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Some fuel for the dialogue

Last week’s Tax Day events held around the nation lead us to add ideas to the dialogue.

We heard loud condemnations of taxation, comments disparaging government, and calls to “Take back our country.”

First, we submit it is a privilege to pay taxes.

Answer this question: “What do you do for your country?” The question is not “What did you once do for your country,” but “What do you do for your country?” Now.

Unless we are currently in the military or volunteer our services in critical civic capacities, most of us do little for our country but pay our taxes.

Therefore, the first question to ask regarding taxes is not whether we should pay them but, “How is the money used, and for what?” Absent a deep examination of the uses of revenues and proposed benefits, abhorrence of taxation reflects a desire for short-term personal gain rather than a concern for the country and its future. None of us want to pay more taxes but, first, we should ask how our taxes are used, and how well they are used. It is here the first changes must be made.

Then, there is the comment: “I don’t trust government.”

Why would you? A certain distrust of government is essential in a democracy. Further, anyone with any awareness of what has happened with national government over the past 10 years or so would be hard pressed to trust a system that took us from a budget surplus to record deficits, and into at least one war whose justification changed depending on time and need. It coddled a poorly regulated financial environment that crashed and brought us to the brink of a major Depression. It is mired in a partisan morass marked by cynical and unproductive posturing. Government has bailed out industries and banks that (like Chrysler, remember?) deserved to fail and go away.

Anyone in Pagosa Country would be hard pressed to claim complete trust in government, knowing we are a mere two years away from a time when the county hovered on the brink of financial disaster, led there by incompetent administration and elected officials too busy bickering to see what was going on.

Elections are our remedy, but to suggest all incumbents be removed without a hard look at individuals and their abilities, to sweep the scene without reckoning with the actual record (not the apocryphal record or slanted cable news accounts) is to court disaster.

Finally, we hear the call to “Take back our America,” to return to “the America we once knew.”

Again, the call begs examination. What America is that? Is it the America in which persons of color were lynched by mobs? Is it the America in which women did not have the right to vote, in which women were second-class citizens who, when employed, were most often paid laughable wages? Is it the America in which children worked in factories, an America without labor laws in which wage slaves toiled for a pittance? Is it the America in which actual slaves were owned? Is it the America of the Robber Barons?

Or, in reality, is it an America in which a black man could not be elected president, an America in which a white majority ruled? Is it the America that can never exist again? Are we really dealing here with fear of inevitable change, of a loss of perceived control, fear of the “other?” If so, the call is doomed to fail, for the change is produced in a democracy and the “other” is a fellow American. The nation is never going to be as it was in the ’50s, the ’80s, or as it was five years ago. The world is changing and a skewed and sentimental vision will not alter that fact, nor will it contribute to a reasoned dialogue that leads to prosperity and peace.

A tea party is a fine way to spend an afternoon, but unexamined concepts will not do.

Karl Isberg