I've loved watching Mitt Romney wrestle with the issue of taxes and the Affordable Care Act. First his campaign staff said Romney doesn't consider the ACA's penalty a tax; then yesterday, Romney himself said he does. That means, of course, that he was perfectly happy to raise taxes in Massachusetts for something he thinks his state needed.
We can laugh all we want about him slip-slopping on the issue (which he was), but the wrestling is important. And it's time everybody did some of that. Why is "tax" such a scary word?
I don't want to pay taxes for things we don't need. I don't want to pay taxes that end up in waste and corruption. But I do want to pay taxes for things that help the general welfare: to educate children, to feed and clothe the needy, to police the streets, to help the unemployed.
I think most Americans agree. And until the Iraq War, we seemed to think it was worth paying higher taxes for national defense (or for a war the president said was for national defense).
George Bush and Congress decided that we could spend zillions fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and ramping up defense efforts here at home - and cut taxes at the same time.
We can debate why such a fiction entered their mind, but we can't debate the result: it helped cause the economic problems we're still struggling with.
So now the issue of taxes is in front of us again, thanks to the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Fine. Can we all take a deep breath and think about this rationally? Do we really not want this country to provide better health care? Don't we think access to health care is a right, not a privilege reserved for the wealthy?
If so, don't we think somebody besides the tooth fairy ought to pay for it?
Does it matter whether we call that payment a tax or a penalty?