As I am sure you have noticed, one of the big talking points of conservatives in recent months has been that the Obama administration and congressional Democrats despise democracy, because they have (sic!) used “revolutionary methods” to (sic!) “cram down” health reform against the manifest wishes of the American people, who wisely oppose socialism. Fortunately, Republicans are determined to help Americans “take back their country” in November.
But at the very same time, bless them, conservatives can’t help but express some long-held negative feelings about this small-d-democratic claptrap. One sign is their great hostility to any efforts to encourage higher levels of voting (though this is typically framed as opposition to “voter fraud,” evidence for which is completely lacking). Another is the Tea Party theory that there are absolute limits on the size and cost of government that either are or should be enshrined in the Constitution or enforced by the states, regardless of the results of national elections. And still another involves period bursts of outrage over people who don’t pay income taxes being allowed to vote.
This last meme got a boost very recently when estimates emerged that 47% of U.S. households won’t have any 2009 federal income tax liability.
“We have 50 percent of people who are getting something for nothing,” sneered Curtis Dubay, senior tax policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.
Sean Hannity chipped in with alarums about the implications of “half of Americans not paying taxes.”
One conservative site took the AP story on this data and added this helpful subtitle: “Tax Day Is Just Christmas For Many.”
Another had an even more suggestive title: “Let’s Make You Spend More on Me,” along with a chart showing upward federal spending trends. This interpretation is clearly just a hop, skip and jump from the “cultural of dependency” rhetoric most famously expressed by SC Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer in his speech comparing subsidized school lunch beneficiaries with stray animals who shouldn’t be encouraged with free food. And in retrospect, Bauer showed some unorthodox brilliance in directing conservative anger about socialist “free lunch” redistribution towards kids who are literally receiving free lunches.
Now the various conservative “analysts” of the free-lunch, free-rider phenomenon rarely go to the trouble of acknowledging that most of that lucky 47% not owing federal income taxes (which represent less than half of federal revenues) pay high and very regressive federal payroll taxes, not to mention even more regressive state and local sales and property taxes. Nor do they note that most non-federal-income-tax-paying households are either retirees living on savings and retirement benefits or working poor families with kids (the beneficiaries of those child tax credits that conservatives are always promoting as “pro-family” policies). And I’ve yet to see even one concede that the 47% figure is a temporary spike attributable to the recession and to short-term tax credits that will expire with the economic stimulus program.
While the reverse-class-warfare subtext of some of the conservative angst about alleged tax-and-benefit freeloaders is pretty clear, there are those who would link it to an even more lurid, culture-war theme. Check out this remarkable weekend post from National Review’s Mark Steyn, who compared our system of “representation without taxation to”–no, I’m not making this up!–Muslim oppression of non-Muslims. Gaze in awe:
United States income tax is becoming the 21st-century equivalent of the “jizya” — the punitive tax levied by Muslim states on their non-Muslim citizens: In return for funding the Islamic imperium, the infidels were permitted to carry on practicing their faith. Likewise, under the American jizya, in return for funding Big Government, the non-believers are permitted to carry on practicing their faith in capitalism, small business, economic activity, and the other primitive belief systems to which they cling so touchingly.
So there you have it: socialism and Islamofascism nicely bound up in the policies of that madrasa-attending elitist, Barack Obama.
However you slice it, the conservative commitment to democracy sometimes seems limited to those “real Americans” who think right and vote right. At a minimum, progressives should not let them combine such attitudes with pious invocations of the Popular Will.