Speaking of Women's Rights: What’s in that Tea They’re Drinking?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What’s in that Tea They’re Drinking?

This week, as Tea Party activists around the country are rallying at Tax Day protests, a recent poll has revealed some interesting information about who Tea Party supporters are. Confirmed: There's little that is feminist, or progressive, in that tea they're drinking.

It’s no big surprise that they are overwhelmingly white (89%) and male (59%) and tend to identify as Republicans. But there are some other noteworthy findings that underscore a strong “us v. them”-ism that is disturbing.

What’s being reported is that Tea Party members say economic issues are more important to them than social issues. Yet the poll shows Tea Party members more likely to believe gay couples should have NO legal recognition, and that abortion should be either not be available at all, or be further restricted. They think too much has been made of the problems facing blacks, and that white and black people “have about an equal chance of getting ahead.” They also believe immigration is a serious problem, in much larger numbers than the general public. (See the full report here.)

As for the economic issues they claim to find more important? Well, your average Tea Partyist ain’t exactly poor folk: 68% are in the top half income-wise (greater than $50,000 a year). And 56% believe the current Administration’s policies favor the poor.

Yet this “us v. them” attitude really doesn’t make much sense when it comes to tax policy. Taxes are the ultimate manifestation of the social contract; in Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s famous words, “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.’’

This is especially true in our post-agrarian, industrialized economy. Though it seems like a contradiction of their core values, even Tea Party supporters recognize the need for taxes, to some extent: A large majority (62%) of those polled believe that “benefits from government programs such as Social Security and Medicare are worth the costs of those programs for taxpayers.”

In fact, for much of our lives, the benefits we receive from government services far exceed the taxes we pay. In particular, young Americans and older Americans get more in benefits than they pay in taxes. In 2004, net government expenditures on individuals up to age 21 came to $208,552 per person. It would take more than 17 years for the average taxpayer simply to repay what older taxpayers invested in them in their first 21 years – what economist Nancy Folbre has called “tax payback years.” (And according to one source, an estimated 47% of Americans don’t even owe any taxes, either because of credits and deductions or because they don't earn enough to file a tax return.)

In Washington State, to avert a cuts-only budget, the legislature just made some hard decisions to raise revenues through new taxes on soda, beer, cigarettes, and the like. The crazy things those taxes will help pay for? Oh, things like college financial aid, hospice care, and preschool. Community health centers and law enforcement. Yet, on the heels of the new budget, there was our local knee-jerk anti-tax advocate, Tim Eyman, preparing more initiatives to repeal those taxes.

I get the appeal of the “individual responsibility” aspect to the Tea Party mission. And, it should be noted, there are individuals who actively campaign (here and here) to be assessed higher taxes. I’m honestly just unable to understand how others can be SO individual-minded – yes, selfish – that they do not see the societal benefits of what our tax dollars pay for.

As Professor Folbre has said, “Let’s remember that we were all once young and hope eventually to grow old.” Whether we’re now young, old, or in-between, doesn’t it make more sense to acknowledge the benefits we all gain, at whatever stage of life, and whatever our race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. - and move from “us v. them” to “we’re all in it together”? That, to me, is true patriotism.