Questioning Patriotism on Tax Day

We have the silliest blog debate of the year started thanks to Matt Stoller of MyDD. Matt is proud to pay his taxes, and ties it to patriotism. Many of his points are valid. To some degree, we do get what we pay for, shared money spent by government can be a more efficient way in which to achieve mutual goals than by having each individual keep all their money and spending it as they see fit. On some areas all but the most extreme libertarian would agree. It is more efficient to have a national government handle defense from foreign enemies than for each individual to try to pay for their own protection. On many other areas, such as health care, there is room for honest disagreement as to the role of government.

I also agree with Stoller in his criticism of Grover Norquist. A policy which simply says to cut taxes no matter what is irresponsible and nonsensical as I discussed a couple of days ago. Even many conservatives are bothered by Norquist’s pledges not to ever raise taxes. Policies from many conservative groups seem to be little more than means to justify cheating on their taxes while claiming to be following a coherent political philosophy.

Where Stoller runs into trouble, leaving himself open to criticism from multiple conservative blogs, is the implication that all those who oppose our current tax rates and tax structure are unpatriotic. He writes, “I suppose, if you hate democracy, as the right-wing does, then taxes are the price for paying for something you really don’t want.”

It is not surprising that many conservative bloggers object to the claim that they are unpatriotic and hate democracy. There are many valid arguments that many on the right fail to respect democracy as they support the authoritarian policies of the Bush administration, but their complaints about taxation are not a good example. Powerline replies to Stoller by noting that advocating different policies is consistent with democracy:

Conservatives argue for all sorts of things when it comes to taxes: lower marginal tax rates, lower capital gains taxes (or none), a flat tax, the replacement of the federal income tax with a national sales tax, etc. But I know of no conservative who argues for no taxation. Nor can Stoller show any relationship between current levels of taxation and democracy. We’d be no less democratic if our representatives voted to cut our tax rates in half or institute a flat tax. Thus, it’s hardly anti-democratic for conservatives to advocate such measures or to regret, especially on “tax day,” that they have not been adopted.

Blue Crab Boulevard replies to Stoller with, “Ah, yes. Don’t ever question the patriotism of the left, but anyone who questions the tax code is unpatriotic, un-American and against democracy.” On this point Gaius is right. Just as it is wrong for conservatives to call us unpatriotic for opposing the war or for wanting to place checks on the power of government, conservatives are justified in complaining about being called unpatriotic for calling for lower taxes. We can argue that they are irresponsible in allowing for huge deficits and for not showing a responsible plan for what is to be cut, but that does not mean they are not patriotic.

One other point to Matt, if he wants the Democrats to keep the support of professionals such as myself who helped the Democrats take control of Congress. Don’t call taxes a “tiny burden” if you want to be taken seriously by those of us whose federal income taxes are in the tens of thousands of dollars. You’ll be far more successful by showing the benefits to the country of paying taxes at the levels you advocate than by writing off the taxes as a “tiny burden” and questioning the patriotism of those who complain.

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