I tend to be an upbeat person, an optimist, although that wasn't always the case. I don't know what changed but there was a time when I went through serious bouts of depression - deep clinical depressions. But something changed and no matter how bad things got, no matter how difficult a situation, I could only see the bright side. I'm just lucky I guess because I would never want to feel the sense of despair I felt all those years ago.
There are times however when I wonder if I'm just delusional. I mean sometimes I look at the world and I wonder what is there to be so happy about. People are rude, they don't take responsibility for their actions, they want things without working to get them. It seems sometimes that some people, or even most people, only care about themselves. Nowhere is this more evident to me than when the topic of discussion turns to politics and the role of government in our lives.
It seems there are those who don't want to pay any taxes but they also don't want any cuts in their beloved government program or entitlement. People know it's "their money" but they ignore or forget that it's also their "society" and, in order to maintain a certain quality of life, it takes resources.
I like to begin an argument with both sides establishing some kind of limits. I'm reminded of the joke about the prostitute and the "decent" woman. The decent woman says she'd never prostitute herself and so the man asks "would you sleep with me for $100?"
"No," answers woman, insulted at the suggestion.
"Well would you sleep with me for $1,000,000?"
"Well for a million bucks sure."
"Well then you would prostitute yourself, now we just have to determine your price."
In the case of government and taxes what is your goal, really? Do you seriously think that the money you earn is your own and that there is no price on freedom? Imagine if there were no taxes what so ever, if government didn't exist. No one can possibly advocate the repeal of all taxes can they? No one is suggesting that we shrink the size of government down to nothing are they? Well if you accept that there is a role for government and that taxes, in some form, are necessary then you have to ask yourself what is your limit? We know you'll accept some sort of tax but how much and for what?
On the other hand there are the people who conservatives have labeled "liberals" as if that word alone is enough to condemn you to irrelevance. Liberals, some believe, support communism or socialism and believe that no one should be any richer than the next person. Well that's just as extreme as those who feel there should be no taxes what so ever.
I'm a very liberal person but I think taxes should be as low as possible. I'm all for tax cuts - the lower the better. But I'm also realistic and I know that if I want the fire department to save my life and keep my house from burning down then there is a price to be paid for that. If I want the police to come when I call or to arrest the person who just robbed my house then there is a price to be paid. If I want a strong military to protect my country from invaders, terrorists and yes to insure the safety of the free world, then I have to be willing to pay my fair share. But that doesn't mean that, as some conservatives will characterize some liberals, "I've never met a tax I don't like."
I know there are some people out there who say that they don't have any argument with the government providing protections as I listed above. No, their problem is with the government rewarding lazy people who don't want to work or drug addicts or welfare cheats. They would rather see programs such as welfare and drug treatment eliminated than any part of their money go to these dregs of society.
I would agree too if these problems were their fault. These people ignore the fact that we're just human, that people make mistakes and that some people are simply born with a disadvantage that is difficult to overcome.
It's easy for someone who has never been in a truly difficult situation to expect everyone to fend for themselves but thankfully there is still some compassion left in this world. I speak from experience although the experience was not directly mine. My mother was forced to turn to welfare in the early 1970s when her marriage disolved and she was left to raise four children ranging from a newborn (yours truly) to an 11 year old.
From my mother's account of the situation seeking help was a necessary evil that she had to endure but that left her feeling ashamed. She didn't want to be in that situation and didn't want to be a burden. She would have been much happier with a good job paying taxes so that someone else who needed the help could get it. If you think that most people who are on public assistance don't feel that way then I'm afraid you're too wrapped up in your own feeling of superiority to be of any use to a real solution to any problems facing this nation.
There was a problem however with welfare at the time and it was a problem that forced my mother to cheat in order to dig herself out of the hole she was in and (this is important) get off of welfare sooner rather than later. She was only receiving $300 a month (I'm not positive on the figures but the underlying truth remains the same) and when she did get a job and began earning $100 a month, her "benefit" was reduced by the same $100. With a system like that there was no way she was going to be able to save in order to make a better life.
Her only option was to lie, which she did, and get paid off the books. She saved (which was hard to do on such a small amount of money) and once she felt she had enough money saved and was able to work more, she stopped the welfare and became a contributor to the system rather than a drain on it.
This is an example that is meant to demonstrate that the system can work, that people can improve their lives and that they want to. The problem is that you either have people who say the government has no role in helping people make a better life, or they just want to throw more money at the problem. Two extremes with no middle ground.
This shows me that the country is extemely polarized. Just look at the reaction to President Bush. It seems most people either totally agree or completely disagree with everything the man says and does, but even I can find some truth in his statements (in spite of being in the completely disagree camp).
As I write this the budget has been presented to congress and the news is full of reports about how our tax money will be spent. Not to dissapoint those of you who subscribe to the stereotypes above, democrats are screaming about the deep cuts in programs for the environment and the poor and republicans are trying to make the tax cuts permanent. But the thing I think most people have missed is something President Bush said that makes a lot of sense. I'm paraphrasing because it would be just too much trouble to look it up but he said that if a program is not working then we need to stop funding it and try again. What's wrong with that?
In my opinion people have to stop identifying politicians with a party and start holding them accountable to their ideas. There is nothing wrong with the idea of keeping taxes as low as possible just like there is nothing wrong with the idea of helping those less fortunate than ourselves. But the programs and the success of those programs must be held to a certain standard and if it falls short it should either be fixed or eliminated.
My father says I love taxes. That if I don't mind paying them why don't I just write a check and give more of my money to the government. But he misses my point. I don't love the taxes, I love that I live in a country where each citizen has a vested interest in the success of their fellow citizens and that we have a system, taxes, to pay for essential services and to help those less fortunate. I pay willingly because I love the freedom it ensures and the protections it provides should I ever need them.
I see too much name calling for there ever to be a hope in hell of a real debate with facts and issues. So I might be a generally happy person but I don't hold out much hope that we will become less polarized than we currently are.