Tax policy is not worth jail time

Here’s a waypoint I think everyone should be able to agree with: We need to be able to debate tax rates in this country without people getting arrested.

Unfortunately, we’re not there at the moment. The over-the-top reaction to the tax reform bill now moving through Congress has shifted our public discourse into the most ridiculous place I’ve ever seen it.

Protesters are purposely getting arrested at the offices of Sen. Susan Collins because they are unhappy with the tax bill.

There are times when civil disobedience may be a good thing. Protesting wars or violations of civil rights, for instance.

But storming offices, having sit-ins, and making gross claims of immorality because of a shift in corporate tax rates is not a rational way to handle disagreements.

Police arrested Rabbi Joshua Chason for criminal trespassing on Dec. 7, after he and a group of other faith leader spent about 10 hours occupying U.S. Sen. Susan Collins office in protest of the Republican plan to overhaul the federal tax code. BDN | Jake Bleiberg

A handful of religious leaders went to Collins’ Portland office recently and demanded she change her vote, or they would not leave. They brought a portable toilet into the office and sang religious hymns. They wouldn’t leave when the office closed, making the conscious decision to get arrested. And when the Portland Police gave them the option of leaving without handcuffs, they proactively asked to be handcuffed.

Let me restate something that should be obvious: Tax policy is not something people should be getting arrested over. It’s an absurd over-reaction.

Liberal activists continue to make moral arguments about this tax bill, and they are entitled to their own sense of morality to back up their competing theories of tax policy. But throwing religion and morality into the middle of something as arcane as tax policy is a sign of irrationality and will do nothing but deteriorate our public process.

It is not a noble thing to get arrested in order to push your faction’s position on tax policy.

It is not a noble thing to call your opponents’ morality into question because you disagree with corporate taxes being lowered.

It’s madness.

Lowering tax rates for job creators may offend fiscal liberals, but it is not any more immoral than raising them. Liberals can say that lowering rates on corporations is a shift of money away from poor people, but I can say that encumbering job creators through an unfair tax system limits the growth of our economy and hurts poor people even more.

I believe, as President John Kennedy believed, that a rising tide lifts all boats. I believe that it is the right thing to do to provide an adequate social safety net for our most vulnerable fellow citizens. And I believe that the best way to fund an adequate social safety net is through a growing economy.

These are my beliefs, but I would not claim those who disagree to be “immoral” because their economic theories hurt poor people.

It’s a difference of opinion. It is not a moral argument.

There are issues we face as a society that are strict moral arguments — abortion, for instance. These issues are so awful because they tear away at the common ground we are all supposed to operate on. There are passionate beliefs on both sides of the abortion debate.

We should be limiting the number of these issues we face, not increasing them.

But that’s exactly what the left is doing right now with tax reform. They are pushing an economic debate into a social debate, and making it nearly impossible to have a productive dialog about it.

Former Clinton Administration Treasury Secretary Larry Summers claims the tax bill will kill 10,000 people. I had someone tell me the other day on Facebook that this tax bill would harm more people than the Civil Rights Act of 1964 helped. These claims are both ridiculous.

And harmful.

People who are not able to understand the intricacies of tax policy are being fed false information to make them actually scared. It is very similar to the outrageous “death panel” rhetoric that came from the right during the Obamacare debate. Dueling, cynical factions feed fear to their bases in order to create an irrationally angry groundswell against whatever policy they oppose.

It’s sick. And if it doesn’t stop, our country is doomed.

We need to be able to debate things like tax policy and health care without regarding people with different opinions as immoral, or as murderers.

Like it or not, nearly every policy debate that occurs in Washington has two legitimate, opposing sides. It’s important to keep that in mind, because the aftermath of a policy debate is arguably more important than the debate itself.

We all have to live with each other regardless of what the corporate tax rate is. That’s going to be pretty hard to do if this life-or-death rhetoric continues to overtake our politics.


Lance Dutson

About Lance Dutson

Lance Dutson, a principal of Red Hill Strategies, is a Republican communications consultant. He has served on the campaign teams of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte, as well as the Maine Republican Party.