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.
House Republicans unveiled their budget this week, an ambitious plan which balances the budget over 10 years and repeals Obamacare.
One word appears throughout the document, one which New Republic writer Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig believes should be “eliminated” because it subtly divides people into “makers and takers.”
The word? “Taxpayer.”
The word she believes should be used instead? “People.”
So Orwellian it hurts!
The New Republic’s Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig considers “taxpayer” an ideologically weighted term. A Conservative term, so it must therefore be evil.
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.
Well, yes, “taxpayer” is a narrower term because not all people are taxpayers. But somehow that distinction is now deemed discriminatory.
…[T]axpayer terminology also seems to subtly promote the idea that a person’s share in our democratic governance should depend upon their contribution in taxes…Our share in democracy arises not from what we can pay into it, but from the fact that we are persons and personhood confers certain obligations and dues.
In both President Obama’s and the GOP’s budget proposals, the terms “taxpayer” and “taxpayer dollars” or variations thereof are used, referencing government’s responsibility to use the funds wisely and efficiently.
But even the fact that taxpayer dollars came from taxpayers and therefore taxpayers should be happy with how they are used is somehow a touchy issue:
If money owed in taxes is imagined, as in the budget plan … to belong to the taxpayer, then programs operating off of public revenue do seem to have some obligation to correspond to their funders’ consent, and serving the interests of others does seem unfair. But these are all obfuscations brought on by the term.
Bruenig ends with characterizing all who use the term “taxpayer” as “carrying political water.”
Orwell at it’s finest.
“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. 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…
…Public revenue is just that: a pool of public money to be used for the good of the public, not 300 million pools of private money each to be used to serve private individuals’ interests. What is in the interest of the public may involve expenditures that can’t be filed in a pay-in-cash-out formula, as the “taxpayer” terminology would suggest.
The she goes on to complain that this “formula” would be bad for kids, roads, utilities, ad nauseum because after all they are a “necessary social function” and “provides for the common good” and if we continue to use the ideologically conservative word “taxpayer” we will in due course steal candy from babies, destroy and neglect our children, old people, roads, bridges,environment etc. Hell will be let loose on earth!
We must ban any hot button conservative-leaning words that remind people where all this “free” money and “necessary social function” comes from.
We just want them to sit back and enjoy the fruits of our Socialist labor and not question where it came from.
Orwell could do no better.