Alice in Wonderland: A Mad Tea Party, Mad Hatter

Reading an editorial today by Racine’s local newspaper, I felt a certain “down the rabbit-hole” sensation that has become increasingly familiar.

The Journal Times opinion piece, “State no longer a ‘tax hell’,” lauds the news that “Wisconsin’s taxation ranking has hit its lowest point in nearly 50 years.” It notes that while Wisconsin used to routinely occupy the top levels in the list of states by tax burden, it now ranks either 21st or 15th, depending on how you figure. Furthermore, this shift has been going on for a while:

Considering it’s the third time in the past five years that the state has ranked outside the top 10 – a dubious club where it had been a member for decades – this appears to be a real trend rather than an aberration.

But here’s where the editorial gets curiouser. It credits Tea Partiers for this improved tax picture:

What does that mean? For one, the backlash against “free-spending” government officials has begun to work.

The sentiment that gave rise to the tea party movement has local and state politicians tripping over one another to claim the “fiscal responsibility” label. Those who ignored it, and those who failed to convince voters they deserved it, have been shed in an anti-incumbent wave.

In response, Gov. Jim Doyle and the Legislature have begun to put on the brakes. They’ve slashed departmental budgets, streamlined the work force largely through attrition and ordered furloughs.

These are astonishing accomplishments for a movement that is barely over a year old.

To be able to go back in time and create a five-year trend, to have “shed” incumbent politicians in a “wave” — especially since there hasn’t even been an election since the first Tea Party protests — well, this is almost the stuff of fantasy tales.

I experienced similar topsy-turvy disorientation last week on Tax Day, watching Tea Party protesters complaining about President Obama and the Democrats raising taxes — even though Democrats have, in fact, cut taxes.

Despite all the “Off with their heads!” outrage of the Tea Partiers, the truth is that Tax Freedom Day® arrived earlier this year than it did through all of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s — and Tax Freedom Day was even one day earlier last year, at the very inception of the Tea Party movement! As President Obama amusedly observed, “You would think they should be saying thank you.”

Are they late for their own party? Are their calendars upside-down? Watches broken?

For the mad-as-a-hatter characters perpetuating all this nonsense, nothing could be worse than the average American waking up and realizing that things are improving, and have been improving for a while already. One of the ways they try to keep people confused is by screwing with time.

Unfortunately for them, records have been kept. When Tea Partiers point to the frightening national debt, you can consult a timeline showing when, in our history, most of this debt was accumulated.

I myself blogged the economy’s collapse in late September 2008, four months before Barack Obama was sworn in as president. At the time, there was speculation that our economic misery could last for a couple of decades.

Now, however, after only 1.25 years under a new administration, things already look a lot less bleak.

They say it all comes down to jobs — which makes me think of one specific timeline when anyone asks, “How’s that hopey, changey stuff working out?

This graph charts the change in job losses and gains from the end of the Bush administration through the beginning of the Obama administration:

Obama job chart: The Road to Recovery: Bush job loss vs. Obama job gains

Working out? It’s more like being roused from a crazy nightmare. I want to see more sensible progress like this in the future — not go back through the looking-glass for another round of shrieking madness and fear.