Everyone hates the Internal Revenue Service, and so the sad news that Andrew Joseph Stack deliberately crashed his plane into an IRS office in Texas generated not only horror but also a nod of understanding, even a bit of deliciously guilty schadenfreude.
Nothing has the power to focus social and political ire like a faceless, insensitive bureaucracy, and when it has its hand in your pocket, the annoyance becomes a palpable hatred. Campaigning politicians---even incumbents, whom we re-elect 90% of the time---disingenuously profess to be outsiders who will change things for the better, and many of them focus on the notion that we are taxed to death.
They are not wrong. The total tax burden on the average American family devours a significant proportion of its earnings. Sales tax, real estate tax, excise tax, gasoline tax, license fees, import duties, Social Security tax, city and state income taxes, unemployment tax---many of them go unnoticed, and they add up. Most families must work more than half the year before federal, state, county and local governments permit them to spend a single dollar on themselves.
The majority of people understand that modern life comes at some financial cost. We want a military to protect us, police to deter and catch criminals, some support when we are too old to work, and so on. The very economic environment in which we are free to earn a living is at least partially the result of paying taxes to insure it exists and stays free. Of course, we want first-class services without having to pay much for them, but we understand reality, and, with more adherence to both the spirit and the law than in most other countries, we pay.
But we don't view all services as equally useful, desirable or worthy. We want to buy a viable defense, but we're certain it costs more than it should, and we are right. We want representative government, but the large staffs and luxurious retirement benefits of legislators drive us nuts. When Congress discusses the relative merits of two proposed national health plans, neither one of which makes any sense, one is driven to scream, "How about giving us the health plan you guys have?"
Part of the anger is the result of distance. We pay local taxes and complain about their size, but we can at least see the results: workmen fix potholes, children go to school, snow gets plowed. But when we work hard and then cough up a large chunk of the money to Washington, it's easy to get agitated because it is difficult to place a value on what we're getting for it all. Do you like large farm subsidies? Probably not---unless you're receiving them.
A huge percentage of the cash we pay in taxes goes to the gargantuan bureaucracies that have evolved to administer the programs we're pretty sure we don't need. And if that were not enough, consider that there is a mountain of waste, fraud and abuse that goes undetected.
During the first quarter of the year, when we come face-to-face with the amount of money we have voluntarily handed to Washington, the IRS becomes the natural ground for any storm of dissonance. Because we don't know exactly who's to blame, the Internal Revenue Service assumes the face of the ponderous and ineffective bulk into which we have permitted---even encouraged---the central government of the United States to grow. It is a Jabba the Hutt, a maw of enormous dimensions and insatiable appetites. And the more we feed it, the bigger and hungrier it gets.
There can be no excuse for Andrew Stack's reprehensible act of terrorism, but, given the frustrations of the season, his rage seems easier to understand than the nonchalance with which Washington fleeces its own citizens.