American Politics in One Easy Lesson

Michelle, a citizen of France, was visiting an acquaintance, Paul, in New York City.  Years ago Michelle's sister went to graduate school with Paul, and the three have kept in contact.  Michelle was able to spend all afternoon with Paul while she was in New York for business.  They were walking in Central Park, enjoying a beautiful, early spring day.  Michelle, anxious to learn more about America, asks Paul a question about American politics.

As they sit down on a bench together, Michelle brushes back her hair, looks at Paul, and asks: "I have always been interested in government. What can you tell me about the government of America?"

"Well," Paul answers, "it's like this. We have two big political parties, and the elections are always about their two views of society and the economy."

"Yes?" Asks Michelle. "Can you tell me what those views are?"

"Well," says Paul, "to put it briefly, one party, the Democrats, is interested in helping people, and the other party, the Republicans, is only interested in themselves. They don't want to help people.  They are wealthy and don't pay enough taxes."

"Really?" Asks Michelle.  "So how do the Democrats go about helping people?"

"Oh through food assistance, housing, education, health care; that sort of thing.  Helping people who can't afford to help themselves,"  answers Paul.

"And how are the Democrats able to help people?  Is this based on charity?"  Asks Michelle.

"Oh no," says Paul, "The government taxes people and the Democrats give it to people in need."

"Where does the tax money come from?"  Asks Michelle. "Does it come from ordinary working people?"

"Well the government says that the top 10% of taxpayers pay 70% of the taxes,"  Paul responds.

"Oh I see," says Michelle, "The people who earn the most money are the ones who pay to help the poor."

"Well, the Republicans are the richest people, they have the most money, but it's the Democrats who extend the helping hand to the poor."  Says Paul.

"Didn't you just say that the wealthiest people pay 70% of the taxes?" Says Michelle, "so doesn't this money then go to help the poor? So aren't the wealthy really the ones who help the poor?"

"Well no, that's not how it is. You see the rich are greedy, and they don't want to help the poor." Says Paul.

"What does 'greedy' mean?" Asks Michelle.

"Well," says Paul, "greedy means you want more and more money, you never get enough." 

"So then  the wealthy keep paying more and more taxes, and help the poor more and more all the time?" Asks Michelle.

"Yes, you could say that. But the Democrats point out that the Republicans should pay more. They are always holding back. They don't want to pay their fair share," states Paul.

"Oh I see.  The rich pay 70% of the taxes, they pay the lion's share of the money that goes to help the poor, but the Democrats always want more and more money."  Michelle asks.

"I thought you said greedy was wanting more and more?" Asks Michelle.  "Then if the Democrats always want more, aren't they acting like they're greedy?"

"No not at all," interrupts Paul.  "You see the Democrats want more money from the rich, not for themselves,  but so they can help the poor overcome their challenges in life. The poor are not as fortunate, they always need a helping hand." 

"So there is no limit to the needs of the poor," Michelle says quietly. "I understand. No matter how much money the rich pay in taxes, it can never be enough."

"Now I'm confused," says Michelle, who's beginning to feel a little frustrated.  She stands up, walks a few feet away from the bench, then comes back and says to Paul:  "Let's see: the government never gets enough, but the Republicans, who pay for it all, are portrayed as the greedy ones? How does that make sense to you?"

"You don't understand," says Paul, who is now beginning to feel frustrated himself. He likes Michelle but senses that she just doesn't get it. "The needs of the poor must be met, so the rich must always pay more to help them."

"Well you already said that," asks Michelle.  "Then you said there is no limit to how much money Democrats want to take from the rich to help the poor. How much money do the rich have? Do they have an infinite amount of money?"

"Well, I haven't thought about it," says Paul. "I guess it's not infinite, but they certainly can pay in more than they are now."

"Well, I don't mean to sound argumentative," says Michelle, "but there's something missing in the explanation you give.  You said the needs of the poor are unlimited, and the Democrats have no limit to the amount of money they want for the government.  If the amount of money the rich have is not unlimited, won't it run out some day?  What will you do when the rich have no money left to satisfy the Democrats and take care of the needs of the poor?"

"Well, the needs of the poor are so important, I guess if we reach that point, we'll just have to borrow money."  Says Paul.

"Who will you borrow it from?" asks Michelle, "...if you take all the money away from the rich they won't have any left to either pay taxes or loan money to the government, will they?"

"Well," says Paul, "I guess at that point in time, if we ever get there, we'll have to start borrowing money from foreign countries." 

"Hasn't your government been borrowing money from foreign countries for the past three years?"  Asks Michelle.

 She finally gets enough of this conversation, stands up, and says to Paul.  "Well, I'm getting rather confused: the people you say are greedy, the rich; are the ones paying for everything.  And the ones who want more and more, like there's no tomorrow, are the responsible ones?"

Paul is staring off at a group of trees, and has no answer for her.

 She stares at him speechless for a moment,  breaks into a smile and asks: "Do you want to go get a cup of coffee?" 

 "Yes," he says, and gets up from the bench.  "Let's take a break and get a cup of coffee. 

"Who's buying?"  He suddenly asks.

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