Not exactly thinking this through

OpinionJournal’s Best of the Web today has one aspect of Sheehan’s “protest” that I’ve found particularly amusing:

There’s One for You, Nineteen for Me
In a speech last week to the self-styled Veterans for Peace, Cindy Sheehan issued the following declaration:

Another thing that I’m doing is–my son was killed in 2004, so I’m not paying my taxes for 2004. If I get a letter from the IRS, I’m gonna say, you know what, this war is illegal; this is why this war is illegal. This war is immoral; this is why this war is immoral. You killed my son for this. I don’t owe you anything. And if I live to be a million, I won’t owe you a penny.

And I want them to come after me, because unlike what you’ve been doing with the war resistance, I want to put this frickin’ war on trial. And I want to say, “You give me my son, and I’ll pay your taxes.”

This has received less attention from Sheehan’s critics than many of her other pronouncements, perhaps because in the land of the Boston Tea Party, all of us harbor a little secret sympathy for tax protesters. But Sheehan’s gesture is even more empty than it appears, for you can’t just “not pay” your federal taxes.

According to Time magazine, before losing her job for absenteeism, Mrs. Sheehan worked for a government agency in Napa County, Calif. Presumably local governments in California do not pay their employees in cash, which means that estimated taxes would have been withheld from her paycheck.

So how exactly is she carrying out this protest? Did she file a frivolous return claiming a refund on all taxes due for 2004? It’s unlikely that the Internal Revenue Service would fall for such an obvious trick and issue a check. More likely, she simply is refusing to file a return–which is illegal, but which deprives the government only of taxes that were underpaid.

It is quite possible that Mrs. Sheehan overpaid her taxes. It’s not clear when she stopped working, but if it was before the end of 2004, then taxes were withheld under the assumption that she would be working for the entire year. Because the income tax system is progressive, the average annual tax rate is lower if a taxpayer works only part of the year. Moreover, by failing to file, she would forgo any deductions to which she is entitled, such as for mortgage interest or state and local taxes (and California is a high-tax state).

It is possible to reduce one’s withholdings by claiming nonexistent dependents on the IRS’s W4 form. But if we take Mrs. Sheehan at her word that her tax protest came in reaction to her son’s death rather than in anticipation of it, she would not have done this prior to earning the income in question.

The only way Mrs. Sheehan’s protest would amount to anything significant in financial terms would be if she had a large amount of taxable income from investments (à la Teresa Heinz Kerry)–and even then, her husband would have paid half the taxes on any assets they owned jointly.

One final wrinkle: U.S. servicemen are subject to withholding but not taxation on their military pay while stationed in a combat zone. That means that Casey Sheehan is entitled to a refund, which his parents, as his next of kin, could claim. It’s possible that the result of Mrs. Sheehan’s protest is that her fallen son ends up paying taxes he didn’t even owe on the money he earned helping bring freedom to Iraq.
I really feel sorry for Mrs. Sheehan, sorry the loss of her son, Casey. I feel sorry for her, that she’s allowing herself to be a tool of the anti-war mouth-foamers on the left, and that she has become one herself. War is a terrible, terrible thing, and I believe we did not enter in to this one lightly. There are clear, rational, logical reasons for the ousting of Saddam and reconstruction of Iraq in to a constitutional democracy. We may not see the fruit for decades. People in this country need to take a long-distance view of what we are trying to accomplish in the Middle East, and think of Germany and Japan after World War II, instead of how soon things get resolved on an episode of The West Wing.