Our feelings toward the French have always been tentative. We love their wine, we love their food, but we hate their politics. The Iraq War strained relations with France, and recent WikiLeaks revelations of how we regard their president will not further our friendship.
Despite any feelings of animosity, we could learn a lesson from French history. For better or worse, when a numbing combination of excessive taxation, enormous debt, and a financial crisis became too much to bear, the French decided enough was enough, and they got rid of their government. It could be argued that the French went overboard in their display of dissatisfaction, but it is difficult to deny the strength of the message they delivered to their leaders.
Thomas Jefferson understood that a government has to be responsive to, and even fearful of, the people. Since the time of our own revolution, Washington has strayed dangerously off course. Partisanship has trumped civic obligation, and the only integrity displayed by our leaders is their slavish responsiveness to those interests that put them in office, and to their own uninterrupted, taxpayer-financed employment.
Jefferson juxtaposed liberty and tyranny, and would have been appalled at the arrogant, self-serving performances leading up to Saturday’s staged Senate vote on extending the Bush tax rates. Democrats and Republicans should be ashamed, and their leaders censured, for refusing to set aside their differences and do what was best for the country, instead of using the occasion to showcase partisan differences.
Legislators have doubtless never considered applying talk of government waste and abuse to themselves. Nothing remotely valuable has been added to the rhetoric over taxation since Jimmy Carter’s “$50.00 martini lunch” remark, or Ronald Reagan’s reference to taxes as a “daily mugging.” The president shares equal blame for joining a fight in which those with the least say, the voters, will be the inevitable losers. Mr. Obama has repeatedly waved the olive branch of compromise, but this time waited until after Saturday’s vote, instead of doing his job and trying to extract some value from the confrontation.
We already know how this is going to be resolved. The tax rates will be extended for a temporary period, as will unemployment benefits. Both measures have been recommended by economists and the Congressional Budget Office, because giving money to those who need it most ensures that the money will be spent. Given Friday’s report of still-rising unemployment, the recession is far from done with us, and suggestions that we raise taxes on anyone in the midst of an unending financial crisis is irresponsible and foolish.
Success in America used to be a goal, not a justification for contempt and punishment. Lawmakers are so wrapped up in their own circular reasoning that they are reduced to nonsensical babbling, as in this statement about “the wealthiest” from our exiting House Speaker:
And who are they? Well, some of them create wealth, create jobs, and we want to reward success in America. And they do get a tax cut in this bill. Some of them are getting bonuses on Wall Street. Did you see the announcement? Almost $90 billion in bonuses on Wall Street after all that they have put us through. 
The traditional Democratic “wealthy don’t pay taxes” argument is a lie. The current tax rates still penalize success. As of 2007, those with average incomes of $264,700 paid 25% in taxes, while those with average incomes of $18,400 – $64,500 paid 4% – 14%. If the current tax rates expire, the rates on the highest earners will go up another 10% – 14%. 
We have over 15 million unemployed citizens who, one day after discovering that their situation is getting worse, were greeted with the news that instead of doing their jobs lawmakers chose to make accusations to justify their failure and refusal to act. This is unacceptable. Both parties claim to understand the needs of small business, but neither display even the most rudimentary understanding of the types of compromise that small business owners engage in every day just to stay afloat. Legislators comprehend even less of how their constituents have to bargain to secure jobs that pay a fraction of their former incomes, just so they can feed their children and eke out their monthly mortgage payments.
The story is told that Marie Antoinette’s hair turned white the night before she went to her death. Our recourse is the ballot box, and we have to wait two more years before the next opportunity to clear the dreck from Capitol Hill. In the meantime, the only hair that is going to turn white is ours, as we sit back and watch Congress indulge in behavior that the private sector rewards with firing. The French are probably smirking at us as you read this. They certainly have a reason to.
1..Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi: Tax Cut Legislation Gives Middle-Income Families Fairness and the Economic Opportunity to Create Jobs. December 2, 2010. p. 17.
2..Congressional Budget Office. Statement of Douglas W. Elmendorf, Director. Trends in Federal Tax Revenues and Rates. Committee on Finance. United States Senate. December 2, 2010.