The political geniuses of San Francisco have an idea. They want to put a two-cent-an-ounce tax on soda. Their reasoning, if you can grace it with that description, is that soda is toxic and bad for the people.
They're half right. Soft drinks won't be the death of America, but the soda tax will help kill the hope of America: Liberalism.
Once upon a not so distant time, when you asked Americans their political philosophy, most of them called themselves liberals. Now the number of self-described liberals in America is down to about 20 percent.
Liberals have a proud history. For a hundred years and more, from woman's suffrage to gay marriage, liberalism has moved the nation forward, towards justice, towards equality. Yet the liberal brand stinks on ice.
Can you blame the soda tax for that? Of course not; white resentment, right-wing demagoguery and various other pathologies all contributed to the decline of liberalism. The soda tax isn't the cause, but it's a perfect symptom of what's gone wrong.
Sometimes it looks like everything liberals do to help the people costs the people money. Soda taxes and grocery bag tariffs, extortionate parking meters and pay-to-play toll roads, the list of trivial annoyances goes on and on. And people notice.
What is it about otherwise sensible, normal folks that drives them to the Tea Party? They are tired of being messed with.
The so-called liberalism that says soda is bad but craft beers are good is not liberal politics. It's not politics at all. It's a fashion statement, an exercise in personal branding; it is vanity.
Before a liberal expends a calorie of effort rescuing people from the evils of soda he should exhaust himself making sure that the average Joe can afford to buy a soda, or a beer, or a half gallon of milk, if that's what he wants. A serious liberal fights for some equity in the nation's grotesquely out-of-balance income distribution.
There is a mountain of injustice to rectify, from crippling student debt to a neo-con foreign policy that has set the world on fire. Those monumental issues are a liberal's true calling. But, instead of progressive policies that make a real difference in people's lives, liberals are obsessed with the politics of the trivial.
Taxes are a serious issue. All over America schools are underfunded, pensions going broke and roads crumbling for the lack of government revenues. Corporations hire legal Svengalis devising ways they can turn themselves inside out--the latest trick is called "inversions"--in an endlessly successful effort to avoid paying American taxes while still harvesting American riches. Businesses hop from state to state seeking a free ride and no taxes. This is the kind of thing we need to stop.
But when we pound people with nitpicky taxes on soda, aluminum cans, grocery bags and whatever else is the current liberal fetish, they turn against the very idea of taxes. Enough with the taxes, they scream, while their infrastructure crumbles around them.
Turning the people against the idea of reasonable, fair taxation by nickel and diming them to death while the real money gets a free ride is perverse. It's being penny wise and ton foolish. And it plays right into the hands of phony populists who exploit the peoples' grievances by misdirecting their anger against the only force that can save them: their collective will.
All the people have is their numbers and their voices. The only strength they possess is the power of democracy. The right wing succeeds if they can persuade them not to use it.
Look, am I making too big a deal about a silly two-cent-an-ounce tax on carbonated sugar water that's going out of fashion anyway? Sure. The soda tax won't make much of a difference to political outcomes, certainly not here in San Francisco and maybe not anywhere.
But it's two cents of annoyance to serious people, two cents of resentment to annoyed people and two cents of distraction to anyone who pays two seconds of attention.