Joe the Plumber: Pay no taxes, get no voice

Joe the Plumber, friend of American taxpayers, has taken a beating over the last couple of days for daring to ask Barack Obama a question many of us would like to ask. He wanted to know how Obama's tax increases on "the wealthy" might affect him if he buys a plumbing business. How dare he ask such a question when he is behind on his taxes, has no plumbing license, and might not even be able to afford to buy this plumbing business!

Joe never claimed to be anything other than a taxpayer with a question. Yet he's been "vetted" by the media and details of his divorce and income tax situation have been blasted all over the Internet. I'm not saying there's necessarily anything wrong with people looking at these public records and discussing them, yet you have to feel sorry for the guy who really didn't ask to be put under a microscope like this. He just wanted to ask a simple question about taxes.

But it got me thinking... The implication from a number of media outlets and bloggers is that since Joe is delinquent on his taxes, he shouldn't be asking Barack Obama a question. I don't know that anyone's been so crude as to actually come out and say that, but I think the harsh criticism of Joe has made it pretty clear that many people think he should shut his mouth.


Maybe this isn't such a horrible idea, though. Maybe those who don't pay taxes shouldn't have a voice in this election process. Maybe they shouldn't have a say in anything regarding our government. After all, if they're not paying taxes, they don't have a vested interest in the success of the country as a whole. Those who don't pay income taxes really should be regarded as drains on our government, society, and economy. If they're not paying taxes, they're taking a lot of government services for free.

Who would that affect? Fifty percent of American households would no longer have a voice, because that's how many pay no federal income taxes. That bears repeating... Half of American households pay no income taxes and therefore have no "skin in the game."

Raise taxes on the rich? Sounds great to them. That just decreases the chance that they'll ever have to pay income taxes. Why should those people even have a say in our government when they're not participating in a financial sense? That would be like one of my friends telling me how to budget and spend my own money, when she has no stake in anything that's done. Why shouldn't she tell me to spend all my money at her clothing store? It doesn't hurt her if I have no money left to pay my real bills.

Now I'm not seriously suggesting that those who don't pay income taxes shouldn't be able to vote or participate in our government. But I raise this issue to point out what a slippery slope it becomes when the media and bloggers suggest that Joe the Plumber doesn't have a right to ask a question of Barack Obama because he's behind on his taxes. Those same media outlets and bloggers would be screaming bloody murder if the 50% of households who pay no income taxes were told to shut their mouths. So let's cut Joe some slack. He's just a citizen who wants to know a little bit more about Barack Obama's tax plan.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.

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