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No New Taxes isn’t Just for Simpletons

Jon Ralston and I will never agree on the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, but we have agreed to one day debate it in public; hopefully during this legislative session; preferably to raise money for a mutually agreed-upon charity. (No, not Planned Parenthood.) In the meantime, we’ll continue to point/counter-point this issue through our columns, blogs and tweets.

In his Las Vegas Sun column today – headlined “’No new taxes’ has no new meaning” – Jon reverts to an age-old ploy used effectively to deride the philosophical beliefs of conservatives: Calling them stupid.

For example, those of you over 50 will remember what the left did to President Gerald Ford. Chevy Chase made a career out of painting the man as someone who couldn’t walk and chew gum.

And Ronald Reagan was just a dufus Hollywood actor reading his lines, right? Indeed, the left continues the assault on the man’s intelligence to this day; perpetuating the notion that he was already suffering from Alzheimer’s while still in the Oval Office, not well after he left.

And then there was Dan Quayle. That the man once spelled the word “potato” incorrectly was used to pummel the man for every conservative position he ever had or dared articulate.

And of course, the present-day incarnation of the lack-of-intelligence smear campaign against conservatives is the brutal campaign against Sarah Palin.

But this denigration of the intelligence of conservatives isn’t restricted to national figures. Recall how “dumb” Gov. Jim Gibbons was portrayed by local media here in Nevada.

And then there’s this week’s ranting and bloviating from television station owner Jim Rogers against conservative state Sen. Barbara Cegavske (a Tax Pledge signer). In a pair of Twitter tweets reported in a story today by David Schwartz of the Las Vegas Sun, Rogers attacked Sen. Cegavske’s intelligence thusly:

• “Have you ever tried to talk to Sen. Barbara Cegavske about anything substantive? After ‘hello’ she has nothing to offer.”

• “If you can get any Republican Nevada State Senator to go on record to say Cegavske is brilliant – I’ll give your favorite charity $10K”

Allow me to go on record to say Jim Rogers is an intelligent blowhard.

Anyway, considering the precedents, it wasn’t necessarily surprising to see Jon – a man who’s intellect and political acumen I respect greatly, even though we disagree philosophically from time to time – resort to such a tactic in referring in his column today to conservative freshman state Sen. Mike Roberson (R-Las Vegas) – a man, by the way, who is smart enough to have attained degrees from the University of Kansas in both law and political science – as a “simpleton” for signing the Pledge.

And he holds freshman conservative state Sen. Elizabeth Halseth (R-Las Vegas), another Pledge signer, in even lower regard – despite the fact the 28-year-old was able to defeat a longtime moderate Republican incumbent in last year’s GOP primary, and went on to defeat a well-regarded and well-funded Democrat challenger in the general election in a Democrat-majority district.

On the other hand, in the same column today Jon describes former Sen. Bill Raggio – a non-Pledge signer who verbally “guaranteed” he wouldn’t support raising taxes on the campaign trail in 2008, only to turn around and help engineer a billion dollars worth of higher taxes in 2009 – as “thoughtful.”

Apparently, you are only intelligent, reasonable and thoughtful if you don’t keep your campaign promises and believe the government is too small and taxes are too low.

But it’s not enough to simply denigrate and ridicule those who sign the Pledge; the Pledge itself is regularly derided with equal vim and verve as well. For example, in a tweet yesterday, Jon wrote: “ ‘No new taxes isn’t just a simplistic slogan,’ says @chuckmuth. But it is.”

As opposed to, I would guess, “education is underfunded” and “broaden Nevada’s tax base.”

With all due respect, I suggest that what really bothers folks about the 25-year-old Taxpayer Protection Pledge isn’t that it’s “simplistic,” but that it’s sometimes been brutally effective as a political campaign tool against liberals, as well as a check against the kind of rampant government expansion and growth Nevada saw in the years leading up to our current economic calamity.

The simple fact is if you don’t take tax hikes off the table in budget negotiations, tax hikes will ALWAYS be the preferred option-of-first-resort by spines-of-jello legislators. Comparatively speaking, tax hikes will ALWAYS be more palatable than cutting ANY government program or service which will ALWAYS have a gaggle of highly vocal defenders no matter how useless the government program or service truly is.

This is the reason Ronald Reagan (the dunce, remember) said that “A government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.” And why Texas GOP Rep. Ron Paul (another Tax Pledge signer) declares that “Once created, federal programs are nearly impossible to eliminate.”

The ONLY way to force legislators to shrink government is to starve them of the funding for the programs they NEVER will cut otherwise. Eliminating the option of increasing funding forces legislators to set spending priorities – health care for the elderly vs. subsidies for artists – as well as determine what government programs are truly “essential” and which ones are merely somebody’s pet project or sacred cow.

All that being said, let me give Jon Ralston credit for regularly pillorying candidates on both the left and the right for not taking solid positions during their campaigns and standing for, basically, nothing. I agree.

Indeed, although I completely disagree with her “tax businesses ‘til they bleed” position, God bless Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce (D-Las Vegas) for not only using the “T-word” in her campaign, but openly and unapologetically telling the voters of her district that if elected she absolutely, positively would be seeking to raise taxes. It is inarguable that the voters of her district knew full well her position on raising taxes and voted for her anyway.

And while I certainly will question Assemblywoman Pierce’s simplistic “business isn’t paying its fair share” position, I don’t question her intelligence. I don’t think she’s an imbecile. I don’t think she’s a moron. I don’t think she’s stupid. I don’t think she’s a simpleton. At least I think I don’t think that.

I just think she’s wrong.

Likewise, if a conservative believes that, as Thomas Paine wrote, “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one;”

…or that, as James Madison, father or our Constitution, wrote, “Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government;”

…or that, as George Washington, the father of our country believed, government is “a troublesome servant and a fearful master;”

…or that, as Thomas Jefferson believed, “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others,”

…and as such, declares he or she will not support raising taxes to give the government any more money than the government already has as a means to the philosophical end of strictly limited government, that doesn’t make said conservative a simpleton.

Indeed, it’d be my contention that taking such a principled stand makes him or her a kindred spirit of our Founding Fathers.

Or if you’re not a fan of old, dead white guys, the position of individuals who run on a platform of not raising taxes is philosophically consistent with the brilliant American writer and humorist P.J. O’Rourke, who famously once observed that “Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.”

Jon and others may not agree with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval’s position that Nevada’s budget should be balanced using existing tax revenue, but like Assemblywoman Pierce, one cannot say he didn’t campaign on that position. And it is inarguable that the majority of Nevada’s voters voted for Sandoval for governor fully knowing his position.

Indeed, what Jon is actually saying isn’t so much that politicians such as Gov. Sandoval and Sen. Roberson who take the no-new-taxes position are stupid, but the people who vote for them.

In conclusion, let me note for the record that while Jon and I disagree strongly, both on the Pledge and its embrace by conservatives, he is no less disdainful of Democrat legislative leaders who everyone knows are plotting a tax hike for the end of the session but refuse to either admit it publicly or put their tax-hike proposals face-up on the table.

The difference is Jon doesn’t call them simpletons.

On the other hand, I’m all too happy to call them what they are: disingenuous cowards.

It’s as simplistic as that.