The Thinker

Guffawing over a War Tax

It is not often that I agree with Senator Joe Lieberman. Nevertheless, with his bizarre proposal yesterday for a War on Terror Tax, I found myself in a rare moment of agreement. Yet while also nodding in agreement with the intensely odd senator from Connecticut, I was also guffawing over his utter cluelessness.

Of course, his proposal has virtually no chance of becoming law. It would not even get brought up in committee. Right now, the hardest part for his fellow senators when encountering Joe in the hallways is to avoid laughing aloud. It would be charitable to call him just a jokester, but his proposal apparently was delivered while he was completely sober. In doing so, he is demonstrated how completely out of touch he is with political reality.

Raise taxes to fund an unpopular war? It is clear that taxes will not be raised on Bush’s watch, no matter how much debt we have to incur. While a Democratic Congress might be inclined to raise taxes on the rich to fund programs for the poor and middle class, it has zero appetite for a special tax to pay for Bush’s War on Terror.

This is too bad because, looked at from a non-political perspective, there are virtues to his proposal. Democrats keep trying in vain to find a means to get our troops out of Iraq. In the Senate, even holding a formal debate a non-binding bipartisan resolution expressing concerns about Bush’s planned “surge” of troops in Iraq became politically impossible. A war tax though, if it could be signed into law, would definitely end our involvement in Iraq for good. However, it would also end the Democratic Party’s control of Congress and send any senator foolish enough to vote for a War Tax into permanent retirement. That is why those senators who understand political reality will not touch it with a ten-foot pole.

What is strange is that it appears that Senator Lieberman actually thinks Americans could be persuaded to support a war tax. Exactly the opposite would happen. It would infuriate the American people. They might ignore it for a while, but they could not ignore it when it came time to file their taxes. Imagine Joe Taxpayer’s reaction when their annual income tax refund suddenly disappeared to pay for a war instead.

Bush may appear to be stupid, but he was at least smart enough to put Karl Rove on this staff. While Rove’s batting average has been off lately, in 2001 he was astute enough to realize that the War on Terror could be used to ensure a Republican grip on power. It could be done by substituting knee-jerk flag waving for genuine sacrifice. The War on Terror became a No Sacrifices War, except for those who felt called to serve their country. Bush hopes that economic growth that will fund the War on Terror.

In reality, it is foreign creditors with piles of cash burning a hole in their pockets that are funding this war. After all, you cannot make any interest stuffing all that dough in a mattress. Thank goodness for the U.S. Treasury. Its appetite for debt appears to be insatiable.

It is ironic that cash rich nations like China are funding the War on Terror. In helping us fund a lost cause, China is in effect helping itself. China is our nation’s second biggest creditor. As of last November, it held $346 billion dollars of our debt, more than any other country except Japan. Put another way, every American currently owes $1153 to the People’s Republic of China, and the amount continues to grow. If we need to go to War with China, who will fund it? I think we can rule out the Chinese.

Here is a bulletin for Senator Lieberman: the public is simply not vested in the War on Terror. Yes, we cared about it immediately after 9/11. Moreover, we were still scared a year later, when Bush erroneously told us to invade Iraq because Saddam was “grave and gathering danger” we could no longer ignore. However, the War on Terror is so five years ago. Now we simply give it lip service. We were told to fight the enemy by spending money as if the War on Terror never occurred. So we did. As in the War on Drugs, the War on Terror has been outsourced and abstracted. We have been trained to be complacent and to assume Big Brother had it all under control. Now that we realize Big Brother bungled it beyond redemption we simply want it to go away. Poll after poll indicates that is why the Democrats swept Congress last year.

Add a war tax though, and watch the public go ballistic. This tax would make an abstract War on Terror suddenly a very personal War on My Pocketbook. Since most of us are barely keeping even with inflation, a war tax would have the direct effect of decreasing our standard of living. In other words, it would hurt.

That is when, instead of getting tens of thousands to an antiwar demonstration in DC, protestors would be marching in the millions. The din would be so loud and so insistent that even the most pro-war Congressman would realize on what side their bread is buttered. Burned once, simply getting rid of the war tax would not do. Protestors would insist that Congress get out of Iraq altogether. No war, no war tax. It is that simple. Only Joe Lieberman would cast a dissenting vote.

So Senator Lieberman’s interesting idea, in the final analysis, simply shows how dramatically out of touch he is with the American people. As a fiscal conservative, if we must have a War on Terror then I would much rather pay for it up front than put it on plastic. I remain convinced that terrorism is a serious problem and needs to be addressed more effectively. Nevertheless, like most of the American public, I too have figured out that our war in Iraq is futile and ruinously expensive. We just need to get out.

If it takes a War on Terror tax to do the trick, I will be writing my Congressman.


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