Despite the absence of a Bush family member in this year’s presidential race, echoes from a doomed 1988 campaign promise reverberated through the lips of John McCain on Sunday. In fact, not only did McCain promise he would not raise taxes if he were to become the president, on “This Week” he told George Stephanopoulos: “I could see an argument, if our economy continues to deteriorate, for lower interest rates, lower tax rates and certainly decreasing corporate tax rates.”
To be fair, Stephanopoulos did pretty much feed him the line: “So on taxes,” he asked McCain, “are you a ‘read my lips’ candidate, no new taxes, no matter what?” But like his Bush counterparts, McCain pushes the party line of tax relief.
The term “tax relief” may seem rather innocuous, especially since we hear the term from both of the leading political parties. Behind those three syllables, however, is a glimpse at a very important part of the conservative strategy.
According to George Lakoff, a University of California-Berkley linguistics professor and author of “Don’t Think of an Elephant,” the term has been put to good use since the beginning of the George W. Bush administration, convincing Americans that to be taxed is to be afflicted. By framing taxes as an affliction, Lakoff explained in a 2003 interview, Americans will see the reliever as the hero and anyone who tries to stop the relief from occurring as a villain. When Democrats use this term, they are essentially helping to make the case against themselves, whether they realize this.
Rather than thinking of taxation as a burden, Lakoff suggests, there is an entirely different way to think and speak about taxes. He looks at taxes as paying dues for living in a country with tremendous infrastructure, civil liberties and democracy – essentially an issue of patriotism. The highways, sidewalks and, ahem, bridges, as well as the less tangible infrastructure of the public school system, the Internet and so on, are actually supported right now by taxes paid years ago. Taxes should be viewed more as an investment in the future, rather than something from which we need relief. That is, if the tax money is spent on beneficial endeavors, rather than on a war based on false premises Ö but I don’t have enough room to get into that.
McCain also discussed his support of maintaining the Bush tax cuts, which by far benefit the top 1 percent of the income bracket. I’ve noticed that whenever right-wing pundits discuss these tax cuts, they give the impression that repealing these cuts would dramatically affect most Americans. Obviously, restoring the previous tax rates for those who make more than $1.25 million would not affect most Americans.
Of course, people make the argument that those people earned their money and shouldn’t be penalized for being rich. Considering a good portion of the “tax relief” came from the gradual repeal of the inherited income tax, it doesn’t follow that the money was earned.
Lakoff makes a good point as to why these tax cuts, which will cost our federal budget over $1 trillion over the next decade, do not make sense: “The wealthiest Americans use that infrastructure more than anyone else, and they use parts of it that other people don’t Ö and we’re all paying for it.”
Chelsey Perkins welcomes comments at [email protected]