August 5, 2007
The Bridge Too Far
By Mary Lyon
The bridge disaster in Minneapolis should finally make us face the bridge we really have to repair. There is another bridge that needs crossing. And it's that unmentionable bridge, that fearsome Bridge-That-Must-Not-Be-Named, The Bridge WAY Too Far, especially for America 's loyal, patriotic CONservatives. They fear to tread that way even more than they shrink from accountability. More than they dread bringing an end to their war of choice. More than they even fear bin Laden or Saddam or some boogeyman to be named later. In fact, to them, the worst terrorist of all isn't either of these, or any of their friends or associates. It's the obligation to pay taxes - especially to the federal government.
What much of America still doesn't want to understand or accept is the harsh but necessary reality that comes with a large, sprawling society with many shared needs and demands. Like, say, maybe a bridge about which we can feel secure when we drive onto it. The Minneapolis bridge disaster is just the latest disgrace that illustrates America 's refusal to connect the dots. It motivated me to revisit an effort to do just that, written in time for last Halloween - called "The Last Scare Tactic":
The bottom line, there and here, is simply this:
We CANNOT have a successful democracy in which all are created equal and all pledging allegiance to the same flag, nor can we have any semblance of genuine "Homeland Security," without the financial underpinnings that come from tax money. We just can't. In the larger issues and crises that cross state lines (Hurricane Katrina), span every demographic group (universal health care), and otherwise outstrip a community, city, or state's ability to cope (the I-35W bridge collapse), tax money is an essential ingredient.
Just in that last one, the bridge tragedy, the benefits are shared, so the support should also be shared. We are all affected. Every walk of life, with every agenda, reason, destination, and political leaning imaginable drove across that bridge. It was and is a common property, a public work, for everyone's use. It wasn't slipped under some lucky bureaucrat's pillow by the Tooth Fairy one night. Jeannie didn't fold her arms in front of her chest and blink and simply conjure it up. Neither did Harry Potter. That bridge was born thanks to millions of midwives who covered its construction with taxes paid. The costs to restore it will come from public coffers, every bit as much as its collapse resulted from the penny-wise/pound-foolish wish to shave a nickel here and cut a dollar there, and postpone the rest for someone else to worry about later. Cut corners now so the inevitable failure later will punch out somebody else's ticket. Save a couple of dimes now so that many multiples of dollars later will have to be coughed up - maybe by the Tooth Fairy or somebody.
In the interests of full disclosure, I, too, would like not to have to pay so many taxes. But I understand what those taxes are meant to underwrite. That's one of many reasons why I continue vehemently to oppose the war. We're spending roughly 100-thousand bucks A MINUTE in Iraq , building bridges and roads that are blown up, frequently, before they're even finished. We're pouring money down that rat hole with little or nothing in terms of return on investment. HOW MANY bridges like Interstate 35W could be repaired or retrofitted to prevent another collapse like the one we just saw across the northern Mississippi River ? How many lives could we avoid losing?
The Minneapolis bridge calamity will, hopefully, underscore that overriding bridge that simply HAS to be crossed: we CANNOT afford to keep cutting taxes. Studies on other bridges around the country show that there are many of them are in greater danger of disaster than the I-35W.
Should we just keep dancing along, cutting taxes, while more of our bridges circle the drain? And that's just a single issue. I've said this before and I'll repeat it here:
Just once, I'd like to see our guys stand up and explain exactly WHY it is that we have those annoying taxes to face, to begin with. Maybe they're a necessary evil, but the word "necessary" comes before the word "evil" in this cliché for a reason. As Ronald Reagan came to power, fiendish thinkers like Newt Gingrich were already working it. He was the guy behind the "Wisdom of Chairman Newt" - a nefarious little black book of catch phrases, slogans, and buzzwords to use as cheat-sheets for a kind of political "Mad-Lib" game. There was a list of good and positive words and phrases to be used whenever one spoke of anything conservative, reactionary, or Republican. There was a corresponding list of negatives for use to describe all things liberal, progressive, or Democratic. Taxes, as expected, got lumped into the bad group - as in the term "tax RELIEF" - implying that taxes were something you needed RELIEF from - ie: something bad. And because nobody's ever tried to attack this general strategy head-on, that misrepresentation has been allowed to stand, unassailed, for almost three decades. Americans need some help connecting the dots, because taxes do not exist in a vacuum. Our Dems need to get specific and explain WHAT we pay those taxes FOR:
Let's start with the bridge. If you don't want to pay taxes, FINE. Try not to be terrified every time you have to steer your car toward some delicately-arching bridge over a mighty river or a crowded freeway. Try not to think of what will happen the longer those bridges are neglected and fall further and further into disrepair.
If you don't want to pay taxes, FINE. But don't complain when your dog dies (or runs up huge vet bills) after eating tainted food imported from China - because most of the funding for inspectors got cut, and there wasn't anybody around to enforce regulations. Besides, they're just animals - who cares, really? Hey, we could save even more money by letting Michael Vick and his pals take care of it! And don't make a big fuss when ill-supervised or inspected Chinese shipments of lead-painted toys find there way here, either. Hell, let the dog play with 'em.
If you don't want to pay taxes, FINE. Just don't get all hot and bothered by all those bodies floating down the flooded streets of New Orleans, or the people from there who still have no homes and no food, and then wonder why there is STILL nothing being done to help them, two long years after the fact.
If you don't want to pay taxes, FINE. Don't come crying to me when the potholes that never get fixed in your neighborhood streets mess up the front-end alignment on your Mercedes.
If you don't want to pay taxes, FINE. But don't complain about the increased numbers of airplane crashes and grounded fleets, because the government isn't hiring safety inspectors, or regulating the airline industry so it's forced not to cut corners on aircraft maintenance. And don't complain when you have to sit on the runway for nine hours, either. Regulations to prevent that just aren't "in" this season, nor are the inspectors or enforcement agents who would make those regulations work.
If you don't want to pay taxes, FINE. But then don't get outraged about the fact that while Camp Pendleton (among other installations) has sent its guys to Iraq, their families back home have so little to live on from combat pay and VA benefits that they're forced to turn to standing in line at local soup kitchens.
If you don't want to pay taxes, FINE. And don't get yourself worked up because there's no money to properly arm and protect our troops, or house and feed them decently, when YOU voted for the people who were so damned anxious to send them into harm's way.
If you don't want to pay taxes, FINE. And make sure you don't mind all those increases in news stories about child abductions, abuse, molestation, neglect, and murder - because the government can't afford to hire or pay case workers and enforcers anymore.
If you don't want to pay taxes, FINE. Just find a way to be okay with the fact that the widows and orphans of the firefighters who died trying to save people in the World Trade Center don't have enough pension money to live on, and their many of their buddies still don't have the communications systems they need to cope with the next catastrophe.
If you don't want to pay taxes, FINE. Perhaps you won't mind eating spinach contaminated with e-coli, since the government won't have enough money to pay food-safety inspectors anymore.
If you don't want to pay taxes, FINE. Just don't bother to schedule a vacation at any of our beautiful national parks, since the government can't afford to keep them anymore, OR protect them from polluters, loggers, strip-miners, real-estate developers and others who'd desecrate those national treasures for short-term profit - because we can't afford the regulators anymore.
If you don't want to pay taxes, FINE. Then make sure you're content that our schools remain under-funded, so their graduates can't manage much more than minimum-wage jobs, which do little to help keep Social Security funded for the future. A poorly-educated work force isn't likely to help our country excel in scientific research, development, or innovation that would generate new jobs and new businesses, and new ways for our country to remain the leader of the world.
If you don't want to pay taxes, FINE. Don't moan and groan about how awful it is to have to trip over so many homeless people huddled in doorways and against the sides of buildings, and always hitting you up for handouts - because there's no help or shelter for them anymore. And the icky messes they leave on the curbs? Try to put up with it, because street cleaners and sanitation trucks cost too much money.
If you don't want to pay taxes, FINE. Make sure you personally can handle every emergency and any home intrusion, because we won't be able to afford paramedics or sufficient police protection anymore. And if your house catches fire, make sure you have a lot of buckets and a good garden hose on hand already. That's because we can no longer keep firefighters on the payroll, either.
If you don't want to pay taxes, FINE. Just don't come whining to us when your garbage is no longer picked up on schedule, and public sanitation goes straight to Hell. Even Grover Norquist expects his trash to be picked up on time every week, and he'd howl like a stuck pig if it wasn't.
If you don't want to pay taxes, FINE. You're on your own then. Deal with it. You wanted the government out of your life, and you didn't want to have to help pay for the privilege of living in a country like ours. And don't come crying to me, telling me "there OUGHT to be a LAW!"
Our fellow citizens desperately need to be reminded of this. Unfortunately, we'll have to counter-act YEARS of pre-programming that relentlessly beat it into our heads that taxes are just bad, period. However, at some point, we have to grow up as a nation, accept the mantle of true maturity, and face the REAL costs of freedom, instead of trying to get something for nothing. The adults really do have to be back in charge, because we're in a serious mess and we need an extreme (and increasingly expensive) makeover to start fixing things. If it's truly worth having, there's always some price to be paid. The republi-CONS and their fellow short-sighted CONservative cheapskates love to tell you that "freedom isn't free." Well, it isn't. But not in the way they think. Unfortunately, that's a bridge they're still unwilling to cross. Will the Democrats collapse on this, too?