Opinion Columns & Blogs

Society benefits from schools, police and other tax-supported programs

During my University of Washington undergraduate days four decades ago, one of the more popular figures on campus was a professor who taught Introduction to Economics to overflowing lecture halls of attentive students.

Although the late Henry Buechel had his 15 minutes of fame on a day in February 1970, when he enlisted support of some burly male students to evict some anti-war protesters who were trying to shut down his class, it was really a minor blip in his legacy. True, he made headlines nationally and even received an “attaboy” letter from President Richard Nixon. But there was so much more to the man than that.

Having personally experienced the hardships of the Great Depression, Buechel said he would frequently ponder questions such as, “What do they (his students) need to know to be intelligent citizens in a democracy?”

One of the doctrines he preached was that taxes serve the common good by stimulating the economy and putting people to work. He would point out that society benefits from having good schools, decent roads, parks, libraries, universities, police and fire protection, safety nets, etc. Somebody has to pay for it.

Were he still at his lectern today, there might be murmurings in some quarters over UW tenure policies.

I’m not sure how we got to where we are now, but a lot has changed in the political lexicon in the past 40 years. In the early 1970s, for instance, “big government” was a term used exclusively by the right-wing fringe, notably the John Birch Society. Fast forwarding to the present, the mantra “big government” is about as Republican mainstream as you can get.

Basically, the party line is that “big government” is anything that involves taxes, regulations, or President Barack Obama’s initiatives. Curiously, “big government” apparently didn’t apply to the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping, renditions and other excesses.

Whether it’s a sagging economy, record deficits, plummeting housing values, Medicare and Medicaid financing, you name it, the Republican leaders in Congress have one simplistic solution: cut taxes. When your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Nothing is an easier sell to the ill-informed than tax cuts.

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the tax-cut bill signed by President George W. Bush that disproportionately benefitted the wealthy and ultimately resulted in a staggering national debt of $10.6 trillion by the time he left office.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11, of course, added to the debt while Bush was pursuing an unnecessary war in Iraq as well as a questionable one in Afghanistan, while refusing to even consider suspending his tax cuts.

That’s why it is incomprehensible why Republican leaders in the Congress seem so concerned over the deficit only now that President Obama is at the helm.

Setting aside the GOP assault on Medicare, which Southwest Washington’s Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler recently supported, they even balked at emergency funding for the thousands left homeless by tornadoes in Joplin, Mo., unless federal funds were cut elsewhere.

True, the debt has increased on Obama’s watch, but this has been chiefly the result of the stimulus package, which even the Wall Street Journal acknowledged has helped.

If we must cut the budget somewhere, why not start by downsizing and eliminating nuclear weapons bases and stockpiles?

As a footnote to a previous opinion piece, the Pentagon last year awarded $51.9 million to a contractor in Hawaii to build a waterfront security enclave at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor. Undoubtedly, that will make it harder for any religious peace activists to encroach there again.

David Rupel, retired systems consultant for DSHS, is a member of The Olympian’s Board of Contributors. He can be reached at Davidr1949@yahoo.com.