Back when I used to listen to Rush Limbaugh there was one thing in particular he used to say that I agreed with. Over and over he said that liberals defined themselves largely by the worthiness of their objectives and the sincerity of their motives. The actual results of their policies didnâ€™t matter at all. Thus liberals support the minimum wage because they care about the well being of workers at the bottom of the wage scale. That many of these workers lose their jobs or fail to find jobs because the minimum wage priced them out of the labor market was a matter of no concern to liberals. All that mattered is that they cared.
One of the reasons I became a conservative way back when is because conservatives lived in a world where oneâ€™s actions are defined by their consequences, not oneâ€™s motives. Conservatives also prided themselves on being reality-based and fact-based in their analyses, while liberals often seemed to live in a dream world disconnected from history, institutions and ideology, among other things.
Today, however, conservatives have largely adopted the liberal operating assumption and now also define themselves by the righteousness of their motives. This fact became very obvious to me this week when I examined the knowledge that tea party demonstrators on Capitol Hill had on the subject of taxation. As I recount in my column below, most of those in the crowd grossly overestimated the level and burden of federal taxes, thinking that they are many times higher than they actually are.
Bruce Bartlett (one of the founders of ) supply-side economics on the Tea-Partiers answers to a survey prepared by David Frum (economic speechwriter for Bush II).
Tuesday’s tea party crowd, however, thought that federal taxes were almost three times higher than they actually are. The average response was 42% of GDP and the median was 40%. The highest figure recorded in all of American history was half those figures: 20.9% at the peak of World War II in 1944.
According to the JCT, last year’s $787 billionÂ stimulus bill, enacted with no Republican support, reduced federal taxes by almost $100 billion in 2009 and another $222 billion this year. The Tax Policy Center, a private research group,Â estimates that close to 90% of all taxpayers got a tax cut last year and almost 100% of those in the $50,000 income range. [snip] No taxpayer anywhere in the country had his or her taxes increased as a consequence of Obama’s policies.
Perhaps these people haven’t calculated their tax returns for 2009 yet and simply don’t know what they owe. Or perhaps they just assume that because a Democrat is president that taxes must have gone up, because that’s what Republicans say that Democrats always do. In fact, there hasn’t been a federal tax increase of any significance in this country since 1993.
Whatever the future of the tea party movement in American politics, it’s a bad idea for so many participants to operate on the basis of false notions about the burden of federal taxation. It only takes a little bit of time to look at one’s tax return to see what one is actually paying the Treasury, calculate the percentage of one’s income that goes to taxes, and compare it to what was paid last year and the year before. People may then discover that their anger is misplaced and channel it into areas where it is more likely to bring about positive change.