After the inevitable argument broke out in my high school civics class -- I was often the lone voice or at least the leader of a chorus of quiet liberal voices who dared speak out against the conservative rhetoric of my red-district raised classmates -- my teacher looked me in the eye and wondered what would happen when I received my first paycheck and saw the chunk of change taken out for taxes.
"I'll bet you'll become more conservative in your views then, Higgins," she told me.
There's not much empirical evidence that backs the claim that one grows more conservative with age, but its an axiom that stems back to at least 1922, to a book on aging written by American psychologist GS Hall. Now, political scientists recognize that political identification and ideology is largely generational, with people shaping their views as they become aware of the world. That's why today's teenagers, born in the late '90s and early 2000s, are more likely to lean further to the right than millenials. They lack memories of the Bush years, but have become socialized politically in a time period where a Democratic president inherited two long drawn-out wars, struggled to pull the economy out of the post-2008 recession, and condemned the man who revealed the extent of the government surveillance program which had its roots in post-9/11 legislation.
But let's for a minute, accept the idea that politics isn't fully generational and something about sending a moderate fraction of every paycheck to the government really does make people become more conservative with age.
I'll admit, that moment that I received my first paycheck from my first real-world, post-college job, I was stunned that the amount I calculated I would have for rent, loan payments and happy hours was much less than I thought.
However, my instinct was not, and still is not, that there should be no health care, no social security, no public benefits, or any of the number of expenditures that conservatives protest against paying for with their tax dollars.
It is entirely possible to be critical of where your tax money is going without "becoming conservative" and letting go of the liberal notion that higher tax rates -- when allocated effectively -- can create a more even playing field, domestically through welfare programs and abroad through foreign aid.
The truth is, there are large sums of money within the federal budget that are not allocated in a way that is remotely in line with liberal values. Liberals may mock conservatives who don't want their money going toward "abortion pills like Plan-B," laugh and tell them to pay up like the rest of us, but we must remember that unless we stand up for our values and make an attempt to have some say in where our tax dollars are going, we are complicit in the very types of oppression to which we are ideologically opposed.
Federal spending for the "War on Drugs" amounts to an estimated $15 billion annually while state and local governments pick up the tab for another $25.7 billion. The United States boasts the largest incarcerated population in the world, and many of those serving time are behind bars on drug charges. At the state level, 16 percent of male prisoners were incarcerated for drug offenses while amongst the female inmates, who are overwhelmingly women of color, 25 percent were serving time for drug offenses. The statistics on federal prisoners, are even more striking. In June 2014, 49.7 percent of the federal prison population were serving time for drug offenses. Where African-Americans are four times more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges than whites despite the fact that statistics show the two groups use the drug at similar rates, the War on Drugs is one example of a systematic criminalization of race that is completely contrary to liberal values.
The U.S. spends more than $18 billion a year on immigration enforcement. Aside from dollars, immigration enforcement also has a high human cost. This past year alone, the Border Patrol apprehended 57,525 unaccompanied minors who went to overcrowded processing facilities such as this one in Texas. Meanwhile, the U.S. inexplicably spends about $5 billion a year on deportations rather than make better use of federal funds to treat these children as refugees and do something other than send these children, some of which are as young as four-years-old, "back to certain death." Liberals wouldn't tolerate this treatment of refugees abroad, so why allow your tax dollars to fund it here?
And finally, and the issue where many liberals seem to forget their values, is the U.S. financing of the Israel and her military, the IDF.
Since World War II, the United States has provided Israel with $121 billion in foreign assistance, making Israel the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign aid in history.
Supporters of Israel and the IDF will tell you that Israeli aid is all in the form of buy-backs, and isn't really foreign aid per se, which is true, but it still does not compute that a nation that is far wealthier than it neighbors combined requires $3 billion a year in what boils down to coupons for guns.
Supporters of Israel will tell you that it is necessary because Israel cannot afford to lose a war, and the surrounding Middle Eastern states represent an existential threat to the Jewish state. But this argument, which is highly questionable considering Israel is the only state in the region with nuclear capabilities, still does not justify an illegal, highly asymmetrical war against the Palestinian population.
Netanyahu's argument for the current assault on Gaza, which has been reiterated by the U.S. government, is that Israel has a right to defend herself from rockets attacks from Hamas. But the reality is, Palestine has a legal right to resist occupation under international law, as per the 1960 Declaration on Granting Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.
As the occupier of the land she claimed in the 1967 war, the rights and responsibilities of Israel differ dramatically from those afforded to Palestinians. As Noura Erakat, Co-Editor of Jadaliyya writes:
Israel has the right to protect itself and its citizens from attacks by Palestinians who reside in the occupied territories. However, Israel also has a duty to maintain law and order, also known as "normal life," within territory it occupies...where an occupation already is in place, the right to initiate militarized force in response to an armed attack, as opposed to police force to restore order, is not a remedy available to the occupying state.
Defending oneself from low tech Hamas rockets need not take the form of militarized force: Israel's sophisticated Iron Dome and the use of police force when necessary, not all out warfare, would be enough. Even if Israel were entitled to use military force against the occupied population, the disproportionate force and the targeting of schools, hospitals, mosques and homes which has resulted in an 80 percent civilian casualty rate are not protected uses of military power under international law. As law professor Majorie Cohn writes:
Israel's overwhelming use of military force constitutes collective punishment, which is a war crime. The laws of war, also known as international humanitarian law, are primarily found in the Geneva Conventions. Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a party, specifically forbids collective punishment. It says, "No protected person [civilian] may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed ... Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.
Until Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian territory, and unless it stops killing Gazan children and civilians in its pursuit to oust Hamas and take greater control of Palestine, I cannot and no American liberal should, support the United States government bankrolling Israel.
So though I surely did not become more conservative with age or my first paycheck, I found a few things that I do not want my tax dollars funding. Let's make some noise on the left and shake up this highly entrenched system where year after year, our tax dollars fund the very systems of oppression we on the left seek to dismantle.