Jay Reding.com

So Much For The Spirit Of 1776

“A right to tax, without limit or control, is essentially a power to destroy.”
– Chief Justice John Marshall, McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316, 391 (1819)

Matt Stoller has an ode to the joys of paying taxes at MyDD that seems to accurately describe how the left feels about taxes these days. To Stoller, taxes are as American as Mom, apple pie, and the flag:

Our tax code is the DNA of our nation’s moral compass. I am proud to pay taxes because I take pride in America, and paying some tiny burden to keep our society running is an extremely small price to pay for being able to call myself an American citizen. The old expression ‘you get what you pay for’ is apt for all sorts of situations. People tend to express what they value in how much they are willing to pay for it. I am willing and feel privileged for the right to pay for my country. The right-wing is embittered to do so, if they do so at all. And that, more than anything, says something about how much they value this experiment called America.

Of course, it’s somewhat ironic to be saying that taxation is the “DNA of our nation’s moral compass.” For one, it’s one of the ugliest mixed metaphors I’ve ever read. Secondly, America was founded on a rejection of confiscatory taxation. Boston Tea Party The Founders of this country recognized that the power of the state and the rights of the individual are at odds — they certainly didn’t have the view that what makes America great was our tax code — in fact, when this nation was founded there was no such thing as an income tax. It’s rather difficult to argue that the 16th Amendment, which wasn’t passed until well after the founding of this nation, is responsible for America’s greatness.

That’s where the left gets it utterly wrong. The Founders had a very jaundiced view of government — it’s why we have a Constitution of enumerated powers, a Bill of Rights, and a tradition of limiting the power of the state. Such features were designed expressly to maximize the ability of the individual to succeed in life. In fact, Jefferson’s first drafts of the Declaration of Independence didn’t talk about the “pursuit of happiness” but borrowed directly from Locke and spoke of “life, liberty, and property.” The idea that our national greatness derives from our government rather than from the people would be deeply alien to the Founders. It goes against our real national DNA — which can be read in the texts of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and our other founding documents.

The greatness of our country comes not from the power of the state — if that’s the measure of greatness than the US should be at the bottom of the heap and nations like North Korea should be ruling the world. Yet we have one of the the oldest continually-running democracies on the globe. Our economic power is unmatched, and when there’s a genocide in Europe it’s our military that does most of the heavy lifting. The reality is that this nation is, by objective standards, the greatest on the planet, and that isn’t because we have an intrusive and bothersome state, but because for the most part our government stays out of the way.

Our Founding Fathers weren’t happy to turn over their fortunes to the state because they knew that controlling the economic destiny of individuals is no less onerous than trying to control our political destinies. The idea that we should happily pay taxes — no matter how onerous they are — isn’t an affirmation of American citizenship, but a rejection of what the Founders made clear when they broke free of England. The deliberately bequeathed to us a system of government of separated powers, federalism, and individual rights. The modern left does not seem to understand why they did that, and seems to reject that essential vision.

Our abiding respect for the rights of the individual is what makes America great. Go to the DMV or the welfare office and ask yourself, “is this what makes this country what it is?” Then go visit a church, a synagogue, a charity, or any of the other ad hoc community associations that have little if anything to do with the state but make up the best part of America. It is those small, personal, and responsible organizations that provide much of America’s greatness. At the end of the day, putting one’s faith in the large, the impersonal, and the bureaucratic is a fool’s errand. Federal government, by its very nature, will always be large, inefficient, and impersonal. That’s why the Founders limited its scope to only those powers enumerated in the Constitution. We can make government as small, as efficient, and as personal as possible, but it will never be able to replace the elements of civil society that make democracy work. Those who have tried have lost both civil society and democracy.

If one honestly believes that taxes are the reason that America is great, then you haven’t listened to what the Founders have said. Governments do not make nations great, but are only reflections of the people. When the size and scope of government serves to stifle the power of the individual to shape their lives, then democracy withers and dies. The left may have the best intentions, they may wrap themselves in the mantle of patriotism, but ultimately their policies and their voracious appetite for government revenue is a betrayal of the values that this country was founded upon.

4 responses to “So Much For The Spirit Of 1776”

  1. Mark says:

    “Then go visit a church, a synagogue, a charity, or any of the other ad hoc community associations that have little if anything to do with the state but make up the best part of America”

    Actually, these groups have everything to do with the state, particularly when you consider how many prisons have to be built to lock up the corrupt church and charity leaders. The United Way alone could populate much of a prison with its former directors caught with their hand in the till. And these “private” institutions you put up on a pedestal don’t seem to have much of a problem with tax money when the Bush administration is doling out their yearly allotment of “faith-based” loot from public coffers.

    “This is a win for opponents of abortion, even if it is a somewhat narrow one.”

    And a “narrow win” for “pro-life” cheerleaders equates to a death sentence for our mothers, daughters, and sisters. I’ve never heard of this procedure being performed in any other instance than to save the mother’s life. No regulated doctor would ever agree to slice a newborn’s brain open seconds before delivery just because mommy decided she’s not ready to change diapers. This ruling reduces the pregnant female to subhuman status, prioritizing the survival of the fetus over that of the fetus’ “container”. It should make both genders queasy to see the increased likelihood of turning these legally superempowered unborn children into orphans now that Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are forcing doctors to let mommy die on the operating table if they perceive any chance of survival for the fetus.

    “Captain Ed notes that Fred Thompson has vaulted into second place in the latest Los Angeles Times poll. John McCain has slipped to third.”

    The fact that a guy whose name recognition outside of Tennessee is entirely the product of a TV show facing cancellation because of declining ratings speaks volumes as to how weak the GOP field is. Giuliani’s support, as I originally suggested, was a mile wide and an inch think. McCain appears to be following the George Allen playbook of successful campaigning. And Romney appears to be in a competition with Al Gonzalez for the nation’s most ineffective pathological liar. I know little about Thompson, but wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up being the 2008’s Wesley Clark, who burst out of the starting gate but ultimately limped only part way through the marathon. Like Clark, Thompson is seen as the man with good credentials who can spark some energy that the other uninspired candidates could not. Thompson would almost certainly have what it takes to defeat Hillary Clinton if he becomes the nominee, but I doubt anybody knows enough about him to effectively opine on whether he’s polished enough to slog through an 18-month national campaign mistake-free, as Presidential candidates are now expected to do. Thompson’s biggest drawback: he’s the personification of the curmudgeonly boss who chomps on a big cigar at his desk while informing you that you’re not getting a raise this year.

    And lastly, I’m curious what kind of volume this site has been getting now that 95% of all posts prohibit comments. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the most successful blogs feature steady dialogue among commenters while the least successful blogs are the personal diary sort that this blog has largely become…..and something tells me your average hits per week may be starting to reflect that.

  2. Jay Reding says:

    1. I would wager that the percentage of corrupt government officials far outweighs the percentage of corrupt church leaders, association directors, etc. The difference is that those people are usually punished. In government, those people are usually re-elected.

    The argument that private groups are more corrupt than government is a transparently silly one — there are hundreds of thousands of Burkean organization throughout the country. If all of them were corrupt, American society wouldn’t exist as we know it. We’d look like Russia, a state in which those associations were suppressed for nearly 80 years and are once again being subjugated by the state.

    2. Partial-birth abortions are never medically required. The AMA admitted so in Stenberg v. Carhart. There’s never a medically justifiable reason for performing them, and no medical literature supports your claim. Any medical condition where the mother’s life was in danger would not involve delivering the child intact, which is what a partial-birth abortion involves. Your argument is, as usual, completely groundless.

    3. Given the weakness of the Democratic field, any of the top GOP contenders could win. Thompson has a very distinguished career as an attorney and a politician. Putting him against a lightweight like Barack Obama or John Edwards would be like putting a poodle in front of a Rottweiler.

    4. It has made no difference in traffic whatsoever. Less than 1% of readers ever commented, and a large percentage read the site through RSS and never even see the comments. If there is a difference in traffic, it’s not a large one. Quite frankly, on my list of priorities, worrying about the number of hits to my blog is close to the bottom.

    I’ll try and add more open posts to give people a chance to comment, but the reality is that the downsides of open comments were more than the value they added.

  3. Eracus says:

    “..but the reality is that the downsides of open comments were more than the value they added.”

    Given the level of hysterical idiocy expressed above, no one would ever dispute you.

  4. Mark says:

    “The difference is that those people are usually punished. In government, those people are usually re-elected.”

    You’re sort of right in that crooked people in government get re-elected….at least up until the point where their lawlessness becomes so egregious that juries frog-march them out of Washington in handcuffs. Either way though….crooked elected officials ranging from James Traficant to Bob Ney always seem to get theirs in the end. Ney and Cunningham could very well be getting shanked by James Baker, Oral Roberts, and the former United Way executive director even as we speak.

    “Partial-birth abortions are never medically required.”

    Every partial-birth abortions is medically required for the health of the mother. Traditional abortion procedures are usually illegal past the first trimester. While I’m far from being a NARAL apologist on the abortion issue, this “partial-birth ban” is nothing but a grossout publicity stunt used as a stepping stone to achieve a widespread prohibition long-term. At least for me, supporters of this ban strengthen the argument for abortion rights since they are elevating the rights of an unborn fetus above and beyond the rights of a pregnant woman. Do you view a pregnant woman as a human being or as a container tantamount to Tupperware? If you oppose allowing a doctor to perform a partial-birth abortion for the health of the mother, you clearly take the latter view.

    “Given the weakness of the Democratic field, any of the top GOP contenders could win.”

    Comical logic considering how Republican voters are in a state of gut-wrenching agony over the abysmal choices they’re presented with….so much so that a double-digit percentage of them are instantly jumping on the bandwagon of an obscure former Tennessee Senator who they may have seen on “Law and Order” in previous seasons when people actually watched that show. Keep in mind the last guy you told us couldn’t lose just one short year ago…..Mark “Mr. 37%” Kennedy.

    “Putting him against a lightweight like Barack Obama or John Edwards would be like putting a poodle in front of a Rottweiler.”

    Perhaps for those stuck in the past election cycles where conservatism was a selling point. There is little to indicate that 2008 is shaping up to be one of those. I won’t discredit Thompson’s alleged gravitas having as little knowledge of him as I do, but if the GOP’s salvation is yet another bald, geriatric white guy whose positions on the issues of the day place him decidedly to the right of a voting public that is moving to the left, then even “lightweights” such as Obama and Edwards is likely to walk all over him. My advice for Thompson is to forget about the Presidency and aggressively pursue his next glossy and glamorous Hollywood gig….particularly with NBC poised to cancel his show next month. Thompson would be perfect as Mr. Wilson in the next “Dennis the Menace” movie, or as Potter in the “It’s a Wonderful Life” remake.

    “It has made no difference in traffic whatsoever.”

    I’ll take your word for it and admit my error. It’s pretty rare that I have to admit error.