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14.4.03

Fewest Complaints in Four Decades That Taxes Are "Too High"

A new Gallup Poll, conducted about a week before income tax returns are due, finds Americans are less likely to say that the taxes they pay are too high than they have been at any tax filing season in the past four decades. A substantial majority of Americans also say their taxes are "fair." But fair or not, more than 6 in 10 Americans say upper income people pay too little taxes, and the public estimates that more than a third of Americans cheat on their returns ...

The latest Gallup Poll, conducted April 7-9, finds half of all Americans saying their taxes are too high, about the same as in January, but considerably below the 65% who expressed that view two years ago. The current reading and the January reading constitute the lowest measures of discontent about taxes in 41 years.

The jump in positive feelings about taxes since April 2001 could well be part of the more general pro-government shift in public opinion that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as well as the public's "rallying around the flag" in the war against Iraq. Some evidence for this interpretation is that in 1949, in the midst of the Berlin Blockade by the Soviet Union, only 43% of Americans -- the lowest number recorded by Gallup in the past half century -- said their taxes were too high, while 53% said they were about right.


This poll points to the contradictoriness of the coalition that forms the modern American right. I'm increasingly convinced that neoconservatism -- the Rumsfeld-Perle-Wolfowitz ideology that America should project its military might around the world to fix other countries -- is better described as a form of radical nationalism than a form of conservatism. It gets its foot in the door because it appeals to the conservative desire for conformity with a particular moral code (though a more liberal moral code than absolutist [religious] conservatives often profess), and hence a desire for enforcement power. But it's compromised by that alliance, because of conservatism's small government platform. Full-blown radical nationalism, a la Fascism, involves faith in the state and a willingness to grant it power. Neocons have had to argue for a cheap war because they can't ask Americans to make sacrifices to support their American Greatness agenda (can you imagine today's Congress passing a tax hike to pay for war?).

Because of these internal conflicts, it becomes harder to translate political capital from one issue to another. The PR victory of the neocons in Iraq, coupled with the post-9/11 national security fears that helped get the neocons traction in the GOP (remember, the official Republican line as recently as the 2000 campaign was withdrawing troops from overseas commitments and quasi-isolationism) creates pro-government feelings. That's great for boosting further neocon programs, such as the Patriot II act and threats against Syria. But it's not so good for the traditional conservative small-government agenda. The impetus for tax cuts has rested on a dislike for government, a feeling that it's inefficient and oppressive and that money would be better off in the hands of the hardworking little guy. The only way that support would transfer between these two ideologies is partisanship -- when support accrues to the organization (the GOP) rather than the ideology. Partisanship is alive and well in America (as evidenced by the persistence of the one-dimensional left-right axis in political discourse), but it has been on the wane of late. The Republicans have been able to hold on better than the Democrats because of party discipline, but I wouldn't be surprised if continuing neocon ascendancy provoked a split with the small-government/social conservative base.

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