Today I gave our 2010 tax info to our CPA. In a few weeks we'll learn how much we owe the federal and Oregon governments.
My wife and I won't be thrilled with writing out the checks, but deep down we're pleased to do our part to "promote the general welfare" -- one of the six goals our founding fathers set out in the preamble to the United States Constitution.
See, Tea Party types, your interpretation of what it means to be a proud American is historically twisted. Cutting taxes isn't mentioned in the preamble. But promoting the general welfare is.
And how is that done?
By voters electing representatives who will decide how best to spend money raised through taxation. For example, last year our duly elected Congresspeople chose to pass a groundbreaking health care reform law that will bring tens of millions of people into the health insurance system.
That's great. It's the much-needed and democratically-determined law of the land.
My wife and I are happy to have some of our money go to fund implementation of the reforms. We're similarly pleased to know that our taxes are going to help cure the sick, educate children, provide food to the poor, and aid poverty-stricken nations where countless people die needlessly.
Among the crazy things I hear coming out of the mouths of right-wingers these days, one of the craziest is "Citizens can spend their money more wisely than the government can."
Huh? Have these people ever gone to a mall and watched what shoppers buy? Much of the time, crap.
Stuff that will used for a short time, then discarded. Stuff that the buyers don't really need, but get an urge for, so they whip out a credit card. But even if these goods fulfill some individualistic desires, they are very minimally (if at all) "promoting the general welfare."
Almost everybody is selfish, and I certainly include myself in everybody. Left to my own devices, I donate some money to charity and I volunteer to help other people. However, government is needed to do what we self-centered humans aren't willing or able to do on our own: genuinely promote the general welfare.
Groups usually make better social policy decisions than individuals can. That's why dictatorships fail and democracies thrive. That's why corporations have a board of directors rather than a solitary CEO.
When people get together and seriously ponder what's needed to make their community better, a wiser outcome will result than if each person acted on his or her own. Pooling resources to support a shared goal is how our country built the interstate highway system, went to the moon, conquered polio, won several world wars, and accomplished so much else.
By definition, a democracy will promote the general welfare. That is, if legislators and leaders are freely elected by informed voters, the resulting laws/policies should reflect what the citizenry desires. If not, the next election will restore balance to the system.
So there's no such thing as "having our country taken away from us," as so many Tea Party types have been screaming. They simply don't like what democracy has wrought, and how the general welfare is being promoted.
Everyone, from the most radical conservative to the most progressive liberal, should do their best to smile while they're preparing their tax returns and paying their taxes. Yes, I know it's difficult. Last night, when our dining room table was covered with financial papers and my calculator was heating up from overuse, I wasn't dancing with joy.
But as I was driving to our CPA's office this afternoon and listened to a woman who called in to a talk radio show, I felt really good about where our taxes are going.
"I have a serious disease that requires surgery every couple of years to remove growths inside my body," she told the host. "I'd be dead if it weren't for Medicaid." That's just one specific story about what it means to promote the general welfare. There are countless others.
Thanks to taxes. Glorious, wonderful, patriotic taxes.