Tax Free Weekends and Mosque Building

Are we becoming a common sense-free society?

Need more proof that common sense is as endangered as the U.S. dollar? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury I offer Exhibits A and B: the recent Massachusetts sales tax-free weekend and the ongoing controversy over building a mosque near the 9/11 Ground Zero site.

Exhibit A: Last weekend you could buy items priced at $2500 or less and avoid the Massachusetts sales tax of 6.25%. I’d be the first to say that the Mass sales tax is too high, not to mention the fact that all sales taxes are, by nature, regressive and should be abolished in favor of true (and loophole-free) graduated income taxes. But let’s get a grip, folks. More than a half billion dollars worth of retail goods were purchased, depriving the Commonwealth of about $23 million in revenue, according to one estimate.

No, this isn’t a plea for higher taxes—it’s an object lesson on psychology. I’m happy some of us got to keep a small hunk of change, but that’s exactly what it was, a small chunk. Think it through. How excited would you be if you picked up the paper and saw that a local retailer was offering a 10% off weekend sale? You’d probably yawn, because this happens all the time whereas the tax-free weekend is just once a year. Fine, but let’s say you have your eyes on a $1000 TV. If you bought it last weekend you paid exactly a thousand bucks and pocketed the $62.50 in sales tax. If next weekend the store has a 10% off sale, you’d pay just $956.25 for the same item even after the Commonwealth took its $56.25 share. So what’s the appeal of the tax-free weekend? Do we really think we’re “sticking it to the man,” or are we just victims of mass deception?

What’s this have to do with Exhibit B, the mosque dispute? The same lack of common sense is involved in each. Let’s start with President Obama, who came down on the side of allowing the mosque to go forward on the grounds of freedom of religion. Talk about being morally right and politically stupid! The polls are quite clear on this—only about a third of Americans agree the mosque should be built, so the president has just foolishly squandered a lot of political capital on an opinion he had no business voicing in the first place. (What’s wrong with saying this is for New Yorkers to decide?)

But before you liberals get on your high moral horse, let me add that if Obama was foolish, the mosque planners are morons. The morality of this issue is secondary; rightly or wrongly this project is perceived as Muslims giving America the finger. I don’t think that’s the case, but the planners are guilty of enormous insensitivity. Even worse, they are guilty of putting Muslims in peril. Why not just put a sign in front that says, “Welcome All Wacko Vandals and Bombers?” If this mosque is ever built it is sure to become a target for those who would exact revenge for 9/11. I wish to be resolutely clear: I do not condone vigilantism or attacks on Muslims. But only the starry-eyed and the brain-dead could fail to understand that this project in this place is just a really horrible idea. If the goal is prove that Islam is a religion of peace, this is a very poor way of mending torn fences. I hope I’m wrong, but I fear that violence will follow construction and that it will make it even harder for Muslims to regain trust.

I propose an addendum to the First Amendment “free exercise” clause that would require all public actions to pass common sense muster before they can be enacted. This may sound like Big Brother Government, but the little brothers are so easily duped that it’s for their own good.

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