22 May 2009

The Tea Parties Weren’t Protesting Higher Spending?!

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Brad DeLong links (with apparent approval) to Andrew Samwick’s criticism of the “Tea Party” protestors. Here’s Samwick:

At moments like this, we go back to Milton Friedman’s adage, “To spend is to tax.” I cannot really come up with a better word than juvenile for the tea parties — don’t protest the taxes unless you can identify the specific cuts in expenditures that you would make to bring the budget into balance. If you think taxes are bad, then you should think deficits are worse, because they raise the taxes of people who were not represented in the decisions to spend the money.

That’s the real lesson from the Revolutionary War period that should be drawn. And the danger for the Libertarians is that if they don’t put the reduction in expenditures ahead of the reduction in taxes on their agenda, they are destined for another abusive relationship down the road.

This is rich. First and foremost, the Tea Party protests were complaining about spending, not taxes. Samwick wants them to identify “the specific cuts in expenditures”? Did he read their signs–the ones that said “End the Bailouts” and “Let Wall Street Fail”? Do Samwick and DeLong not remember the inventor of the idea? It was Rick Santelli, who was protesting not marginal tax rate hikes, but bailouts for people who couldn’t make their mortgage payments!

If my only points were the above, I wouldn’t have even blinked when reading DeLong’s post, quoting Samwick. But what makes this amazing is that I recall quite vividly some very smug reporter interviewing some hickish guy at one of the Tea Parties. The reporter (I think a woman but not sure) said something like, “How can you call this a tax protest when the president is going to cut most people’s taxes?” And the guy was momentarily stumped, but then he said, “It’s the spending! Those taxes will go up to pay for all this!” (BTW I may be botching the letter of these quotes, but this was 100% the spirit of the exchange.) I think I may have seen this clip during Daily Show mocking, or perhaps Rachael Maddow / Keith Olbermann. Those are the only things I ever watch (in brief snippets over the Internet; I don’t have a mind-destroying box in my house). But the tenor was definitely, “Ha ha look at these racist idiots. When faced with the undeniable fact that their taxes are going down, they grasp at the straw of some hypothetical connection between current spending and future taxes.”

And now they are being mocked for the exact opposite reason.

Reader Contest: If anyone can find either (a) the video that I am referring to above or (b) Brad DeLong linking with approval to anyone making the same point, I will send him or her a signed copy of my new book. (I have to get rid of these things somehow.)

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