"Joe, you're rich. Congratulations."
Senator John McCain said that during last night's Presidential debate in mockery of Senator Barack Obama's explanation of his tax plans. McCain was referring to Joe Wurzelbacher—"Joe the Plumber," the new personification of the Joe Six-Pack the McCain campaign has been trying to dress itself as.
Joe himself has admitted his taxes won't go up under Senator Obama's tax plan, and that really he's just playing some slippery slope rhetoric. But I'm more worried about his core rhetoric, the false, antisocial (not merely anti-socialist) message the flailing McCain campaign is trying to dress in Joe's grey t-shirt.
Joe is spewing the last stale Rush Limbaugh lines about redistribution of wealth, socialism, and rugged individualism.
I know what you're saying, Joe. I used to be there. I used to think taxes were punishment and that everything would be fine if we were all responsible for no one but ourselves.
And then I figured out that I live in a community (actually several nested communites), where my life is inextricably entwined with those of my neighbors, the ones I like and the ones I don't.
I figured out that we redistribute wealth all the time. A society has to, by definition. Those of us with wealth hand over a chunk of that wealth to government (an organization we willingly create) to guarantee that everybody gets a certain basic quality of life. We sacrifice for the good of the community. In return, we get the guarantee that even if we end up poor and helpless, our neighbors will redistribute some wealth our way to make sure we still have police and firemen to protect us, schools to educate our kids and grandkids, and even (in the American model) grocery money and health care when we are old.
I figured out that taxes aren't punishment; they're the price of admission to community.
I figured out that, much as I loved the rhetoric of rugged individualism, it doesn't apply in modern America, or any modern society. I can't blog and reach people with my ideas without the Internet, this massive, evolving invention created by the military, academics, and nerds. Joe can't plumb without tools, pipes and glue, and a truck and roads built by others who have knowledge and skills he doesn't. And neither of us would have much time for personal wealth creation if we were totally responsible ourselves for protecting our homes and families from fire and marauders or even for creating our all of our own educational materials for our kids.
Oh yeah, and in the big picture, someone's got to pay for the Army, Medicare, and the mortgage bailout. And if we resist paying higher taxes (and eventually we have to), we commit the worst selfishness of all: indulging our current desires and leaving our children and grandchildren to pick up the tab. That's the real redistribution of wealth, a temporal redistribution from future to present, that we have to stop.
And we won't stop it with self-centered attitudes like Joe's. Sorry to burst your bubble, Joe, but the world is not filled with lazy, greedy people who don't work as hard as you. Your town and your country is simply filled with neighbors, fellow citizens, people every bit as good as you, doing their jobs, trying to get by. Some are richer than you, some poorer; a lot of them are nowhere close to buying their own business, not because of some moral failing, but simply because their job doesn't pay as much as yours.
As Joe says, "You need rich people. I mean, who are you going to work for?" Sure. You also need everybody else. I mean, who's going to work for the rich guys while they count their money?
And we all need to pay our taxes. They're not punishment. They're the fair price we pay for the liberty and prosperity that none of us—not Joe with his monkey wrench or I with my computer—could create on our own.