On the topic of taxes, especially progressive taxation, George Lakoff, the Berkeley linguist and expert on political language, has this to say:
Taxes are what you pay to be an American, to live in a civilized society that is democratic and offers opportunity, and where there’s an infrastructure that has been paid for by previous taxpayers. This is a huge infrastructure. The highway system, the Internet, the TV system, the public education system, the power grid, the system for training scientists – vast amounts of infrastructure that we all use, which has to be maintained and paid for. Taxes are your dues – you pay your dues to be an American. In addition, the wealthiest Americans use that infrastructure more than anyone else, and they use parts of it that other people don’t. The federal justice system, for example, is nine-tenths devoted to corporate law. The Securities and Exchange Commission and all the apparatus of the Commerce Department are mainly used by the wealthy. And we’re all paying for it.
There are many more ways that our tax system subsidizes corporations and the wealthy, but the idea Lakoff is presenting is still pretty clear and not at all hard to understand. Nevertheless, Republicans just don’t get it. Consider State Rep. Jason Smith, currently Missouri House speaker pro tem who, incidentally, just won the GOP nomination for Rep. Jo Ann Emerson’s recently vacated federal seat in the 8th district. Seems Smith shines when it comes to GOP anti-tax bile. Notable quote:
When they tax the rich to give to the poor, it makes us less American … less free.
This man serves in a state with failing infrastructure, 300,000 uninsured, a mediocre educational system, and which, for obvious reasons, attracts far too few of the more entrepreneurial businesses that could actually grow the state’s economy – as opposed to those industries that offer only low-paying scutt work.
But never mind about all that growth and prosperity stuff – none of which, rhetoric to the contrary, really seems to get Republican juices flowing. If Smith and his current cronies in the Missouri statehouse get their way, Missourians won’t have much, but they’ll be “freer,” which in this case means minimal taxes for the wealthy and for businesses, while the middle classes and poor pay proportionally more for government services – including those designed to insure that the haves get more.
This “freedom” song and dance is, of course, old hat. Conservatives frequently try to justify their druthers by appealing to freedom and other abstractions, rather than demonstrating the real-world ways that their proposed policies will make Americans’ lives better. They rarely specify that the right-wing concept of freedom pertains only to market economics. Michael Lind, one of the founders of the New America Foundation, points out that the right wing “idea of ‘freedom’ is a very peculiar one, which excludes virtually every kind of liberty that ordinary Americans take for granted”:
What would America look like, if conservatives had won their battles against American liberty in the last half-century? Formal racial segregation might still exist at the state and local level in the South. In some states, it would be illegal to obtain abortions or even for married couples to use contraception. In much of the United States, gays and lesbians would still be treated as criminals. Government would dictate to Americans with whom and how they can have sex. Unions would have been completely annihilated in the public as well as the private sector. Wages and hours laws would be abolished, so that employers could pay third-world wages to Americans working seven days a week, 12 hours a day, as many did before the New Deal. There would be far more executions and far fewer procedural safeguards to ensure that the lives of innocent Americans are not ended mistakenly by the state.
One thing Lind forgets to mention is that the wealthy and corporations would skate when it comes to taxes in such a right-wing, “free” republic, while the rest of us would probably foot most if not all of the bill for the minimal services government would deliver. Yet Missourians will most likely send Jason Smith to Washington to fight for more of that anti-tax freedom with its corresponding spending cuts, so that we too can enjoy the same type of austerity policies that have plunged Great Britain into double-dip recession.
*Lakoff quote amended to include material inadvertently omitted.