Thursday is the day on which many Americans will take a step back, survey the country they inhabit, and wonder how the hell we got here.
April 15 has become our anti-Fourth of July, a holiday dedicated to disdain for the federal government, many of the men and women who run it, and the annual bill required to keep it afloat. A day to mark liberty lost rather than revel in liberty won.
Because of the date and the deadline, the income tax will be celebrated today as the chief federal intrusion into our lives. But this year, we actually have a twofer.
We are in the final days of the federal push to have 2010 census forms completed so that we — by the end of this year — can be properly categorized by race, sex, age and congressional district.
The U.S. Census Bureau has targeted many easy-to-miss minorities: Hispanics, African-Americans, gays and lesbians, and the homeless.
But the bureau is also targeting another group: Suspicious, red-state conservatives who scoff at all the demands of the census man.
Tom Maloy is one. The retired business owner from west Cobb County is a member of the Georgia Tea Party, and will be in the crowd of anti-tax protesters at the state Capitol this evening.
He has mailed in his 10-question census form. But Maloy wouldn’t give Uncle Sam everything he asked for.
“The things I left off were my phone number and, in the spot that asked whether I’m Hispanic or what race I am, I just put down ‘American,’” Maloy said. “Those were about the only things I left out. I don’t care who knows how old I am.”
Others are more stingy. U.S. Rep. Paul Broun (R-Athens), who carries a copy of the Constitution in his pocket, declared how many human beings lived in his household — and then sealed the envelope.
The congressman refused to answer questions about the sex and age of occupants, ancestry, or whether he lives in a rental or owns. “That’s none of their business,” Broun said in a recent phone interview.
“The Constitution requires the federal government to count the number of people in this country every 10 years,” the congressman said. “It doesn’t require them to ask a lot of personal information. People are very concerned about an invasion of privacy, and I have those same concerns.”
It is hard, perhaps impossible, to know how many people in Georgia are following Broun’s lead. The economy — the jobless can become hard-to-locate nomads — is likely to be a bigger factor in the failure by some to turn in census information, experts say.
But to help allay conservative concerns, here and elsewhere, the Census Bureau last week released a video of Karl Rove, the former aide to President George W. Bush, endorsing the census as “an instrument of democracy” created by James Madison.
Those 10 questions? “They’re almost the same ones that Madison helped write for the first census back in 1790,” Rove says.
Except for the demand for a phone number, of course. In case of questions, “that will save us the money of sending somebody out there,” said Pam Page-Bellis, an Atlanta spokeswoman for the U.S. Census Bureau.
Broun isn’t the first member of Congress to express doubts about the U.S. census. Last summer, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) declared on TV that she wouldn’t fill out her form.
As a result, Bachmann received a visit from U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, the Republican from Coweta County. Westmoreland chairs the census task force for the House Republican caucus, and has become a kind of liaison between the GOP and federal census chief Robert Groves.
“Michele and I had a very good talk about the census,” Westmoreland said. “I tried to explain to her that having these meetings with Dr. Groves, and trying to make sure that he trusted us and our sincerity, about trying to help him do everything we could to get a good count — it just made us seem disingenuous to have one of our members saying, ‘Oh, no, don’t fill it out.’”
Westmoreland has become the man in charge of the conservative argument for census compliance. He notes that for every 1 percent of the U.S. population that doesn’t send in a census form, an extra $80 million will be spent to track down the missing.
“If you don’t fill it out, they’re going to send you another one. And if you don’t fill it out, they’re probably going to try to give you a phone call,” Westmoreland said. “If they don’t get you there, they’re going to come out to your house. If they don’t get you there, they’re going to interview your neighbors, probably.”
But the real argument for conservatives to complete the census is this: In case of an undercount, the census bureau will turn to “sampling and estimating,” Westmoreland said.
“They tried to do sampling in 2000, and, luckily, Bush won the White House and didn’t go for it,” he said. “We lose in the sampling, because sampling gives more credence to minorities or the homeless.”
And they, by and large, do not vote Republican.
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