Thanks to Decades of Conservative Spin, Americans Are Hopelessly Confused About Taxes, Spending and the Deficit
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Give the conservative message machine its due credit. While Americans really like the specific things government does – they want low-cost student loans, having fire-fighters and cops on the beat and a whole slew of other services – the abstract idea of “limited government” is quite appealing.
The right's victory in separating taxes from the services they pay for is apparent when citizens are asked what they'd like to see cut in order to cut that deficit. In January, Gallup released a poll on those specifics. They asked which of nine areas of government services they'd like to see cut. Only cutting foreign aid – which represents about two percent of the federal budget – met with the approval of a majority of those surveyed. Even majorities of Republicans opposed cuts to everything but foreign aid and arts funding.
Taken together, this shows how difficult it is for law-makers to arrive at good public policies. Their constituents wants their cake, they want to eat it, but they don't think they need to pay the tab for it. Politicos offer tax cuts to get themselves elected, but then face outraged constituents when they try to cut services. Small wonder that we've only managed to balance the budget in one brief period during the boom years of the 1990s.
We do face serious issues in this country. We need a serious debate about how best to solve them. But we're having that debate in a democracy populated by citizens who have little or no clue where their tax dollars go. And you can credit the anti-tax crusaders and their habitual mendacity for that sorry state of affairs.
Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America) . Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter .