Paul Greenberg

"April is the cruelest month. . . ."--T. S. Eliot, [ital The Waste Land [unital]

Ronald Reagan said it back in 1983: "Our federal tax system is, in short, utterly impossible, utterly unjust and completely counterproductive . . . (it) reeks with injustice and is fundamentally un-American . . . it has earned a rebellion, and it's time we rebelled."

But what politician today would speak so eloquently, and all too accurately, about the country's irrational, insufferable, infernal Internal Revenue Code? (Except maybe for purely ceremonial purposes during an election year.)

Those in Congress who have made distinguished careers sneaking tricky little passages into the tax code to favor the special interests they represent, or just hope to solicit for a campaign donation, aren't interested in undoing this elaborate trap for the average taxpayer.

Why would politicians seriously challenge a system that so richly rewards them for their expertise in an arcane specialty?

Lest we forget, and so many do, that this republic was born of a tax revolt -- indeed, a mounting succession of them that climaxed in the Spririt of '76. Gosh, maybe that's why they call it the Tea Party.

But we the people long ago lost touch with our Revolutionary, and still revolutionary, roots. We've become inured to the injustice, inefficiency and general incomprehensibility of an encyclopedic tax code that by now passeth all understanding.

A whole priesthood of CPAs has multiplied to translate this gnostic creed, with all its daunting commandments and special dispensations.

Most of us don't object to paying our taxes. Living in the United States of America is not only a blessing but a great bargain. What we object to, or should, is how hard, how complicated, how expensive and sometimes just how plain hopeless it is to try to figure out how much we owe.

Awash in a sea of paper, or rather an ocean of electronic impulses in this internetted age, the American taxpayer needs . . .


But every sweeping new tax law Congress enacts -- always called a "reform" -- makes reform only more complicated and, if possible, more confusing. And makes the tax code longer. By now, it has grown as indecipherable as Hammurabi's. It might as well be on clay tablets.

Despite the perennial foofaraw in Washington about whether and how much to cut taxes, what really drives people nuts is the paperwork, the record keeping, the uncertainty.

Even if folks have an accountant, and by now an estimated 80 percent of us use a tax preparer, or at least some software, to figure out how much we owe, it's still a wearing process.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.