New Republic Writer: The Word “Taxpayer” is a Conservative Code Word and Should Be Eliminated


Another day, another Liberal wanting to ban something that she doesn’t like.

This time it’s the common political word “taxpayer” that deserves to be tossed in the trash heap of history, if one writer for the struggling New Republic is to be believed.

From News Busters:

You don’t have to be Frank Luntz or George Lakoff to know that linguistic framing matters a great deal in politics. Sometimes, however, nuance is in the eye of the beholder. The New Republic’s Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, for example, considers “taxpayer” an ideologically weighted term.

In a Thursday article pegged to the just-released House Republican budget for fiscal 2016, Bruenig claimed that the use of “taxpayers” (rather than “people”) when discussing fiscal and economic issues benefits conservatives for reasons including that it “seems to subtly promote the idea that a person’s share in our democratic governance should depend upon their contribution in taxes” and bolsters the makers-vs.-takers argument that became associated with the GOP during the 2012 campaign.


From Bruenig in The New Republic:

In the 43-page budget, the word “taxpayer” and its permutations appear 24 times, as often as the word “people.” It’s worthwhile to compare these usages, because the terms are, in a sense, rival ideas. While “people” designates the broadest possible public as the subject of a political project, “taxpayer” advances a considerably narrower vision—and that’s why we should eliminate it from political rhetoric and punditry.

…The House budget is full of examples of seemingly straightforward deployments of [‘taxpayers’] which are, upon closer inspection, clearly furthering a particular ideology. “There are too many scenarios these days in which Washington forgets that its power is derived from the ‘consent of the governed,’” the plan reads in one instance of the term’s use. “It forgets that its financial resources come from hard-working American taxpayers who wake up every day, go to work, actively grow our economy and create real opportunity.” In other words, Americans’ taxes are parallel with taxpayers’ consent, suggesting that expenditures that do not correspond to an individual’s will are some kind of affront.

Let me interject here and say that Bruenig is exactly right. The word “taxpayer,” in the sense that she has described it, does advance a particular ideology. But it’s not a Conservative ideology per se, as she contends, it’s an American ideology going back to the Founding.

That is, the Declaration of Independence, on the basis of the equality principle, argues that government derives all its powers from the consent of the governed. Among those powers certainly includes the taxing power of Congress (see Article I, section 8, clause 1 of the US Constitution).

Conservatives use the word taxpayer, Bruenig argues, to suggest “that expenditures that do not correspond to an individual’s will [i.e. consent] are some kind of affront.” And it’s that suggestion that Bruenig finds offensive and why she calls for a ban on the word taxpayer.

But it’s that identical suggestive reasoning that we find perfectly emblazed in the Declaration of Independence. Yes, it is an affront, it is tyrannical, to impose taxes that do not correspond to the consent of the governed. Conservatives are right and Bruenig is wrong.

From Bruenig in The New Republic:

The report goes on to argue that

“food stamps, public housing assistance, and development grants are judged not on whether they achieve improved health and economic outcomes for the recipients or build a stronger community, but on the size of their budgets. It is time these programs focus on core functions and responsibilities, not just on financial resources. In so doing this budget respects hard-working taxpayers who want to ensure their tax dollars are spent wisely.”

…[A]s the Republican authors of this budget know well, the beneficiaries of welfare programs tend to receive more in benefits than they pay in taxes, because they are in most cases low-income. The “taxpayers” this passage has in mind, therefore, don’t seem to be the recipients of these welfare programs, but rather those who imagine that they personally fund them. By this logic, the public is divided neatly into makers and takers, to borrow the parlance of last election’s Republicans…

The use of the word “taxpayer” has not divided the public “neatly into makers and takers,” as Bruenig suggests. To be absolutely clear, it’s Democrats, not Republicans, who have done that. By the ceaseless feeding of the multi-headed hydra that is the federal welfare state, Democrats have neatly and intentionally divided the nation between makers and takers.

The Founders, unlike most members in both parties today, had a system of welfare in place that would be instructive in this case.

The Founders’ welfare system had three basic principles:

1. It should only be for those who truly need it.

The Founders believed government had an obligation to the governed to provide a safety net, but only for those individuals incapable of providing for themselves, like widows, orphans, the elderly, and the mentally and physically handicapped. If you were capable of working, and refused, government owed you nothing.

2. It should be the bare minimum.

The Founders believed that government should provide the basic necessities of life for those who were incapable of providing for themselves, but it would only be the bare minimum. This meant that you would have food to eat and a place to sleep free of charge, but nothing much beyond that. In other words, welfare was not meant to be comfortable.

3. It should be done at the state and local level, NEVER the national.

The Founders believed that the form of government closest to the individual could best take care of the individual if necessary. This meant all welfare would come from the local and state authorities. The national government was too remote and too general to ever be suited to providing welfare. As a result, poor houses, orphanages, and insane asylums were built by local authorities, at public expense. Churches and neighborhoods also gave some relief.

Today, we have completely abandoned the Founders’ system. Therefore, it’s no wonder that when that system is appealed to by Conservatives, that Bruenig and others on the Left start crying about banning the words that are a product of that system.