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Archive for Thursday, August 2, 2001

Tax rebates spur a rebellion

August 2, 2001

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— And so we head once more bloodied but pumped up into the great tax rebellion of 2001: The Tax Rebate Rebellion.

When we first entered the fray some weeks ago, the rebate revolt was simmering on the Internet. We were among those who decided as TV chef Emeril Lagasse would say to kick it up a notch.

We challenged those who opposed the Bush tax cut to put their rebate where their politics were. Those who didn't really need it could donate some or all of the $300 to $600 coming their way to fund their own personal public policy.

Now the check is in the mail, or in the hand, or soon will be. And we are back to report on the response still pouring over our e-mail trenches.

To begin with, we heard from hundreds of readers living in the dot-com, dot-net, and dot-edu subdivisions of Cyberspace. Many called us "socialists" for merely suggesting they donate their dollars. This was a special thrill since no one has called us a socialist since Reagan was in the White House.

One reader at innw.net even rolled back the political rhetoric to the 1960s: "Maybe some of you liberals can use the tax rebate to buy your tickets to leave the country. $300 is about right for a one-way ticket." Remember the slogan: America, Love it or Leave it? This is Tax Rebate: Love it or Leave.

We were also amused by a reader at webtv.net who offered: "Top 10 Ways to Annoy a Liberal with Your Rebate." Number 10: "Buy some DVDs of classic Charlton Heston movies." In the same hostile vein, a Dallas woman with the handle "Capitalist" pledged her bucks to the National Rifle Assn., while a man at aol.com pledged his to "booze and adult videos."

Our favorite, however, was the systems manager from Illinois who asked that we simply send the check to him: "I will spend your refund wisely!" No doubt.

Despite such counterrevolutionaries, the tax rebellion gathered steam, or donors if you prefer. Far more readers accepted the invitation to this reverse Boston tea party.

First we heard those who think global, act local in passing along the rebate (OK dear readers, we hear you. It's actually an advance refund, not a rebate). These rebels are giving to everything from food banks in Kansas and Oregon to a nonprofit utility in Seattle to a local school textbook drive.

The more wonkish types like our correspondent at earthlink.com are contributing to the national debt www.publicdebt.treas.gov/opd/opdgift.htm because, "in the same sense that the surplus is my money, the national debt is also my debt."

We did seem to get the biggest response from those readers who want to send more than a check: They want to send a message. This prompted most to pledge their rebate to groups that were taking the biggest hits from Bush ... and to tell him so. As a typical response from San Luis Obispo, Calif., promised, "I'm going to send it to Planned Parenthood International. Then I'm going to write a thank-you note to President Bush for making it possible for me to make this generous donation."

But some worried that funding their personal public policy would only please those counterrevolutionaries dare we call them reactionaries? who believe that individuals can replace government. The Bushies' goal, I was repeatedly reminded, is "to shrink government to the size where you can drown it in a bathtub." This prompted the rebels to direct their rebate to political groups that promised to hit back.

Finally, the two Web sites that we flagged, DonateRebate.org and TaxRebatePledge.org have not only taken enormous "hits" but spawned others. We were reminded that the communications company, Working Assets, pledged to match up to $1 million given to any of the progressive nonprofits on its site, giveforchange.com. And United for a Fair Economy, long an advocate of "change, not charity" has set up RejecttheRebate.com, where anyone even if they aren't eligible for a rebate can sign a petition.

Of course, we are not so utopian that we expect 91 million Americans to donate their $38 billion. Credit cards loom. Home Depot and Pizza Hut are offering their specials too and Wal-Mart has promised to cash your check.

But when was the last time you heard of a grass-roots rebellion against a tax cut? How often do those who oppose a policy that gives 38 percent of the tax relief to the wealthiest 1 percent, actually show us the money?

Remember Papa Bush and his thousand points of light? From the feel of my mailbox, Baby Bush is looking like a very dim bulb.




Ellen Goodman is a columnist for The Boston Globe.

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