Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Good Word

I've been lamenting the fact that politicians at all levels of government have resisted the one action that might actually help this nation recover economically and physically: raising taxes. Our infrastructure is visibly crumbling away, our schools are about to go under, our food can no longer be trusted to be safe to consume, we can't count on airplanes to remain in the sky, all because our government doesn't have the money to do its job. Yet none of our representatives has the courage to even murmur that raising taxes is the best way to cure a lot of our ills out of fear of the next election.

Well, David Conniff has suggested one answer to the dilemma in a wonderful op-ed piece in today's NY Times.

It’s time to take a page from the conservative playbook, the one where they reframe the debate by changing the language — for instance, calling the “estate tax” a “death tax,” or making equal rights for same-sex partners a “protection of marriage” issue. I propose we stop saying “taxes” and start calling them “dues.”

Yes, this is a little sneaky. Some conservatives may even call it Orwellian, and they ought to know. But the word “dues” also plays into the psychology of group identity, and that can work to the benefit of conservatives and liberals alike. Consider that “tax” comes from the Latin for “appraise” with punitive overtones of “censure” or “fault,” as if wage-earners have done something wrong by their labors. “Dues,” in contrast, is rooted in social obligation and duty.

...we need language to remind us that this is our government, and that we thrive because of the schools and transit systems and 10,000 other services that exist only because we have joined together.
[Emphasis added]

That's the ticket. And to those who feel like Mr. Conniff's friend that the government is not an organization to which they wish to belong I would simply suggest that they go buy an island away from this nation and build their own damned roads, purify their own water, develop their own power supply and run it, and raise their own police and fire departments.

The rest of us can then get back to the business of being members of the social compact known as the United States.



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