At the most recent Republican presidential debate [Oct. 18, 2011], Herman Cain parried all questions about his 9-9-9 tax plan by saying that his critics were comparing apples to oranges. Well, maybe. At least they were talking about a real policy issue—taxation. But from what I heard, I’d say they were comparing baloney to bullcrap. Why? Because the obvious premise underlying these so-called debates is simple: taxes are bad.
The notion that taxes are a negative aspect of our democracy has become conservative dogma that, unfortunately, goes essentially unchallenged during the infomercial/game shows—predominantly sponsored by conservative groups, not by independent news-gathering organizations—that are being passed off as “debates” by Fox, CNN and even PBS. I have yet to hear a single host/journalist/newsreader ask a candidate to explain how, under the slash-and-burn ideology of tax cutting, we’re supposed to do what our government is charged with doing. [And yes, I do understand that virtually all of the Republican candidates want to cut taxes as a way of starving government until it’s so small that it can’t get in the way of their god—the free market.] Just once, I’d like someone to ask the Republican candidates to name a tax that they would not reduce, or, better yet, to define their view of the proper role of taxation for our country.
In Republican circles, every discussion of taxes focuses on participles like reducing, cutting, eliminating and flattening, and nouns like burden and relief. This framing isn’t new, as anyone who’s read anything by linguist George Lakoff knows. The overwhelming and unchallenged anti-tax message pushes the assumption that there is no tax that is good, and that there’s no tax that’s too small to cut. That notion flies in the face of the reality of everyday life in this country, where we all rely on—and expect—tax-supported services in hundreds of ways—both large and small.
Unfortunately, the conservative message has become so predominant that, often, interviewers, pundits, and progressive politicians and individuals forget that it’s based on a false assumption, and that we need to stand up, challenge the premise, and counter it [even when facts don’t count].
To her great credit, Elizabeth Warren did just that recently, when she made her now famous statement about corporate wealth and fairness:
“You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.
“Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
It’s also worth reminding ourselves and others of some of the specific ways that we all rely on taxes . The following list has been in my files for almost 10 years, which shows how long the conservative anti-tax meme has been infiltrating our consciousness. I’m sure many readers have a similar list, so I’m not pretending that I’m breaking any news here. Some of these examples seem obvious, but I think they bear repeating—often and loudly. Here are some highlights, in no particular order. Memo to Anderson Cooper and “debate” hosts: How about trying some of these out on the next show?
If you don’t like taxes…
– Don’t drive on paved streets or highways.
– Don’t call 911.
– Don’t flush your toilet.
– Don’t bring your garbage to the curb.
– Don’t fly in an airplane that uses air-traffic controllers.
– Don’t use the court system.
– Don’t call the police when you get robbed.
– Don’t ask for a farm subsidy for not growing crops.
– Don’t ask for a taxpayer subsidy to do business in a city or state.
– Don’t buy a sports franchise and ask the taxpayers to build your stadium.
– Don’t send your children to public schools.
– Don’t attend a state university.
– Don’t expect a social security payment.
– Don’t let Medicare pay your bills if you are over 65 or disabled.
– Don’t look for a government contract to bolster your defense industry business.
– Don’t look for a government.
– Don’t look for a lucrative government consultant contract.
– Don’t run for political office where your salary is paid for by the taxpayers.
– Don’t accept government research findings that subsidize research for your industry.
– Don’t be an airline and expect the government to bail you out.
– Don’t be a car company and expect the government to bail you out.
– Don’t be a steel company and expect the government to bail you out.
– Don’t be a company that pollutes and expect the taxpayer to bail you out.
– Don’t climb to the top of the Washington Monument, which is maintained at taxpayer expense.
– Don’t be rescued by fire department paramedic team.
– Don’t expect federal assistance if a natural disaster destroys your home or business.
– Don’t expect the military to defend your country.
– Don’t visit national parks or hike in national forests.
– Don’t eat USDA inspected meat, cheese, eggs or produce.
– Don’t take any medications tested and approved by the FDA.
– Don’t drink, bathe or otherwise use the water from municipal water systems.
– Don’t look at or relay a weather report.
– Don’t look at a NASA generated picture.
– Don’t expect a unit of measure like a gallon of gas to be a full gallon.
– Don’t expect an elevator to work correctly or not fall.
– Don’t expect a red light to work.
– Don’t accept government money to help develop a product which you then personally patent or copyright and sell for your own profit.
– Don’t use the services of a doctor who is licensed through the state.
– Don’t expect research into medical problems such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, aging, prostrate, menopause, etc.
– Don’t use the public library.
– Don’t go to a state university affiliated hospital.
– Don’t apply for government grants.
– Don’t ask for a business loan from the small business administration.
– Don’t ask to use the G.I. bill to go to college.
– Don’t drive a car that benefits from government safety regulations.
– Don’t use currency printed by the US Treasury.
– Don’t use a bank or credit union that insures your deposits through the FDIC.
– Don’t get married, have children or die and expect the government to keep track of all the certificates.
– Don’t visit public museums.
– Don’t go hunting, fishing, or camping on government property.
– Don’t cross a bridge.
– Don’t use truckstops or public restrooms.
– Don’t expect the government to protect the copyright for the works you create.
– Don’t expect your tap water to be clean and germ free.
– Don’t eat any food transported on roads.
– Don’t expect any workplace safety standards, labor laws, or minimum wage.
– Don’t expect zoning laws.
– Don’t expect anyone to plow your roads when it snows or sweep them when they’re dirty.
– Don’t expect your children to be able to ride the bus to school.
– Don’t write any material to be published and copyright it.
– Don’t expect the court to appoint a taxpayer-paid attorney to represent you (or your child) when you are accused of a crime.
– Don’t call or go to the US Embassy in a foreign country when you get in trouble.
– Don’t get a passport or try to get out of the US without a Passport.