The other day, an eleven-year-old boy I teach asked me if I thought the next President should raise taxes. He’s a very smart kid with an agile mind, and he’d obviously been troubled by the debates and political ads he’d seen. He sensed that something was wrong, but couldn’t put his finger on what it was.
I offered him two answers. The simpler one was that Presidents don’t have either the authority or the power to tax. Our constitution grants those exclusively to the Congress, and as we’ve all seen during the last decade, a Congress that is determined to thwart a President’s tax policies can do so with impunity, at least until the next election.
But the more important answer was that he was asking the wrong question. In fact, the entire political debate on taxes is essentially fraudulent. I actually said, “Any candidate who pledges to raise or lower taxes is lying and attempting to misdirect the attention of a gullible public.”
Why? Because you can’t govern by arbitrarily setting the level of taxation. The questions of how the tax burden should be distributed and which loopholes should be closed are valid, but the overall amount of revenue needed by the government is the tail of the dog, not the dog. A responsible government first sets its priorities on what it will provide to its citizens. That debate must precede all others.
Only after we’ve clearly defined what each citizen’s birthright consists of and how much we’re willing to spend on our military should we ask what all that will cost. Then, if there’s not enough money for everything on our wish list, we can either re-assess our priorities or determine that we need to raise more revenue to pay for it. It’s really pretty simple, and it’s what we all do as families.
So, please, no more talk of taxes. We should be debating whether the right to basic health care and an education comes with being an American, and how we can most effectively defend ourselves from those who want to kill us. In the process, we might just figure out that it’s time to stop using oil, but only then does it makes sense to address how much we’re willing to contribute to make all that happen.