Monday, June 4, 2012

The Idiocy of the Anti-Tax Cult


The charge of left-wingery is one to which I happily plead ‘Guilty’, and some of my recent criticisms of Doug LaMalfa, the leading Republican candidate to replace out-going Congressman Wally Herger in California’s First District, were made along those lines.

But those who see all disgust with Republicans as stemming from a purely left-wing standpoint (one laughable charge of my recent criticisms being made along “socialist” lines being a case in point), are missing something. 

As noted in the post on LaMalfa, today’s Republican Party is populated by people who are inflexible economic fundamentalists, and who, thanks to our corrupt political system, have been more or less bought and paid for by various interests whose aims are too-often diametrically opposed to the general well-being of most Californians.  There is nothing ‘left-wing’ about such a criticism, and it is a state of affairs which should disturb the most right-wing middle-class voter as much as any socialist.  I could write a great many criticisms of LaMalfa’s conservatism from a left-wing standpoint, and I suspect that I’ll have outlined a few by the end of this post, but my primary criticisms as outlined before were of the imbecility of his positions, and of the corporate dollars which keep afloat what would otherwise be a totally unsustainable line of logic. 

I maintain that being ‘anti-tax’ is not a rational philosophical platform.  You can be anti- a certain type of tax, anti- a certain level of tax, anti- taxing certain things or certain people, but you will be anti- all of those things for reasons that have nothing to do with tax.  Therefore, being ‘anti-tax’ is just plain stupid.  Similarly, no one can reasonably be simply ‘pro-tax’.  The logical approach is to decide whether you are in favour of providing a certain measure of quality of life, or certain services or not, and then taking up the tax question from there.  Anyone who is pro- or anti- tax from first principles will invariably be proved a hypocrite in short order.

Therefore, you can be pro-social welfare, or anti-publicly funded parks, or pro-farm subsidies, or anti-environmental regulation.  Having taken these positions, you therefore support the funding or de-funding of particular things, and take action accordingly to raise or cut the relevant revenue.  But to sign a pledge or take some kind of primitive oath to foreswear ever using the legislative tools put at your disposal to raise revenue in the interests of your constituents, under any circumstances, is a form of madness. 

And hence my description of LaMalf and his Republican colleagues as dangerous, fundamentalist zealots.  A while back, a Republican Congressional staffer directed a ferocious barb at his party’s destructive approach to politics.  Therein he didn’t repudiate any right-wing viewpoints, but simply the Republican Party’s mentality and methods.

For what they have done is to substitute the means (taxation) for the ends (a particular view of the kind of society in which we’d like to live), and have, in their take-no-prisoners, suspend-all-the-rules approach to politics, put our state, our society, and our country in a very dangerous situation.  We are now living out what Philip Selznick called the “tyranny of means and the impotence of ends”.  Those means, he wrote, “tyrannise when they are so abstract and unspecified when the commitments they build up divert us from our true objectives.  Ends are impotent when they are so abstract and unspecified that they offer no principles of criticism and assessment”.

This is a perfect description of the debate manufactured by the Republican Party.  Voters are encouraged to obsess about the ‘oppression’ of taxes without first thinking about the society they’d like to live in and the services they’d like to be able to access.  And the ‘freedom’ that the Republican Party offers (it’s the antithesis, they tell us, to life in those social democratic countries where by virtually every measurement people are happier, healthier, more economically secure and more politically empowered) is certainly unspecified...except for those interests which are coincidentally freed from the responsibility to pay their fair share, to conduct business in an ethical, environmentally and socially responsible way, and to respect the rights of their fellow citizens.

What Republicans have done is to use the “Anti-Tax” position (which I suspect they know to be a farce) to hamstring our politics and to prevent us from having a serious debate about what our country should look like.  What they have created in the place of organised, rational democracy is a nation and a state which are, thanks to supermajority and filibuster rules, basically set on auto-pilot, cruising towards the rocks that will tear our social system to pieces...without the voters ever having been asked to think things through properly.

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