Shut Up!

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There’s a lot
to be said for life in a small town in New Hampshire. We moved here
recently from a crowded suburb of Boston. For one thing, we like the
lower cost of living. Even with higher real estate taxes (as a percentage
of property values), the tax load is much lower here than in Massachusetts.
There’s no income tax or sales tax. And property values are much lower.
So even though the tax rate is higher, we’re still not taxed as much
for comparable property as we were south of the border. And here in
our small town, it’s quiet, with very little automobile traffic. A
midday run to the Post Office now takes the same time by car as in
the Boston suburb we moved from. We lived a mile from the P.O. previously,
and almost 3 miles from the P.O. here. It used to be faster to ride
my bike.

My wife and I did some research before moving here, so we expected
this. That was part of our motivation to move in the first place.
We wanted to get away from the noise and hectic pace of the Boston
area. We like to cross country ski in winter, and we were frequently
driving up here anyway for skiing as well as cycling in summer.
So we figured, “Why not live here?”

Well, one thing we hadn’t considered when we moved here was the
warmongering. I don’t know how bad it is in the rest of rural America,
but here it’s truly astonishing. After living in Massachusetts all
my life, and thinking the attitudes there were bad, especially after
Sept 2001, I was totally unprepared for the fanaticism in New Hampshire.
The locals seem to think that the only good foreigners are dead
foreigners. It seems there’s no place on earth they aren’t happy
to have bombed. Whatever the president, particularly a Republican
president wants to do overseas is fine with them. For example, there’s
a woman here in town who drives a pickup truck with a decal in the
rear window. It’s a cartoon drawing of a man urinating. To the left
of the cartoon is the word “I," and to the right it reads,
“on antiwar protesters.” She’s just a little itty bitty thing. But
she has no fear of being chastised by anyone for displaying such
hostility wherever she goes because just about everyone around here
agrees with her; and the few that don’t, have learned to keep quiet,
as have I.

We went to our first town meeting in March. I noticed a military
honor guard with flags off to one side, but didn’t think much of
it. I’d arrived late and was looking for my wife and didn’t think
to ask what that was about. I would find out soon enough.

There were a series of articles for various business welfare schemes.
A downtown beautification program; tree plantings, brick sidewalks
and the like, all promoted on the basis of how much it will help
the downtown businesses. Being the good libertarian that I am, I
got up and asked why the businesses that stood to benefit from all
of this couldn’t pay for it directly, since it wasn’t a maintenance
issue as there are perfectly functional sidewalks already.

There were a number of similar articles and I spoke on most of
them. I was having severe back spasms that night, and it took a
while to get up out of my chair each time I spoke. But everyone
listened politely, some lectured me sweetly as to how “We’re all
in this together” and then voted in all of the subsidies, uh, I
mean articles.

The last article of the evening was a $300 real estate tax credit
for veterans. I slowly stood up and asked what the connection was
between prior military service and property taxes. I was about to
point out that a credit for some equals a tax increase for everybody
else, since the town’s expenses must all be paid, but I never got
that far. Before I could make my point, the excrement hit the ventilation
system! People started yelling at me. “Have you ever been in combat?!?!,”
said one elderly man wearing a medal bedecked beret. “You must have
been a draft dodger!,” said another sitting behind me. The fire
chief, a large ex-marine walked over and declared, “You’ve got some
balls asking a question like that!.” “You don’t think people should
defend their country?,” another demanded to know. I asked him calmly,
“What does this have to do with property taxes?” But all I got in
response was, “I have a buddy over there RIGHT NOW!.” A police officer
walked over and told the firemen to take it outside. Notice that
he didn’t tell them to stop yelling or to drop the threatening tone,
no, just “Take it outside.” I thought I was going to be beaten up
in the parking lot afterwards. And while there was no violence later
in the parking lot, there were plenty of expletives coming me way.

Of course, nobody would address my question regarding the connection
between taxes and veteran status. Simply by asking the question,
I had become the enemy. I might just as well have walked in wearing
a swastika armband. Those doing the yelling were those who were
getting the tax credit. All the firemen are ex-marines. And they
all believe that they are entitled to dip into my wallet to pay
their taxes.

Eventually they all sat down and voted in the tax credit. Mine
was the sole “Nay,” which prompted some murmuring and a number of
angry stares. Then they moved to adjourn the town meeting and I
found out why the honor guard was there. They marched down the center
isle of the hall carrying their American flag and everyone pledged
allegiance to to it, except my wife and me.

Next year the veterans tax credit is expected to be $500. There
will be another vote, but this time there won’t be any “Nays”. I
don’t expect to be at town meeting. If big burly firemen are willing
to clench their fists and yell at a 50 year old man who can barely
stand up in a public forum with police officers present, what might
they be willing to do in the middle of the night when my wife and
I are at home sleeping? I’ll pay the taxes and shut up.

27, 2004

White [send him mail]
runs a mail order business in rural New Hampshire.

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