“I was very frustrated by the TARP bill, because nobody bailed us out, and we weren’t looking for a bailout,” Martin says in a coffee shop outside of Jackson. It’s a message she uses often, saying that no one bailed out her husband’s company when it failed. As for being bailed out themselves, Martin has had to publicly contend with the fact that she and her husband filed for bankruptcy, a bailout of its own sort.Filing for bankruptcy to avoid $500,000 in back taxes is a pretty damn good bailout. It's a reasonable bailout, mind you—we have decided that allowing the option of bankruptcy is both humane and more sensible economically than consigning someone to a lifetime of debt slavery—but it's a bailout. That's $500,000 that the rest of America's taxpayers are going to have to shell out themselves in order to make up the slack.
But I think we figured out why Jenny Beth Martin devoted herself to the notion that taxes are bad. Don't need a Dr. Keith Ablow to weigh in on this one.
Less well known is the fact that her husband accepted unemployment for a time, something else she has explained.Translation: We of course used the good kind of safety net, the one that good people use. You can tell that it's the good kind because we felt humiliated by having to use it. Now let's go form an organization founded on the idea that we shouldn't have to pay, say, $500,000 in taxes in order to fund that very same safety net.
“I’ve never said that there should be no safety net,” she says. “That decision was more difficult for him than the decision not to stay in our house. ... We were scraping by.”
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At rock bottom, Martin and her husband cleaned houses to get by. Then, Rick Santelli, a CNBC commentator covering financial markets, gave his famous rant, asking viewers: “How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills?”But your neighbors already took care of you. We all did. We're paying your taxes because you couldn't. We paid for your food when you had no job.
That resonated with Martin, as did Santelli’s use of the term “tea party.” “We were quite literally cleaning our neighbor’s house so they wouldn’t have to take care of us,” she says.
So the lesson Martin took from her bankruptcy and brief reliance on the dreaded and frayed safety net is to get very angry at the idea of helping someone else pay their bills. That was the takeaway, and the end result is an organization that works hard to support the likes of Chris McDaniel, under the premise that even the state of Mississippi has a government safety net that is too damn big, and which demands politicians provide no special unemployment programs in the ongoing jobless "recovery," and which claps with glee when the government itself gets shut down, and which above all is very, very against the notion of using taxes to pay for the common good, or for other people's safety net.
As the head of Tea Party Patriots, Martin currently pays herself a salary of $450,000 a year. She could pay those back taxes now, if she wanted to. If the thought of being a burden to her fellow taxpayers is so grating, she could make it right with little effort; if the thought of being on unemployment was so humiliating, back when all the rest of us gave her family the smallest of foundations from which to rebuild, she could write a check right now to settle up. Or she could organize another rally demanding people not have to pay for other people's safety net, at least not so much of one.
If she chooses the latter, she'll have company. It's a very popular stance these days.