Yes, Virginia, there is an insanity clause

How else can you explain Congress getting away with something as loopy as cutting child tax credits for poor families?

Published May 30, 2003 5:35PM (EDT)

Dear Editor,

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is an insanity clause.

They say that's why a last-minute revision by House and Senate leaders in the tax bill that President Bush signed will prevent nearly 12 million minimum-wage families like mine from receiving the increased child credit.

No way, I said to my little friends. After all, we're the ones who need help the most!

They say a bunch of bad guys went into the Secret Chamber near the old white clubhouse and said, "Oh, look! Here is $350 billion. We can give lots and lots to our best friends. We can keep lots for us. But let's not give any to little kids whose mommies and daddies work harder in one day than we do all year and still only earn $10,000 to $26,000, which is, like, 10 times less than some of us will gain when this sucker passes. OK, that is neato-keeno. And you know what else? When the little kids are big, let's make them earn lots and lots to pay for this treasure that we 'found' today. That way they will be too tired to do anything bad to us, like vote our despicable butts out of office."

That's silly, I said. Everybody knows that there are only three Bad Guys in the whole world -- Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Simon Cowell. And besides, when you vote for somebody they have to do what's the best thing for you, right? So the only way they could do something crazy mean is if they had special permission.

Papa said, "If you see it in the newspaper, it's so." And then Papa looked at Mama and they both laughed so hard it woke up every cockroach in our apartment. Please tell me the truth, Mr. Editor. Is there really an insanity clause?


Virginia O'Hanlon

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Dear Virginia,

Your little friends are right. They have been disaffected by the cynicism of a callous age. They believe what they see on TV. They know that nothing can really be understood by their little minds. Not all minds are little, Virginia. Just the minds of ordinary people. Some business leaders and politicians have very big minds, filled with vast empty spaces that keep their thoughts from bumping into each other and make them forget where they put things, like the security code for their favorite guest ranch, and their conscience.

In this great universe of theirs, ordinary man is a mere insect, an ant, as compared with the boundless power of the small circle of people that exclude him, and that is how come the bad guys can squash you and your little friends like a convoy of 18-wheelers blasting through a couple of fruit flies and still act like they care about your basic needs.

Yes, Virginia, there is an insanity clause. It exists as certainly as meaningless campaign catchphrases like "Children are the future." Why, without the insanity clause, Virginia, the folks you refer to might have met the $350 billion cap on the tax cut by dialing back breaks to the upper 1 percent of the population instead of telling impoverished kids with no health insurance and their overworked, barely paid parents to suck it up.

Alas, how dreary would be the world of the most privileged if there were no insanity clause! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias and their parents for them to patronize every four years. There would be no childlike faith then, no skulduggery, no capitalist elitism to make profitable their existence. The wealthy few would have no enjoyment of thousands of dollars in additional personal gain, and no freedom from double taxation on stock dividends that their accountants were going to shelter from the IRS anyway. The extortionist booty with which they build up their world would be relinquished.

Not believe in the insanity clause! You might as well not believe in the free market doing whatever a dozen of the country's most powerful people say it should. You might get your papa and mama to watch in all the polling booths on election eve to catch the insanity clause, but even if you did not see the insanity clause coming down, what would that prove?

Nobody sees the insanity clause, but that is no sign that there is no insanity clause. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor other ordinary people can see because big people with "special" powers sneak it past them.

Did you ever see terrorists dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Well hell, Virginia, why do you think the Homeland Security folks made you, your little pink Air Britney shoes, and even your Bear Market Barbie submit to a thorough search when you took the plane to see your grandma in Tucson?

No insanity clause! By George, it lives, and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, the economic effects of the insanity clause will continue to make wretched the heart of your children's children's childhood. But not to worry, Virginia. A few of us will be just fine.

By Joyce McGreevy

Joyce McGreevy is a writer in Portland, Ore.

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