Jonah Goldberg
Every political movement has its rhetorical strengths and weaknesses. The right can wax poetic about liberty and freedom, the left about the nobility of the poor and downtrodden.

Nowhere do these differences come across more starkly than on the subject of taxation.

(Note: This is not a column about the debt-ceiling negotiations. I would have put this warning up top, but I feared that immediately seeing the phrase "debt-ceiling negotiations" would cause many readers to face-plant into their breakfast tables or computer screens.)

Ask almost any Republican politician, from lobster-roll-eating Northeastern "Rinos" (Republicans in name only) to flinty, leather-skinned Westerners with calluses on their trigger fingers, to explain why high taxes are bad, and they'll do a pretty good job of selling it.

Ask almost any Democrat to explain why high taxes are bad, and you will get hit with the velvet fog, minus the velvet. First they'll explain that while they do favor "increasing revenues," they don't favor higher taxes if by "high taxes" you mean taxes that are "too high." They favor "smart" tax rates that are "targeted" (i.e., "higher"). Then they'll explain that they don't want to raise your taxes; they want to raise taxes on your boss, your employer and the companies that sell you gas, cars, cigarettes, food, clothes, electricity and various "unnecessary" surgical procedures. They leave out that those taxes get passed on to you.

Then, they'll rush to safer territory: all of the wonderful things government does. Government, don't you know, is just the word we use for all the things we do together. So every time you cut a check to the IRS, an angel gets its wings.

Not all of those arguments are necessarily wrong. My point is that there's no poetry to them. The sizzle doesn't sell the steak.

Barack Obama has tried to explain that higher taxes are "neighborly." That "spreading the wealth around" is noble. That taxation is a vital application of the biblical requirement to be our "brother's keeper" that the Bible doesn't require.

George Lakoff, a prominent linguistic consultant to Democrats, has tried a different tack. He says that "taxes are what you pay to be an American. ... Taxes are your dues -- you pay your dues to be an American."

For all the money Lakoff gets for being original, it's funny how he's just plagiarizing FDR, who said, "Taxes, after all, are dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society."

Some ideas won't die, however. So there was Faiz Shakir, editor-in-chief of, expanding on this idea on C-SPAN the other day.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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