Of Debt and Taxes

I haven’t written about the congressional impasse (polite word for food fight) over the debt ceiling, because really, what could I say that hasn’t been said many times by many people? But being here in Split, surrounded by evidence that human efforts at civilization have persisted over thousands of years, I’ve grudgingly recognized that our species has persisted through many periods of collective craziness, many characterized by even more self-destructive psychosis than now.

In other words, humans will survive the current capture of Congress by unreflective fanatics who believe God has instructed them not to raise the debt ceiling. (To be honest, I’m less sanguine about our ability to survive the climate-change deniers….previous generations haven’t had the means to destroy the Earth.)

But even though my brain–such as it is–tells me we’ll get through this crazy time, I have a lot of trouble understanding the emergence of the Tea Party. Not their existence; we’ve always had strains of malcontents–anti-social or anti-intellectual or white supremacist or other odd movements–but their ability to make resentment of taxes a rallying cry and a focus for so many people’s anger. And not anger at a particular tax or tax policy, but at the very idea of taxes. They have somehow convinced otherwise reasonable citizens that taxes levied for the general welfare are somehow illegitimate.

During this trip, the things we’ve most enjoyed are the products of just such taxes–great public transportation, preservation of historically significant sites, museums…Do these troglodytes think such services are supported by magic? Let alone police and fire protection, garbage collection, etc.? Are they really willing to forego the very things that make us civilized–trade with other cultures, which depends upon confidence that we will pay our bills, the myriad services that make our common lives easier and more pleasant, any sense of common purpose–for gated communities and personal gun collections?

Everywhere we’ve been, we’ve met lovely people who are not remotely anti-American but who are mystified and worried by what is happening to our political system.

Me too.

We have another day and a half in Split, then two days in Rome before we head home. I wonder what we’ll find when we get there.


  1. One of the things you will find, Sheila, is that the left has developed a demand that the President exercise his “14th Amendment powers” to by-pass Congress and raise the debt ceiling on his own. Several left-wing groups are claiming that because Section 4 of the 14th Amendment purports to prevent the U.S. debt from being questioned, this somehow means the President is authorized to increase the debt ceiling without Congressional approval. Unless I’m missing something, this seems to be a completely bogus argument. Section 4 does say that the debt shall not be questioned, but it is the debt, authorized by law, that shall not be questioned. I interpret this to mean that it is the debt authorized by Congress, since Congress makes the laws. Therefore, any debt not authorized by Congress can be questioned. Further, Section 5 grants Congress the power to make laws to enforce the provisions of the Amendment, which is even greater evidence that the framers of the Amendment intended that Congress play a vital role in ensuring the provisions of the Amendment are enforced. I can find no federal court authority that says the President has any powers to act without Congressional approval, and indeed, the vast body of federal case law suggests that the President would be on very weak ground if he were to act without the consent of Congress. Am I missing something here? Or is this just the left wing doing what the right wing does, namely, making s*** up to rally their base?

  2. I agree with you that this is a real stretch. I assume it was raised more as a bluff in the game of ‘chicken’ we’ve just witnessed than as a credible threat.

  3. Well, it could be a bluff, but Rep. Raul Grijalva (sp?) has issued a statement today, as head of the progressives (who are really, really unhappy about this deal), that suggests that the President should have used his 14th Amendment powers. I suspect that it was originally designed as a bluff, but when people like President Clinton jumped on the bandwagon, it gave the bluff some unwarranted credibility, so now there are a bunch of people out there who claim some constitutional power for the President that doesn’t exist. When I tried to argue this point to the distributor for Left Action, which seems to have originated this claim, I was told that I was wrong, and that they would take their chances with the court. I wish them the best of luck as they go off tilting at windmills!

  4. Ms. Kennedy, like many liberals you have mis-characterized the Tea Party. They aren’t opposed to taxes, they are opposed to government spending in excess of the tax revenue. Have you bothered to look at the National Debt? What boggles my mind is that so many liberals just don’t see a problem with deficit spending. It’s not the government’s money, it belongs to the taxpayer. Congress and the President spend from the public treasury as if it belongs to them. There are a whole host of things that the federal government shouldn’t be spending our money on, but that’s for another discussion. Let’s keep spending money at the rate Obama wants, and we’ll see where our nation is in the next 4 years. You may want to stay over in Europe.

  5. Ms. Kennedy:

    In perspective, while I usually disagree with your stances, I’ve had more than one instance to agree with you, such as in a letter published in the paper on our joint perception of corruption in a current mayoral administration.
    If you have Tea Party first-hand experience to contridict mine, I must defer to your experience. Otherwise, from attending maybe eight rallies over perhaps eighteen months, these potential unreflective fanatics, malcontents, and troglodytes seem to embrace what appears to be outrageous notions to some: limited government and spending. The Tea Party appears to be an opportune social means to voice concurrence on these issues, with more than one poll (Rasmussen comes to mind), pointing out that most of America has similar concerns.
    I don’t recall meeting anyone at any political gathering in my life that believed we are to function as a society without taxation. That covers a gamut from protesting against Nixon to excessive government spending (participation in the latter starting with Bush Jr’s administration).
    There’s understandably incredible angst in the where and how of increased cuts or revenue. However, I would suggest the would-be “terrorism” accusation from much of the media and our Vice-President, amounts to their refusal to be bought and paid for.
    A concern in which I though we shared common ground, at least when applied locally.

  6. “their” in the third line from the bottom is meant to refer to Republican freshmen.

    My apologies. Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

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