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On Taxes, Heroes and Patriots

February 22, 2010

On Monday, the daughter of Austin IRS suicide pilot Joseph Stack proclaimed her father a "hero." By joining the anti-government agitators, white supremacists, militia groups and other right-wing extremists in lauding him for standing up to the "injustice" of "the system," she like them dishonored true heroes like Vietnam veteran Vernon Hunter killed in Stack's terror attack. And they stand in sharp contrast to Joe Biden's fitting if widely mocked 2008 pronouncement that it's "patriotic" for wealthier Americans to pay higher taxes.
As ABC reported in the wake of the carnage in Texas, Stack was being "hailed as hero in American 'Patriot' Resurgence." The operator of the web site where Stack's 3,000 word manifesto was briefly posted reported that he was flooded with emails of support, noting "What's funny is most people were pretty much praising him." While a Facebook posters proclaimed, "He sacrificed his life to inspire the quest for TRUTH," a member of the white supremacist group Stormfront cheered, "This was quite heroic." And on Good Morning America, Stack's daughter Samantha Bell joined the chorus:

"His last actions, the suicide, the catastrophe that caused injuries and death, that was wrong...But if nobody comes out and speaks up on behalf of injustice, then nothing will ever be accomplished. But I do not agree with his last action with what he did. But I do agree about the government."
When "Good Morning America" asked if she considered her father a "hero," Bell, 38, said, "Yes, because now maybe people will listen."

That was too much even for the usual suspects among the right-wing blogs, one of which rightly deemed her statement "demeaning to the folks wounded and to the family of the man murdered by Stack" only after lamenting, "I guess the left will now call her a teabagger."
Of course, during the 2008 presidential campaign, the conservative commentariat slammed (for example, here and here) then Senator Joe Biden for his uncontroversial claim that for people earning over $250,000, "it's time to be patriotic" and pay higher taxes. Uncontroversial, that is, to ask the wealthiest Americans to help pay for two wars, an unfunded Medicare prescription drug benefit and the national debt which had tripled under Ronald Reagan and doubled under George W. Bush by returning to the slightly higher rates they faced during the boom times of the Clinton years.
Recall Biden's exchange with Kate Snow of ABC News:

Biden was asked by ABC News' Kate Snow in an interview aired Thursday morning on "Good Morning America" if people earning more than $250,000 a year would have to pay more taxes under an Obama-Biden administration.
"You got it," Biden replied. "It's time to be patriotic, Kate. Time to jump in, time to be part of the deal, time to help America out of the rut, and the way to do that is they're still gonna pay less taxes than they did under Reagan."

Biden, after all, was talking about just two percent of taxpayers. And since that statement was made, over 95% of American working households have received tax relief from the Obama administration.
But that's not all that's happened. Income inequality has reached levels not seen since 1929, with the wealthiest 1% of households by 2007 receiving 24% of all income in the United States, more than double the level in 1980. That same group received a third of the total benefits of the Bush tax cuts, a massive windfall for the wealthy which accounted for half the deficits of the Bush years and will produce an even larger sea of red ink over the next decade. And just last week, Americans learned that between 2001 and 2007, the 400 richest taxpayers doubled their annual incomes to an average of $345 million, while their effective tax rate plummeted to only 16.6% from 29.4% in 1993.
And making matters worse was the 1990's Republican war on the IRS. When Trent Lott was then denouncing the agency's "Gestapo-like tactics" and his colleague Don Nickles claimed, "The IRS is out of control," the epidemic of tax cheating cost the Treasury an estimated $195 billion a year. By 2007, the losses due to fraud and unpaid taxes reached a staggering $300 billion.
So much for today's history lesson. The moral of the story? Vernon Hunter was a hero. Joseph Stack was not. And for real Americans, obeying the law and paying taxes (and especially for the wealthy to pay their fair share) is a pretty simple test of patriotism.
UPDATE: Almost on cue, ThinkProgress reports that Congresman Steve King (R-IA) remarked, "It's sad the incident in Texas happened, but by the same token, it's an agency that is unnecessary and when the day comes when that is over and we abolish the IRS, it's going to be a happy day for America."
If that language from a leading Republican sounds familiar, it should. As I noted last week:

As David Cay Johnston describes in his book Perfectly Legal, the GOP during the Clinton administration waged an all-out war on the IRS, turning the priorities for auditing Americans upside-down. As Delaware Republican Senator William Roth's Finance Committee held hearings in 1997 and 1998, Mississippi's Trent Lott decried the IRS' "Gestapo-like tactics." Frank Murkowski (R-AK) similarly denounced those supposed "Gestapo-like tactics" while excoriating the Agency, "You don't need to send in armed personnel in flak jackets." Don Nickles of Oklahoma raged, "The IRS is out of control!" Meanwhile, GOP pollster and wordmeister Frank Luntz quizzed focus groups with his favorite question, "Which would you prefer: having your wallet or purse stolen or being audited by the IRS?"


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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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