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Barbara's Column
May 2001 #2

Mother's heritage

by Barbara Anderson


The Salem Evening News
Monday, May 14, 2001

Thank you, Mother, for not blaming the tobacco companies for the fact that you spent spending Mother's Day attached to an oxygen machine.

Thank you for teaching me to take responsibility for my own actions instead of looking for someone else to blame for my mistakes.

And thanks for teaching me to express myself when I am outraged. You always spoke out when someone tried to take advantage of you, me, or my easy-going father.

Later, as a senior citizen, you told me how you feel about Medicare. Roughly translated: "Your father and I paid our taxes, including property taxes for public education while we paid for your twelve years of Catholic school. We supported our church, did volunteer work in the community, and paid our bills, including supplemental health insurance premiums. In all the working years, we didn't use 'entitlement' programs. Now I want some back."

My dad didn't get much back. He died a few years after retiring, and if she hadn't stopped smoking a few years later, mother wouldn't have gotten much back either. Smokers often die before retirement, and don't even get payback for the extra money they've paid in tobacco taxes.

Dad didn't smoke but he paid extra taxes for the pleasure he received from his daily glass of beer. My parents ran a mom-and-pop hardware store for awhile, so they also paid the employer share of social security taxes. Dad spent many extra hours at his unpaid second job as collector of sales taxes for the government.

The very liberal Marjorie Clapprood and I often talked about our mothers when I was a weekly guest on her radio show. It started with our trying to decide what their two favorite televisions shows -- "Touched by an Angel" and "Walker, Texas Ranger" - had in common. (My opinion: Justice prevails; because in "Angel," good people get rewarded, while in "Walker," bad guys get drop-kicked.) Then we stumbled into the beginning of an understanding of our own different political philosophies.

We found we could calmly debate our differences on most issues, but began to get angry when the subjects reflected our own childhood experiences and backgrounds.

Marjorie reacts emotionally on issues that reflect the short time her family spent on welfare and in the projects. I react emotionally whenever I feel that middle-class families and small businesspeople are being hustled or hassled.

This week's outrage, at the state level, comes from some legislators' suggestion to have higher auto insurance premiums on SUV's because, although they are safer for the driver and his family, they can cause more damage to the less-safe car they hit.

My dad drove a Jeep Wagoneer long before they were trendy.  He wanted his family to be safe and he needed to haul things. Now my partner Chip has a Ford Explorer for the same reasons. The government gets more sales tax and gas taxes from the SUV. So leave us alone.

At the local level, Marblehead Town Meeting passed Prop 2 overrides to preserve the "heritage" of our historic town. I no longer attend, having finally figured out that my expressed outrage just makes people with too much money more determined to spend mine on their cherished projects.

My mother's genes would have insisted I stand up and remind everyone that Marblehead's heritage is tax resistance and liberty. If the fishermen who founded the town caught someone taking their hard-earned wages for quaintness, they'd use his body parts for bait. Their motto was: leave me alone.

Returning to state government: Senate President Tom Birmingham, who can't kick his addiction to new taxes, wants higher taxes on cigarettes to pay for health care. Tom: you want health care, use the $8 billion tobacco settlement. By the time it runs out in a quarter-century, health will be simply a matter of cloning in new body parts. But if fed-up Massachusetts smokers quit cold-turkey like my elderly mother did, you will soon be trying to raise my income tax to make up for the lost revenues. Leave me alone.

It's not as if my mother said "leave me alone" when I wanted something. But her life-long resistance to being taken advantage of taught me to say it to the government, a lot. Thanks, mom, for guiding me toward my lifelong career. And thanks for teaching me, when all was said and done, to laugh at the sometimes-absurdity of it all.


Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem Evening News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.


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