Wednesday, February 18, 2009

GOP Tax Mantra: Same Old Song and Stance

R. J. Matson

Ending the Hidden Agenda Behind Tax Cuts

Joe Brewer, Perspective:
Something as simple as a metaphor can mean the difference between shared prosperity and widespread suffering.

It's time to tell the truth about tax cuts. This phrase dominates political discourse and is coughed out every time a conservative public figure opens his mouth. It is treated like the basis of sound reasoning, yet no one points out what should be obvious - that "tax relief" and "tax cuts" are just code words for destroying the capacity of government to serve the public. […]

Now is the time to nip their bankrupt idea about taxation in the bud. The way to do it is simple. Take their reasoning to its logical conclusion and see what happens if it is applied to the real world. We can test the conservative belief about taxation against our own and decide what's best by looking at the outcomes.

First, we'll need to be very clear about just what conservatives and progressives mean by taxation. Then we can apply these understandings to the world to see their consequences. (The insights that follow come from linguistic analysis of cognitive "frames" that shape political thought.)

Taxation as Conservatives Understand It

I've already alluded to an interesting metaphor that helps make sense of conservative thought about taxes, which I'll call Taxes Are a Burden to make it explicit. The understanding of taxation that follows from this metaphor can be seen in this story:

Hard-working Americans are in need of some tax relief. Years of mismanagement by tax-and-spend liberals have taken money out of the hands of working people and put it into bloated government programs that serve special interests. We need to cut taxes, return fiscal responsibility to government, and put money back in the hands of taxpayers who know best how to spend it.

This perspective is grounded in two beliefs: (1) The world is comprised of individuals; and (2) People are inherently bad and must learn right from wrong through self-discipline. I like to call this the "Me First" perspective because it assumes that people must help themselves before thinking about others. It can be summarized with the declaration, "You're on your own!" The Me First perspective assumes that any assistance from the community would be "coddling" or "spoiling" us. This claim is asserted as truth in the conservative worldview.

Taxation as Progressives Understand It

Progressives have a different understanding of taxation that can be expressed through a variety of metaphors: Taxes Are an Investment, Taxes Are Membership Dues, Taxes Are Pathways to Opportunity, Taxes Are Infrastructure and Taxes Are a Duty. (Read more about progressive taxation in "Progressive Taxation: Some Hidden Truths") Reasoning that emerges with these metaphors can be seen in this progressive story:

Our great nation was founded on a promise of protection and opportunity. Through our shared wealth, pooled together by taxation with representation, we have invested in the public infrastructure that makes possible the creation of new wealth. We have a sacred trust to keep this promise alive throughout our lifetimes, expand it as we are able, and pass it along to our children.

This perspective is grounded in the beliefs that (1) Individuals are influenced significantly by our communities; and (2) People are inherently good and benefit from cooperation with others. I like to call this the "People First" perspective because it assumes that people must help each other in order to enhance their ability to help themselves. It can be summarized with the declaration, "We're all in this together!" The People First perspective assumes that we are greater than the sum of our parts and that new opportunities emerge when we make wise investments with the common wealth we share. […]

The Hidden Agenda Exposed

The progress of our nation is being held hostage by a malicious metaphor. Treating taxation as nothing more than a burden is tantamount to declaring that citizenship is nothing more than getting all you can for yourself … everyone else be damned. Conservative elites have undermined the responsibilities we have to one another to advance their agenda. They are fully committed to crafting the world in their image, as we've seen all too clearly these last eight years and throughout the current debate about economic recovery under the Obama administration.

I say enough is enough. Let's call this tactic out for what it is. People are hurting in every corner of the land and they're looking for help where they haven't dared to look for quite some time - in the service of our representatives in the federal government. Conservatives will try to convince us that our hardships are caused by excessive government. The truth is that we are suffering under excessive conservative ideology of governance, which is a very different beast. They continue to claim that we can't get ahead because we're overtaxed. This claim is absurd! […]

What can we do to stop the conservative agenda? Call it out for what it is. When someone says, "People need tax relief," respond by letting them know that "We really need to invest in one another." Make it clear what the consequences of tax cuts really are - the destruction of our mechanisms for protecting and empowering one another. And let's stop taking their language for granted just because everyone is doing it. […]

The time is ripe for moving beyond the era of misguided individualism. Let's take the momentum we've built in the last few years and place the United States back on a course that resonates with our deeply held values - caring for one another, expanding freedoms to the marginalized, and recognizing that our shared prosperity is at the core of our success as a nation.

"Taxes, after all, are dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society." ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

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