Confession 47: "Tea Party" or "Patriot’s Day"?

Today is tax day, a black letter day in our household. As a pastor, my husband gets taxed in all sorts of crazy manners that I can’t even begin to understand. It makes no sense to me how the combined annual income of a high school teacher and United Methodist pastor can result in us owing the state over $1ooo, but there you have it. I suppose there’s a reason I teach English and not math!

Anyway, I was reading on today that there is a controversy brewing between liberals and conservatives over the nature of government spending (shocking!). Apparently, Republicans are staging “tea party” protests to President Obama’s stimulus package throughout the nation today, calling on Americans to vocally oppose the government’s bailout of banks, auto companies, and mortgage companies. This, apparently, has prompted one Democratic CNN analyst to declare today instead “Patriot’s Day”, as this is the “one day a year the government asks us to sacrifice for the greater good.” (Give me a break!) This has all fueled a small debate within my inner being because, unbelievably, I find myself leaning more toward the affinity of “Tea Party” day. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big supporter (as in I bought a campaign button, not supporter as in I donated half a year’s pay to the campaign) of President Obama. I think he has a very strong and noble agenda and think there is a lot of potential to move this country forward. However, I have never been a proponent of the “bailout package”. I think the bailout, or stimulus plan is fiscally irresponsible and only reinforces the negative behavior we as Americans, both corporations and individuals, have been engaged in over the past fifteen plus years. Irresponsible spending has led to this recession, and irresponsible spending is not the way out of it. Why should the government spend money it doesn’t have to bail out companies that have overspent or made bad investments? There is no other area in life where this economic philosophy makes sense. I mean, as much as I would love to pay off my sister’s credit card debt for her, I am not going to cash out my retirement plan to do so. Nor am I going to borrow the money and create more debt for myself to bail her out. (Personal note: My sister would never ask me to pay off her debt for her, it’s just a hypothetical example.) There’s a simple principle to getting out of and avoiding debt: if you don’t have the money for something, don’t spend it!

One of our biggest problems as Americans is that we’ve created a culture of entitlement. If we want something, we think we should be able to get it, regardless of expense. We feel like we’ve earned the right to luxury vehicles and $300,000 “starter” homes after working for five years, not the twenty years our parents put in before saving up for those things. Economically speaking, we’ve made our own bed, and now we have to strip off the sheets and start over.

As for the notion of “Patriots Day” being an opportunity for Americans to sacrifice for the greater good of the country, while a noble sentiment in theory, my personal response would have to be… PUH-LEESE! Again, don’t get me wrong, I understand the importance of paying taxes, but what are they really going to? Corporate execs who have proven numerous times they are completely irresponsible spenders? Auto makers who have refused to be forward thinking in their development of vehicles? Mortgage companies that have manipulated individuals into making poor investments? Paying salaries of congressional members who are more concerned with their stature and wheeling and dealing with lobbyists than listening to their constituents? I realize that theoretically my taxes help pay my salary, but in reality the most I’ve gotten for my tax dollars that I have seen is a year’s worth of Parents as Teachers visits.

I know I am speaking through an overabundance of cynicism, and I do not want to be a cynical person. I think paying taxes is a civic responsibility, but I work hard for that money, and I would like to see it go to worthwhile projects. I want my taxes to go toward establishing health-care for all uninsured children. I want my taxes to go toward enriching technology in public schools. I want my tax dollars to go toward families of fire fighters, police officers, and soldiers lost in the line of duty. I want my tax dollars to go toward bringing art and culture to children who will otherwise have little experience with either. I want my tax dollars to fund research for a cure to cancer. I want my tax dollars to go toward programs that help end poverty and hunger. I want my tax dollars to be better represented. I don’t think that’s too much to ask from a government that was born on the principles of freedom and democracy.

Blessings and Peace,