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Inequality under arms

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Leona Helmsley was famous for saying “Only little people pay taxes,” and though in her later, post-prison, years she denied having said it, nobody believed the denial. The sentiment sounded too much like her mean, tax-evading, grossly wealthy self. Even if she didn't say it, she believed it.

Nobody has yet recorded George Bush saying “Only little people go to fight for their country,” but he and his upper-class advisers believe it. Having avoided military service themselves, they're determined that the sons of their crowd won't go either. Fighting and dying are left to the blacks and poor whites who make up our armed forces in this era of combat without conscription — left, that is, to those who have the least to fight and die for. Bush has openly sought support for the Iraq war by promising middle-class Americans that they won't have to sacrifice anything — not their children, not their gas-swilling vehicles, not their sense of superiority. “Enjoy!” he says. Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners — Bush voters — that they have no reason not to support the war, as long as it's not inconveniencing them in any way.

Real war demands sacrifice, and justice demands that the sacrifice be shared, not made exclusively by those at the bottom of American society. America, of all nations, needs an equal-opportunity army. U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, a veteran himself, has the right idea. “They say rich people can't fight,” Rangel says. “But I say, give ‘em a chance.”

Preeminent

Of the current members of the Arkansas legislature, none is more shameless in advocating for private interests, or in opposing the public good, than Sen. Bob Johnson. If the common people want a senator, he seems to feel, they can go out and buy their own. Fair's fair.

It wasn't long ago that Johnson, a Democrat from Bigelow, was fighting for real-estate development on the banks of Lake Maumelle, development that could have polluted the drinking water of all Central Arkansas. Public outrage thwarted that particular plan, but developers still lust for the lake. Now Johnson opposes an increase in the state severance tax on natural gas, though Arkansas's tax is the lowest in the nation, out-of-staters would pay most of any increase, an increase in the severance tax would make Arkansas's regressive tax system somewhat fairer, and additional revenue is badly needed to improve the state's infrastructure.

“Let the free market work,” Johnson said. If only he were as concerned about letting democracy work. It's democracy, not the “free market” (whatever that is) that American government is built on.

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