July 15, 2011

FDR - that small and well-upholstered minority who didn't want to pay for a civilized society.

In keeping with our current preoccupation with taxes, the deficit and spending, I thought I would run an address President Franklin Roosevelt gave while campaigning for re-election in 1936.

Seems the subject of taxes has been with us for a very-very long time. And it also seems the ones doing the most complaining haven't changed very much in the past 200 or so years.

Comforting, I suppose. But you'd think by now it would get a little tired.

In 1936 though, FDR had a few choice words nestled in what has become a timeless address.

President Roosevelt: “In 1776 the fight was for Democracy in Taxation. In 1936 there is still the fight. Mister Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said ‘taxes are the prices we pay for civilized society’. One sure way to determine the social conscience of a government is to examine the way taxes are collected and how they are spent. And one sure way to determine the social conscience of an individual is to get his tax reaction. Taxes, after all are the dues we pay for the privilege of membership in an organized society. And as society becomes more civilized government, national and state and local, is called on to assume more obligations to its citizens. The privileges of membership in a civilized society are vastly increased in modern times. But I am afraid we still have many who still do not recognize their advantages and want to avoid paying their dues.”

Tax breaks for the wealthy were a concept well in place by the time Hoover was President.

FDR: “To divide fairly among the people the obligation to pay for these benefits has been a major part of our struggle to maintain Democracy in America. Ever since 1776, that struggle has been between two forces; on the one hand there has been a vast majority of citizens who believe the benefits of democracy should be extended and who are willing to pay their fair share to extend them. And on the other hand, there has been a small but powerful group which has fought the extension of these benefits because they did not want to pay a fair share of their cost. That was the lineup in seventeen hundred and seventy-six and it’s the lineup today. And I am confident that once more, in nineteen thirty-six democracy in taxation will win. Here is my principle, and I think it’s yours too; Taxes shall be levied according to ability to pay. That is the only American principle.

So hearing this now and knowing it was from the dim-distant past of 1936, it makes the current situation and posturing that much more absurd. Unfortunately if it were only absurd it would be laughed off. But it has become deadly serious business in the ensuing years.

And I keep reminding myself that Fair is a place in Pomona California where people get together once a year and show cows.

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