Taxes, Patriotism and Common Sense

by RALPH PETERS July 27, 2011
Am I the last American who’s proud to pay his taxes? As a self-employed citizen, I pay quarterly estimated taxes to our national government. And each time I sign that check, I’m proud. I may no longer serve in uniform, but that check means that I’m a productive citizen engaged in honest work who is still doing his small part for his country.
I’m not wealthy. But my wife and I work relentlessly, so we have a good middle-class life. Could I use some of the money I pay in taxes for other purposes? Sure. But paying my income tax is, to me, a small thing for the many benefits I receive—from highways and public order to the national defense. It’s the one duty this great country asks of me.
I’m also proud to be one of the taxpayers who carry the burden for the feckless connivers and hand-out addicts at the bottom of society, as well as for the vile tax cheats at the top of the income ladder. I would like to see less partisan waste. And I want fewer loopholes for scoundrels. But my expectations of both political parties are low. So I’ll continue to do my small part for the greatest nation in history. Somebody has to.
I do get angry, though. Not about paying my taxes. But that 49 per cent of my fellow citizens pay no income tax at all, thanks to political pandering. And that, last year, I paid more taxes from my middle-class income than General Electric did—after that corporation enjoyed a wildly profitable year.
So here is where I diverge from some of my fellow conservatives—who I believe have been sold a series of con-jobs: I believe that barking the slogan “No new taxes” is destructive nonsense. Especially, when it’s shouted by individuals who do not want to give up a single benefit they currently enjoy.
Conservatives should think for themselves, shunning party lines and examining each issue on its own merits. Conservatives should not reject sensible proposals just because they originate on the “wrong” side of the aisle. Conservatives should concentrate on what is good for this country. Instead, we often seem to be as greedy and self-absorbed as the beneficiaries of the left’s grab-ocracy.
At present, our nation’s financial difficulties are straightforward, if infernally difficult to address in this hyper-partisan political climate: We spend far more than we take in. And the only way the numbers work in the long run is to severely cut benefit programs—and close tax loopholes.
No doubt, I’ve already angered many readers, but this is a season for tough love. If you do not want to close tax loopholes for fabulously wealthy energy corporations, or for agricultural conglomerates, or for hedge-fund billionaires, at least tell me what you are willing to give up. Lay it out. Be specific.
I will. For the good of my country, I am willing to tighten my belt and pay a few more percentage points in income tax. I am willing to be means-tested for social security, when I apply. I am willing to have my military-retirement pay frozen for the next five years, then reviewed. I believe that retired officers should pay double our current Tricare health-insurance payments (even though the care is uneven, to put it mildly).
But I want something in return. I want the additional revenue applied to reducing the deficit. I want corporations that can afford legions of tax lawyers to pay their fair share—just as I do. I want the anti-social “social” programs that have destroyed minority families and murdered the work ethic among the dependent poor to be slashed. And I want every adult American who is not mentally or physically disabled to pay a minimum of $100 each year to the federal government—or he or she doesn’t get to vote. Every able American should have some skin in the game.
Won’t happen, of course. The Republican Party will continue to protect hedge-fund parasites, and the Democrats will fight to the death to keep minority Americans down on their urban electoral plantations. I’d like my country to impose a no-exemptions flat tax. But every lawyer, accountant and financial-sector lobbyist will speed his or her well-dressed butt to the barricades to defend privileges that honest, hardworking taxpayers will never enjoy.
I want all of us to be in this together. But we’re not.
Oh, and I’d put a special tax on junk-food, with the proceeds dedicated to the massive health-care costs imposed on honest taxpayers by the epidemic of obesity: Our fast-food industry will kill far more Americans this year than al Qaeda ever has. Hey, you’re free to eat what you want. But I shouldn’t have to pay for the consequences. And I stand with the First Lady on her admirable efforts to improve the quality of nutrition in our schools (“Food police?” Spare me. Would you really rather watch this nation eat itself to death?). Michelle Obama and I may not agree on much else, but I’m mortified that conservatives have damned her efforts just because she’s Michelle Obama. Shouldn’t conservatives care about our children’s health? And knock off the “It’s about freedom” poppycock. Soda machines and junk food in schools aren’t about freedom, but about profit and getting kids hooked on eating crap as early as possible. In my high school, candy and soft drinks were forbidden—and there was not one student in my graduating class who would be classed as obese by today’s standards. We deny minors many of the rights adults enjoy. When did conservatism become all about shilling for FritoLay or Pepsico?
Which brings me back to my disgust with all slogans that substitute for serious thought: I believe that the number-one problem in our country today, the fountainhead of nearly all our other domestic problems, is our collective flight from responsibility. We want all the benefits, but don’t want to pay the dues.
Let me be blunt: What have you done for our country lately? Have you even taken responsibility for something as basic as your own health? Shouldn’t conservatives strive to keep themselves in good physical shape so they won’t burden their fellow citizens? To me, the perfect symbol of the refusal-to-think-honestly disease that has infected some of my fellow conservatives was a photograph of an obese man waving a “No New Taxes!” placard.
Who does he expect to pay for his health care? Me, that’s who. I work hard—very hard--to stay in shape and live a healthy lifestyle. But the one-third of Americans who are obese or morbidly obese expect my tax dollars to pay for their Medicare. And don’t dare mention the word “rationing.” Every citizen, liberal or conservative, who lives on junk food, refuses to exercise, smokes like a chimney and drinks like a fish expects to be treated to luxury medical care—even if they pay no income taxes. I invite all obese men and women who consider themselves true conservatives to sign a pledge that they will never ask for Medicare benefits. But they won’t. They believe they’re entitled to their benefits, every bit as much as that inner-city hand-out junkie. For too many of us, conservatism ends where self-interest begins.
Let me say it plainly (since your Congressman won’t): We will have to ration health-care in the future. And I’m all for it. I support a point system, renewable every five years, in which families can pool points for emergencies and with special exceptions for those citizens who encounter health problems that are not their fault (such as leukemia, or getting hit by a drunk driver). Obesity is a choice. And the government shouldn’t have to pay for your bad choices. Shouldn’t that be the stance of true conservatives?
I’m also bewildered by the way my fellow conservatives have let themselves be conned by Big Energy, as the Exxons of the world fight to keep tax breaks they don’t need on domestic energy production. Big Energy is able to extract raw materials that belong to all of us, profit from them, and then avoid paying us for the patrimony they’ve taken. Royalties due to our government disappear in creative accounting (one scam involved production sharing, but the corporation involved charged our government outrageous pipeline and transport fees that cancelled out the need to share any of the gas produced). I want all honest businesses to prosper. But I want businesses to be honest. You don’t get to loot what belongs to all of us, ravage the landscape (shouldn’t conservatives be for conservation?), then stiff us when it’s tax time.
Capitalism works. But all human behavior needs supervision. Greed runs deep in the human race. Many corporations will get away with whatever they can get away with. And no, making Exxon pay its fair share in taxes will not put small-town businesses or creative entrepreneurs out of business. On the contrary, giant conglomerates across the board destroy mom-and-pop businesses and stifle entrepreneurship. Then they run lying television commercials telling us all to be grateful for how wonderful they are—then they write off the cost of those commercials on their taxes.
Did you, the owner-citizen-steward of our natural resources, get a discount at the pump for the fuel you owned?
I believe in old-fashioned conservative values: Justice, fairness, personal responsibility, and intellectual, personal and financial integrity. And I wish that my fellow conservatives would do one vital thing: Stop parroting slogans and think for themselves. It’s un-American to let lobbyists and interest groups dictate what we’re allowed to say and think. And, by the way, there is no conservative “central committee” whose commissars get to decide who is or isn’t a conservative. Name-calling won’t help our country. Only fierce honesty, hard work and a reasoned tolerance for the legitimate views of others can move us forward.
Meanwhile, I’ll continue to pay my taxes. Proudly.
Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer, a former enlisted man, Fox News Strategic Analyst, and the author of 27 books, including the soon-to-be-published Lines Of Fire (September, 2011), a collection of his most-enduring writing on security, strategy and military affairs from the last two decades.

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