“My name is Dave, and I’m a Tax-and-Spend Liberal.” (“Hi Dave.” “Hi Dave.”)
That’s how it feels every time I admit to being one of those people who thinks we should raise taxes and spend the money to make this a better country. It feels like I’m confessing to a dangerous addiction and need to start on a 12-step recovery program.
The fact is, I’m a Tax-and-Spend Liberal and proud of it. Taxes are the dues we pay to be part of a country that makes it possible for us to live in relative safety and comfort. The more someone has benefited from what this country offers, the more that citizen is obligated to contribute to the public good. Generous government spending on worthwhile programs, combined with good old private enterprise, makes this country work.
Tax-and-spenders like me have been demonized and marginalized since the Reagan years. The Republican mantra has been, government doesn’t work, so the less we have of it, the better. (And when Republicans are in power, they certainly do everything they can to prove government doesn’t work. Hurricane Katrina, anyone? )
It’s pretty easy to sell smaller government if you tell people they’ll pay less taxes. Everybody hates paying taxes, including me. It’s like the moment after I’ve eaten a meal at a fine restaurant and the waiter brings the bill. I’m certainly not happy about it. But I pay the tab because I’m a grownup who understands there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
Same thing with taxes.
To pay the government’s bills, we need more tax revenues, and one place to generate them is by raising taxes on those who can most afford it. No, this isn’t class warfare. It’s common sense, especially at a time when the income gap between the rich and the middle class has soared to Third World levels, thanks to the global economy and Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy. Millionaires and billionaires are doing better than ever. They need to foot their share of the bills.
Obama’s plan to restore the highest tax bracket to the level of the Clinton years is a good start. It would cost someone making a million dollars a year about $50,000. That sounds like a whole lot to me, but then again, I don’t make that kind of money. If I did, taking away $50,000 would still leave me $950,000, plenty enough for me to keep a roof over my head and bread on the table, and still have a little left over for a cup of Starbucks every morning. I’d probably have enough left over to install a Starbucks kiosk in my breakfast nook if I wanted one, complete with my own personal barista.
Conservatives say taxes on the rich are already too high. They like to remind us that President Kennedy wanted to lower taxes. They’re right about Kennedy. In 1963, he said the top income tax rate was too high. It was 91 percent at the time. He wanted to cut it to 65 percent.
Compare that to today. Bush’s highest tax bracket is 35 percent. Obama would raise it to about 40 percent. That’s still 25 percent lower than JFK’s recommended tax level – not exactly the dangerous “spread the wealth” socialism McCain and Palin warned us about.
How should we spend the money we get from increased taxes? There’s always the deficit to pay down. And an education system to improve. And guaranteed health care. And infrastructure repair. And a strengthened energy grid. And new, alternative energy sources. All of which will create jobs that we sorely need as unemployment rises.
It’s time to toss the conservative “government doesn’t work” mantra into the dustbin of history. Especially in these dire economic times, we need a government that does work, a government bold enough to embark on generous, targeted spending and willing to raise taxes on those who can afford it.
David Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.