Bitter Tea 

Tax Day protests distort Obama's agenda

Since when did a dislike for taxes become synonymous with Obama-bashing?

President Barack Obama has barely been in office for 100 days, yet to see the coverage of last Wednesday's "tea parties," you would think that our new president invented the idea of the federal income tax. It seems to me that many frustrated, right-wing ideologues, angry over the poor economy and Republican losses in the last election, are really expressing a thinly veiled hatred of Obama and what he represents.

Nowhere was this sentiment more evident than in South Carolina, which enjoyed 11 highly festive Tax Day Tea Parties, including two sizable demonstrations in Charleston and Columbia. Those who support Obama and his policies locally should take note. The tax issue is only the first of many that some conservatives will try to distort in order to attack the president's agenda.

As a blue city within one of a dwindling number of red states, we have a unique opportunity to draw attention to the truth, and should do so to combat the real agenda behind increasingly hateful rhetoric.

The United States did not always have an income tax system. In 1895, the Supreme Court actually ruled that a federal income tax was unconstitutional. It was only through the Sixteenth Amendment, proposed by President Howard Taft in 1909 and ratified in 1913, that the federal income tax became permanent under our laws. South Carolina was actually the third state to ratify the Sixteenth Amendment, which it did in 1910.

Though the requisite 36 states which were needed at the time to ratify the amendment did so, three states (Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Utah) rejected the amendment without ever ratifying it, and three other states (Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Florida) never took up the proposed amendment. The point is, the federal government did not randomly decide to start taxing citizens one day. Americans voted to have their income taxed, recognizing the importance of a revenue stream so that our government could operate.

Historical justifications aside, we all would prefer a world in which no one had to pay taxes and all government services were delivered cost-free. No one enjoys paying taxes. Most reasonable people acknowledge, however, that taxes are necessary so that the government can provide some of the basic services needed by all of its citizens. The main argument is over how the tax burden is apportioned among taxpayers.

After eight years during which the most affluent Americans enjoyed enormous tax cuts, Obama has recently proposed a return to the tax rates under President Bill Clinton in order to shore up the failing economy. Supposedly, this has prompted the tea parties during which Obama has been vilified.

If one looks at a sampling of the signs displayed at parties across the country (including these shown on the MSNBC and Huffington Post websites: "Don't Tax Me, Bro!," "Obama's Plan — White Slavery," "Obama: What You Talkin Bout, Willis! Spend My Money?"), we see that other sentiments are often a factor in much of the Obama criticism.

While not all of the signs on tax day contained these unfortunate racial undertones, one could easily draw the following conclusion: Many elites do not want to have their tax dollars go to poor people, many of whom are from minority and immigrant backgrounds. As a result, they despise Obama's changes to the Bush tax code.

The most bitter battles of the next four years will be those in which President Obama reaches out to those who have been marginalized the past eight years. We need to identify the real issues behind the protests, so that we can knowledgeably support the new president and his agenda.


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