow, Olbermann, Matthews…”

    Absolutely true–and I’ve been critical of all of them, fairly regularly (along with most of the other well-known folks on cable TV–feel free to use the search bar at the upper right). And the “eye-rolling and snickering” also drive me nuts, largely because of how they detract from more serious discussion (as noted here).

    “His desire for an inheritance tax?? Well maybe because at the time there wasn’t an income tax.”

    Interesting speculation. But I’ll bet most of your fellow protesters don’t know that Paine favored an inheritance tax AND a progressive income tax (i.e., rich people pay a higher percentage than poor people).

    “Today conservatives fight the inheritance tax because they have already paid the taxes on that money and they should be able to leave it to whomever they wish, including, less financially fit relatives.”

    So why not leave it to them while you’re alive. But of course the dead aren’t paying the taxes; their relatives are–just as anyone else in society does when he or she wins a lottery (in this case, the winnings come from having been lucky enough to be born to parents with money).

    My bigger point–and Paine’s–is that we shouldn’t pretend that we live in a society in which everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed when inherited wealth makes that an obvious lie. You need look no further than the Bush and Kennedy families for perhaps the most blatant examples.

    “You also state that the people who complain loudly don’t pay as many taxes–( your source for this stat would be appreciated)…”

    Actually, I said MANY of those people, and provided an embedded link. But I’d be willing to bet that both you and I know some of them, unless all of your whiny relatives happen to be young liberals.

    “As far as your comments about religion, you are making a general assumption about all conservatives.”

    I don’t assume that all conservatives are religiously alike (for example, Beck is a Mormon, while I suspect Dick Cheney worships Satan), and I probably should not have included that comment without more explanation. It is true that I keep reading/hearing too many conservatives who somehow manage to combine anti-tax policies, Thomas Paine and God in their arguments (I suspect Beck may be among them, but I don’t listen to him any more often than I think I should for my job). But as you seem to suggest here, that is a separate issue, .

    “The truth is, there are as many juvenile, irrelevant and irreverant people on the left as there are on the right.”

    I agree completely. Maybe even more of us on the left. Thanks to both of you for the comments.

  4. Thanks for the nod, James. I think in the second link to my site, you may have meant to reference this post about Paine rather than re-linking to the one about FOX popping one to right. heheh. No biggy man. Keep on truckin’ – J.

  5. Gabrielle said

    amusing rant my friend sam wrote about the same issue: http://tinyurl.com/c5gvsp

  6. James McPherson said

    Jeremy, you were right, of course. I fixed the link above, for those folks who don’t make it to the comments. Thanks for letting me know. Gabrielle, I tried the link but it just sent me to the LiveJournal start page.

  7. Gabrielle said

    Sigh. Oh LiveJournal. Sam really needs to get a public blog, she’s intelligent & amusing enough to hold her own in the blogosphere.

    I’ll quote (it’s too good not to share): “I’m not saying all complaints are invalid and misinformed, but a good chunk of them are. All of this [complaining] about taxes? It’s fair, really; no one likes paying taxes. But rallying over unfair taxation? Dear America, did you know we’re amongst the most lightly taxed industrialized nations? Did you know that, America? Will you shove in a sock in it, America?

    The government can’t “protect us and beyond that, get out of our way.” Know what happened last time the government went all laissez-faire on us? I’m not sure, exactly, but I hear there was a little depression or something. Oh wait, yeah, the Great Depression. I guess it’s totally understandable to completely forget about history. What does history, the dead and gone past, have to do with the current frantic effort to curtail bank failure, pump money into the system, and generally hoist us out of our hole? Nothing. Except that it is precisely these things the government didn’t do when the economy of the 1930’s started to slip. Dearest America, would you rather pay a little more in our comparatively slim taxes, or keep your pennies and risk economic failure?

    I’m not thrilled about the economy and its tonics either, but it’s glaringly clear that something needs to be done–and the very definition of a recession is that the private sector isn’t doing it. So the logic here is that the plodding private sector should be allowed to speed up private sector spending. It sounds a little like “goddamnit I don’t need your help, I’ll do it BY MYSELF!!!” Yes, it can be done, and it would happen, but slowly and painfully.

    Either we treat the stage one cancer with chemo now, or we sit back and hope the body fights it off. Yeah, chemo blows, but it’s far more effective than our immune systems.”

    🙂

  8. James McPherson said

    Thanks, Gabrielle–a good post. You also may have noticed the article in today’s paper saying that the income tax rate is the lowest it’s been in years.

  9. […] though I’ve made fun of Tea Party folks a time or two or three, I’ve also supported their efforts — while pointing out that the “party” is as unfocused as supposedly are the Wall […]

  10. […] government–a fact that would Founding Father and “Common Sense” author Thomas Paine would find appalling. It is ironic that so many Will-style conservatives who promote “equality of […]

  11. […] my students can attest, I’m no fan of royalty (a reason I agree with Thomas Paine that we should have high inheritance taxes) but am a fan of Queen – and I frequently play […]

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