President Reagan's expression of sympathy, in his Williamsburg speech, for the "cult of cheating" among taxpayers is bizarre beyond belief. I don't have any illusions about the Internal Revenue Service being a soft touch under the Reagan Administration; it's the moral basis of Reagan's remarks that offend me.
Civil disobedience has a long and honorable tradition in American history. Henry David Thoreau's original stint in jail was for refusing to pay his taxes as a protest against the Mexican War. The call of a higher morality has led otherwise law-abiding citizens to aid runaway slaves, to violate segregation laws, to aid "illegal aliens" from Central America, and even to follow Thoreau's example in resisting today's war taxes at the peril of arousing the wrath of the IRS. I would be the last one to condemn civil disobedience to a higher morality. Opposing institutionalized immorality isn't a sin, it is a duty.
But what higher morality justifies common tax cheating except for greed? Perhaps Reagan's sympathies should not have surprised me. The current Administration has amply testified to its belief in greed as the highest moral authority. And Reagan won by a landslide, or so they say. Perhaps it is I who am out of step--off marching to the beat of a different drummer.