An Assembly of Pieces

James Anderson Merritt's piecemeal thoughts and observations, and the occasional attempt to put some of the pieces together.
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All material except cited quotations Copyright (C) 2004-2008 by James Anderson Merritt. All rights reserved.
Saturday, November 26, 2005

I was in downtown Santa Cruz this afternoon, doing some shopping along Pacific Avenue. I was enjoing the sights and lights of the Christmas shopping season, as well as the sounds of holiday bell-ringers and street musicians playing seasonal music. Then, another sound:

"Excuse me sir. Are you a registered voter?"

"Yes I am," I said.

"Well, we're trying to put a cigarette tax on the ballot. To help pay for more nurses, and healthcare programs. Could you help us out, just so we can vote on it?" He tentatively offered me a petition form on a clipboard.

A woman who was perhaps 10-15 years my senior was already signing her name to the form on another clipboard. She asked, "is it statewide?"

The petition circulator, a white man in his mid-20s, with sandy brown hair hanging down below his shoulders and an earnest expression, tilted his head toward the woman while continuing to attempt eye-contact with me. He informed her that the petition was for a statewide initiative.

I held his gaze for several seconds.

What I wanted to say, was this:

"I'm not clear on the morality of getting a big crowd of people to vote for taking money out of the pockets of a smaller crowd of people, just to give it to an even smaller crowd of politicians and bureaucrats who promise to spend it on good things, but who usually don't follow through on their promises.

"Maybe it's legal, but what gives you the idea it is right to force others to fund your good ideas?

"Why do you think for a minute that something like this should be up for a public vote?

"Does it bother you that you're basically proposing to finance a program on the backs of drug addicts?

"What if the higher taxes were successful in discouraging smoking? Wouldn't that be a blow to the nurses and healthcare programs that would depend on tobacco tax revenue?"

It was the Christmas season, however. The guy probably wasn't a "true believer." More likely, he was circulating petitions to make some extra money for the holidays. The lady who was already signing her name probably didn't want to be challenged -- even indirectly -- about the morality of her endorsement. Nobody needed me in their face. What possible good could confrontation do?

All of this passed through my mind in the few seconds that I locked eyes with the man holding the clipboard. I think perhaps some of it played across my face. He seemed to startle a bit. Or maybe the length of my stare simply exceeded his comfort zone. Anyway, what I finally, actually said was this: "No, I don't think so. But thank you very much."

Had I confronted the guy, he, the petition-signing lady, and I might all have gone away with a very sour taste in our mouths. As it is, I think that only I did. They say that government is a necessary evil, and that taxation is the lifeblood of government. On this occasion, I denied the government my consent for it to augment its "blood supply" by increasing taxes . But I didn't confront the people who were actively promoting the revenue increase, or those who were giving them support. Edmund Burke said that evil can triumph if good men simply do nothing. I feel as if I didn't do enough today to stop the spread of evil, and the taste of that realization is sour and bitter, indeed. But I was polite.


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