and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
March #4

Some are takers, others of us just want to be left alone
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, March 27, 2008

"America will soon make a decision about its future. It will be a permanent decision. There will be no going back."
Grover Norquist

"Some voters buy into disingenuous political speeches because they are politically illiterate, a condition that is growing alarmingly."
Robert E. Kelly

Do you ever, while watching the evening news, observing political campaigns, or interacting with your government while getting through your day, ask yourself: What the heck is going on here?

Do you wonder if somehow, somewhere, it all makes sense, only for some reason you and your private-sector friends just can't figure it out?

Well, look at the bright side: As a newspaper reader you are less lost in incomprehensibility than most people. You at least know WHAT is happening. Your newspaper's editors will try to help you connect that WHAT with some "who" and "why" as much as space permits. And based on some letters to the editor, many readers pretty much "get it" already.

Some, however, are just getting started. Like me, you may long to really understand the entire big picture, enough so as to be a player on your own political scene, instead of just funding it. When I started I had to find my way through the jungle, machete in hand, clearing the brush; I had to wade through the swamp and excavate lost cities filled with snakes and spiders. Oh, had I only known then what I know now!

I've read many books over those 30 years, about federal, state and local government. I could give you a list and you could get started today.

Or, you can read just two books recently published and quickly know everything you really need to know about what, who, and why and what to do about it.

Begin with a scholarly, yet fun, tome by familiar local columnist Robert E. Kelly of Peabody. It's called "The National Debt of the United States, 1941 to 2008."

We have always been told that those who do not understand history are condemned to repeat it. Events today seem so strange that we might wonder if there is any connection to history at all. Kelly will show you that what you see today is the inevitable consequence of yesterday's mistakes.

If, like me, you read the first edition of this book, you can quickly scan George Washington through early Franklin D. Roosevelt to jog your memory of how things were when the national debt, despite World War II, was small. Then start reading carefully with the later Roosevelt years until you get well into the present administration of George W. Bush. Though readers of his column know that Kelly is a conservative, you will find that he holds presidents of both parties accountable for what has gone wrong, lists specifics, and makes connections between cause and effect.

Kelly defines "national debt" as debt held by the public, which doesn't include borrowing between government bodies, so the number will be smaller than you may be accustomed to seeing. The increase from 1941 to the present $42.8 billion to $5345.4 billion is no less alarming, at least to those of us who feel responsibility for the generations that will live with the consequences of our letting this happen.

As our editorial page editor, Nelson Benton, writes in his foreword:" You'll come away from it enlightened, if also a little discouraged about what faces the United States as we embark on a new century."

Enlightenment is good, but discouragement is not, so don't stop reading: move on to "Leave Us Alone getting the government's hands off our money, our guns, our lives" by Grover Norquist. He's president of Americans for Tax Reform and has been a friend of mine since 1978 when he was an activist with College Republicans.

Citizens for Limited Taxation is a proud member of Norquist's "Leave Us Alone Coalition," which answers the question I am often asked about my political activism: "How do you stand it? Why aren't you depressed?"

Norquist takes issues seriously, and makes politics fun. He fills in the intelligence gap found in activists like me who focus on the issues and the fun, but are not naturally inclined toward political demographics.

Norquist's world is divided into the Leave Us Alone Coalition (taxpayers, small businessmen and women, Second Amendment voters, homeschoolers, property rights activists, communities of faith and parental rights, the growing investor class, the police and the military) and the Takings Coalition (government workers, labor unions, the nonprofit sector, universities, trial lawyers, and coercive utopians). Yes, there is some overlap there; many readers may have to find or define themselves.

Those of us who tend to feel that the present requires an inevitable future need to learn how fluid the political paradigm is, how quickly things change within it and how important and powerful our own involvement can be. I think that people who get depressed by it all are either overwhelmed by all they don't know, or think there is nothing they can do. Reading these two books will help them move on to political literacy and the joy of "making a difference" when they vote and make decisions about our country's future.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.