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April 10, 2008

Hating On We, the People

-- by Dave Johnson

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

At Speak Out California, we have been writing quite a bit about democracy and about the meaning of the words "We, the People."

Decades of conservative/corporate marketing has convinced too many of us to think of ourselves as passive consumers rather than participatory citizens. This thinking has brought with it numerous negative consequences. But if we work to restore our understanding that WE are "the government" we can start to see our state and country the way the founders intended. We can see that we are in control and can make decisions that increase the benefits we receive as citizens.

In a recent post, The Power of the Words "We, the People", I wrote,

As an experiment, try substituting the words, "We, the People" every time you read or use the word "government." Or use the word "our" instead of "the" when you say "the government." Our government, us, we, the people.
Later in that post I wrote,
Conservatives have worked hard to make "government" a bad word. They complain about "big government." They complain about "government schools." But what happens when we substitute a form of "We, the People" into their slogans? The whole meaning seems to change.

With that in mind, lets take a look at an opinion column in April 2's Orange County Register by Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association President Jon Coupal: California Focus: No tax loopholes merit closing. The column is your standard conservative anti-government screed, arguing against closing tax loopholes that benefit corporations and the very wealthy to solve the state's budget problems. It begins,
In recent weeks, Gov. Schwarzenegger, legislative leaders and the Legislative Analyst's Office have called for eliminating what they term "tax loopholes" to help close California's staggering $16 billion budget deficit.

But one person's loophole is another person's legitimate advancement of public policy. This is especially true with those tax credits or deductions that are both broad-based – benefiting large segments of society – and which result in a significant societal benefit.

The specific tax loopholes under discussion include one that allows the very rich to avoid paying sales tax on new yachts and private jets, while the rest of us have to pay. Another lets oil companies pump our oil out of the ground without paying the state, and then sell it back to us. Another lets sales over the internet go untaxed, giving them a competitive advantage over local businesses that pay rent for a storefront, employ sales clerks, etc.

This discussion of tax loopholes occurs, of course, in opposition to the Governor's proposal to solve the budget problems by cutting all state programs -- the benefits that We, the People receive -- by 10% "across-the-board." That means cutting schools, police, fire, road maintenance, and everything else our state does. This, of course, means cutting the DMV staff by another 10%, making the lines more unbearable. It means cutting courts and prisons and environmental protection and parks and consumer and worker protections. It means, as we enter a recession, laying off thousands more workers.

But Coupal writes,

Those of us who represent taxpayers must remember our starting point. Specifically, that government is too big, too wasteful and too corrupt to be entrusted with any more money.
What is he saying here? Keeping in mind that our government is US, he is saying that you and I are corrupt! he is saying that you and I cannot be trusted!

Do you see here how our understanding of conservative arguments changes once we restore our understanding of democracy and our own role in our own government? In that light it certainly is insulting and contemptuous of conservatives to say that government is corrupt and cannot be trusted!

We, the People established this government that Coupal hates so much. And We, the People vote our representatives in to office to do as we ask. But it is this We, the People that Coupal and other anti-tax, anti-government advocates say cannot be trusted! They say there are too many schools for our children, that the lines are not already long enough at the DMV, that we should let prisoners go free, and cause the courts to have even longer backups when We, the People have issues that we need resolved. WE can not be trusted, they say, so they must impose restrictions on our ability to provide for our common good. They insist that 2/3 requirements be imposed on our ability to raise the funds we need to accomplish things like paving our roads and caring for our children!

In a recent post, Do Taxes 'Hurt'? Is Government Bad?, I wrote,

This anti-tax rhetoric results from an anti-government worldview that is pushed by conservatives, in which they portray our government as some kind of enemy of the public.

[. . .] So how can government and taxes be bad if the government is us? Looking at things this way, doesn't this all mean that taxes are like a savings and investment account where we get back so much more than we put in? And, building on that, since we use the taxes to our mutual benefit aren't we all better off if there are more taxes rather than less? Doesn't that just make us all stronger?


Finally, with a huge state deficit, what does Coupal want? He writes,
...even if some tax credits actually deserve the label of "loophole," government simply does not need more money.
We have a huge budget deficit, and he thinks We, the People don't "deserve" any more money. Think about that.

Click through to Speak Out California.

Posted by Dave Johnson at April 10, 2008 12:13 PM

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