First let us admit the obvious: government by sleight of hand is endlessly fascinating, indeed has come to form a kind of continuing national theater of illusion. Ideas present one moment disappear the next but almost never disappear altogether. Instead, they hide up a sleeve, in the false compartments of lacquered boxes, waiting for the illusionist to bring them to life again. So one suspects it must be with the proposal only recently advanced--and more recently abandoned--to raise the federal excise tax on alcohol and tobacco products, an idea of enormous charm in this revenue-short time.
But if it would be good theater to bring that idea to life again, it would not be good government. Raising the excise tax on booze and smokes may provide for a more perfect union, though I doubt it. It may even insure the domestic tranquility, though I suspect only in a very few houses.
The horrible truth is that people, on the whole, like to drink and smoke. Any corner bar will confirm it. Some like to drink and smoke to excess, even to infringe on the choice of others not to drink and smoke. They are boors, of course, but the proper place to cure boorishness is on the dunking stool and in the stockade, not at the tax table. If they are bad habits, and alas they probably are, drinking and smoking are pleasures, for many deeply held pleasures; and only the worst sort of folly would hold that a people should be taxed at its pleasures, especially when so many pains pass unlevied.
It is to this end--to bring the powers of national tax policy to bear on the dark corners of life, not on its increasingly few bright spots--that I would ask President Reagan to adopt the following:
A national excise tax on succotash and mashed turnips. In the case of succotash, I would keep the tax extremely low. Like creamed chipped beef, which I happen to like, succotash is a staple of institutional hot-lunch programs; and one hates to see already hard-pressed institutions hit beyond reason. As for mashed turnips, I propose taxing them back into the Stone Age. I have suffered at the hands of mashed turnips, and I cannot believe that I have suffered alone.
Select but substantial levies on tackiness. There are those, reasonable thinkers among them, who believe that tackiness should be made a capital offense. For my part, I will defend to the death the people's right to keep and bear tackiness. I ask only that the tacky pay for their sins.
Onerous taxes on re-runs of "The Six Million Dollar Man," "The Brady Bunch," "Hollywood Squares" and "The Fred MacMurray Show." In the particular instance of "The Brady Bunch," I'd place the tax at 100 percent of net profits, with an escalator tied to the consumer price index.
Certainly, there are other routes to be followed here. For example, can it be at all unreasonable in these times to require that a national permit be obtained, at a staggering cost, before anyone is allowed to tell another light bulb joke, as in "How many feminists, Republicans, Irishmen, Libyans, etc. does it take to change a light bulb?" Nor could many think it only nonsense to suggest that a George Steinbrenner be required to purchase a permit--the cost here would be astronomical-- merely to remain who he is.
But others can add their own suggestions. My purpose here has been only to scratch the surface, only to get the ball rolling before the illusionist sees his moment, and we are overtaken with tax madness once again. Surely these are matters on which all reasonbable men and women can agree.