Robert McCartney’s Love Affair with Government

Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney says he “differ[s] strenuously with the [Tea Party] protesters on about 95 percent of the issues.” Considering that the closest thing to an official center of the Tea Party movement, the Tea Party Patriots network, says that it seeks “public policy consistent with our three core values of Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets,” that’s disappointing to hear. 

McCartney does allow as how

I found that I agreed heartily with the tea partiers on what is perhaps their single biggest concern: that America’s swelling government debt seriously threatens our long-term prosperity.

But

I part ways with the tea party on how to solve the problem. They want only to slash government. I’d be willing to raise taxes as part of the deal.

“Willing”? Actually, raising taxes is sort of an idee fixe for McCartney. After 27 years shaping the local news coverage at the Post as a writer and editor, he became a columnist in June 2009. Since then, he’s written many times about the urgency of raising taxes: Converting Fairfax County into a city only makes sense ”if it’s used to raise taxes to get more money for roads.” (July 5) Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds should just be honest and “Propose to raise taxes to fix the roads. Yes, you read that correctly. Raise taxes” because “The public sector needs to expand.” (August 9) “Deeds is willing to raise taxes for transportation, while McDonnell isn’t, and some kind of tax increase is the only way to do the job.” (September 18) One observer of Gov. Robert McDonnell’s inaugural address (whattaya know, Deeds’s willingness to raise taxes yielded him a whopping 41 percent of the vote)  “predicted that McDonnell would have to raise taxes to pay for transportation despite promises not to do so. ‘There is no other choice,’ Bhandari said.” (January 17)  The region must come up with another $850 million a year in revenue for its costly, poorly run subway system. (January 21)

As I wrote in response to his August 9 column on the need for a larger public sector in Virginia:

Virginia’s state budget doubled between 1996 and 2006, from $17 billion to $34 billion. And the governor’s office estimated last December that the state would spend $37 billion in 2009 and $37.6 billion in 2010. Thanks to the recession, and to the state’s habit of spending during good years as if the party would never end, those numbers may drop slightly. But even with the current shortfalls, the budget’s gone up by $20 billion in the past 14 years, and they can’t find enough to fix the roads? What have they spent that extra $20 billion on?

Unfortunately, it is a constant frustration to McCartney and his Post colleagues that, as economist Gregory Clark bemoaned that same day in a Post guest column, “The United States was founded, essentially, on resistance to taxes, and to this day, an aversion to the grasping hand of the state seems fundamental to the American psyche.”

But their typically American resistance to tax increases isn’t the only thing that bothers McCartney about the Tea Partiers. He also notes, “Some participants had far-out views. I heard proposals to repeal the progressive income tax, abolish the Federal Reserve Board and privatize the U.S. Postal Service.” It seems like McCartney just never met a government agency he didn’t love. But his definition of “far-out” is open to challenge. Massachusetts, arguably the most liberal state in the union, narrowly defeated a proposal to repeal the state income tax in 2002, so maybe that idea is not so far-out once you get beyond the Beltway. And there are Nobel laureates who want to abolish the Fed. As for privatizing the postal service, well, he’s got a point there. If we privatized the postal service, as a few backwater countries like Germany and Japan have done, the next thing you know, people would want to privatize the phone company. And then where would we be?

(P.S.: McCartney also writes, “The tea party has been called an heir of Alabama’s segregationist governor George Wallace. It certainly shares his anti-government worldview, if not his aggressive racism.” This is just a smear. McCartney acknowledges that he didn’t find any racism at the Tea Party he attended. I doubt that most of the Tea Partiers even know who George Wallace was. And I’m not sure McCartney does, either, as Wallace was certainly not “anti-government” in any coherent way. He was a big-spending, “soak the rich” populist, both as governor and as presidential candidate.)