Analysis: 'Don't Tax Me,Tax The Other Guy'
By Jeff Greenfield/CNN
NEW YORK (April 15) -- With the tax deadline staring us in the face, we thought about taking our cameras out to ask you, the American people, how you feel about paying taxes. And then we thought, "What a stupid idea. Maybe we should also ask how you feel about head lice."
But you know what? It turns out that we Americans are a lot more confused about our thinking than we think.
Most of us imagine the Internal Revenue Service as an ugly, dark building inhabited by souless workers, as illustrated in the movie "Joe Vs. The Volcano." In the least shocking poll result of the century, the IRS is rated lowest of any government agency.
And polls say most of us think the IRS regularlly behaves unethically, and harasses political opponents.
And speaking of politics, we know what happens to politicians who even hint at a tax hike. Presidential candidate Walter Mondale said during his acceptance speech at the 1984 Democratic convention, "Mr. Reagan will raise taxes; and so will I. He won't tell you. I just did."
Admirable candor, Mr. Mondale. You lost 49 states.
Here's how it's supposed to go: In 1988 Republican nominee George Bush said, "Read my lips -- no new taxes."
Yeah, right. That helped you win in '88, Mr. Bush; when you broke that pledge, it was "see-ya-later" in '92.
But here's the weird part. The same politicians who rail against taxes can't wait to rush back home and brag about the new post office or research center they've snagged for their hometown. The House just passed a $217 billion highway bill. Want to guess how we are going to pay for it?
We're sure the rich get away with murder on taxes, but a recent study says they're actually paying more than they used to. There are simply fewer loopholes to drive through these days.
We say we want "entitlements" trimmed, but not Social Security or Medicare. Hey, those are the big entitlements.
And a new poll says we would be much more likely to back a candidate who favors more spending for child care and education than a candidate who calls for lower taxes.
My own, completely unscientific conclusion is this: we Americans want the government to spend a lot of tax money on things we care about, and we want it to spend the other guy's money.
The late Senator Russell Long had our philosophy nailed: "Don't tax me; don't tax thee; tax that fellow behind the tree."