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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Not a people person

The New Republic thinks we should stop talking about "taxpayers" because, you know, it's divisive:

Which is why its use of the term “taxpayer”—though hardly atypical of political documents—is notable. 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.

Along with wrongly dividing the public into various private interest sets, taxpayer terminology also seems to subtly promote the idea that a person’s share in our democratic governance should depend upon their contribution in taxes. If government should respond to the will of taxpayers because programs are incorrectly supposed to be financed on their dime, then those contributing larger shares would seem to be due greater consideration, like shareholders in a company. (It would also mean that the countless undocumented immigrants who contribute more than $10 billion a year in taxes ought to become voting citizens.) But this view is precisely contrary to the democratic vision invoked in historical verbiage like “consent of the governed,” as it mistakes the source of a person’s rights. 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.

Well, forgive me for sounding like a member of a "private interest set," but we use the term "taxpayer" to remind all the chuckleheads in government who pays the bills.