Talking 'bout a revolution

Would you like tea with that tax revolt? It sounds sweet to me.

A lot of Americans like theirs that way too. Tea and tax revolts, I mean. Wednesday saw tax-day "Tea Parties" across the United States protesting the way Barack Obama and his Democratic party are determined to spend other people's money they don't even have, on things they didn't mention in the election, until everyone is rich or busted.

We dropped in on one such festivity on our way back from North Carolina.

They sure do things differently there.

Why, they even still have those gas pump handle doo-hickies you flick over so you can fill your tank without cramping your palm.

Of course their pumps, like ours, shut off once the tank is full so there's no danger of a spill or explosion. So why can't we be trusted with them? No one has ever said. We just can't. And we put up with it.

I don't mean to spit tobacco juice on liberals' shoes here. Well, a bit. As you may have guessed, I love the robustness of American political culture.

Like Virginia licence plates with the official slogan "Fight terrorism." Admittedly, a state official explained, it's just one of 200 slogans Virginians can choose from (and some folks are so dull they had plain licence plates anyway). But what a place, first, where a significant number of people do drive around with that salty motto and second, where they get 200 choices instead of a mandatory "Ontario: Yours to discover."

Another sign of a different culture, and I mean that most sincerely, was the one on the way to a North Carolina aquarium saying "Inmates Working."

There was also a notice in the aquarium "Please do not walk, mosey, saunter, stroll" on or otherwise trample their plants. And trucks with patriotic and religious slogans. And a coastal church advertised with "Your place to seek the Son." These folks wouldn't put up with "Je me souviens." Whereas you get the feeling that if we were in their shoes, we'd hand the place back to George III and apologize.

Speaking of George III, one guy at the Scranton protest we visited had an American flag with a Union Jack (minus the Irish cross) in place of the stars. When I asked he informed me, which I should have known, that it was the first "Grand Union" flag flown by George Washington and by John Paul Jones on the first American flagship, which I did know was the USS Alfred.

I won't claim the rally was huge. But there were about 300 folks, which isn't bad for a shrinking coal town of 74,000. And contrary to liberal stereotypes, these folks knew their stuff, carried politically literate signs and listened with polite attention to the speaker who wanted to repeal the 16th Amendment.

The 16th Amendment expressly authorized the federal government to collect an income tax.

I have mixed feelings about the 16th. It was, intentionally, done to permit dramatic lowering of tariffs, which I favour. On the other hand, tariff revenue could never have funded the growth of government in the 20th century, which I'm against.

Either way, what really impresses me is that Americans debated a national income tax, passed legislation, then held a national vote (well, a nationwide series of state votes) before taking this momentous step. Whereas in Canada we just went gosh, you want my money? Sure. J'acquiesce.

It's easy to say Americans are lucky, with symbols like the Boston Tea Party around which to rally. But here as so often, people largely make their own luck. The 1773 Party was triggered by the British reducing the duty on tea imports to America. But they did it without consulting colonial legislatures and the colonists' rights were not for sale.

Americans have kept themselves lucky by remembering that freedom is not free. And if that puzzles foreigners, the Americans don't care. Incidentally a certain newspaper ran the headline "U.S. navy opts for patience in pirate standoff" one day before the U.S. navy opted for dead pirates, which was actually my preference too.

I also like 70 mph speed limits. Mind you, it's hard to drive that fast with licence plates saying "Je m'excuse." But lest I seem unpatriotic, Canadians inherited the same libertarian British tradition as the 13 colonies, and we too could name warships for Alfred the Great of Wessex if we felt like it.

A British member of the European parliament recently made himself a folk hero by telling his prime minister bluntly "you have run out of our money."

So why not us?

We too could mosey, saunter or stroll on down to the town square and, instead of lifting our pinkies at tea parties, raise our voices and lower our taxes.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson