Monday, January 31, 2005

Governing by Bumpersticker

Welcome Avenue in New Hope, Minnesota, is one of those post-war (three or four wars ago) suburban streets lined with square shake-sided homes the size of a power couple's master bedroom suite. With a parallel freeway sound wall a few blocks away, Welcome offers shortcuts to nowhere. You might find yourself there on purpose if your friends are still trying to penetrate the $40,000 household income barrier. Or if you are meandering back home on a bicycle, looking for streets clear of snow, but without traffic constantly pushing you onto the icy perimeter.

From afar, the red, white and blue hatchback looked like an art car — a vehicle still mobile but having outlived any further possibility of resale, so the body is surrendered up to some final whimsy. Or in this case, protest. No mere bumpersticker montage could encompass this man's rage, which spilled all over the car.

And why not? Ours is the age of bumpersticker discourse, where foreign policy is reduced to a magnetic ribbon and domestic issues can be reduced to a rolling billboard splashed with fetal matter. Expressing an opinion is so much easier — whether sitting in traffic or whipping along in fast lane — when there's no fear of discussion or contradiction.

Above the rear window, press-on letters four inches high croaked: THE POWER TO TAX INVOLVES THE POWER TO DESTROY. Certainly those on the receiving end of our defense dollars would agree, yet I sensed this was not an anti-war car. I wanted to stop and read more but the car was in the driveway, and where anti-tax sentiment resides, can property rights paranoia and Smith and Wesson be far away?

And if he was willing to chat, where would I begin — respectfully pointing out the tautology? Well, sir, isn't destructive potential the very nature of any power? Or perhaps reframing the issue: The Power to Tax Involves the Covenant to Maintain a Healthy Community. Nope, too many words. Lacks the pizazz of, say, Taxation is a License to Steal. Or Whoever Tries to Take My Money Away Will Have to Pry it From My Cold, Dead Fingers.

You would think the King of England had come back to tax our tea bales.

This was no isolated sentiment expressed on an obscure back street by a lunatic fringe. "Taxation is theft" has become the selfish subtext, if not the overt mantra, of our Republican-led government. It advocates freedom and personal responsibility without ever truly acknowledging that community and our obligations to each other carry an honest price.

Of course, I could be wrong, since I did not stop to read the fine print over the wheel wells. This listening to the other guy is hard word.


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