Republican presidential hopeful George W. Bush admits that he needs to do "a better job of explaining" his tax plan. Yet, despite this doleful admission, the national debate about tax cuts has disappeared. Why?
The problem is that Republicans view tax cuts as means to power. They fail to see the moral arguments for low taxes and limited government. Republicans should look back at the revolutionaries who won the America's war for independence from Great Britain and learn from them.
The "American Whigs," as they called themselves, may seem like a distant memory now. But they won our freedom by persuading their fellow citizens with rhetoric that was dynamic and evocative — language that extolled the promise of a free and vigilant citizenry, elicited skepticism about the ever-expanding state, and cast doubt on the intentions of those "court locusts" in power. They never accepted their opposition's terms of debate.
The American Whigs would have scoffed at the idea that tax cuts had to be "paid for." They would have chafed at the idea that returning money and power to the people is a "risky scheme." And they would have rejected out of hand the argument that tax cuts benefit the "rich."
The reason is simple: The Whigs saw taxation as the measure of a people's power over (or their enslavement to) government. Pamphleteer John Dickinson wrote that the "purse strings" were the "constitutional check" over government.
Lawyer James Wilson of Pennsylvania agreed. Refusing government tax money was a way to "check the progress of arbitrary power."
The Whigs knew that if Parliament had the power of taxation without their representation, government would transmogrify into a beast with an insatiable appetite for the liberty and money of the people.
Josiah Quincy described vividly the corrupt London special interests and their greedy designs on America: "Are not pensioners, stipenderies, and salary-men (unknown before), hourly multiplying on us, to riot in the spoils of miserable America?"
Those men in faraway England didn't care about the needs of the colonies. They were interested in political power and what they could do once they got their hands into the deep pockets of America. Quincy asked, "Is not the bread taken out of the mouths of children and given unto the Dogs? Are not our estates given to corrupt sycophants, without a design, or even a pretense, of soliciting our assent, and our lives put into the hands of those whose tender mercies are cruelties?"
Today we call the taking of our "bread" and "estates" euphemistic names such as entitlements, subsidies, disbursements, "fairness" and "compassion." The "dogs" and "corrupt sycophants" are the special interests, government yes-men, advocacy groups, and liberal activists who use all their ingenuity to find ways to spend tax money and then lobby for more.
When Bush talks about reform or taxes he rarely uses language that casts doubt on what government does or how wasteful programs are. Whig rhetoric was more fiery, which is why they won: it forced the state to answer to the
Republicans are constantly on the defensive because they accept the language of liberalism and let Democrats define the debate.
The Whigs knew that taxation is ultimately an argument about what is moral. They saw taxes for what they are: the citizen's lifeblood. Taxes are the product of innovation, entrepreneurship, labor, blood, sweat and tears. They are our time — spent working away from friends and family, toiling for company bonuses, giving up weekends to finish one more task in the office. Government then collects from us this time and effort in innumerable federal income taxes, state and local assessments, fees, levies, tolls, licenses, dues, excises, payroll taxes, capital gains taxes, even death taxes.
In 1768 Boston's Samuel Adams wrote of "the plain and obvious rule of equity whereby the industrious man is entitled to the fruits of his industry." This is the heart of any debate about taxation.
In Washington today, few men or women defend this simple idea. Democrats measure compassion by how much is spent. They use the words like "budget surplus" — as if the overpayment of taxes is measure of government frugality. They call any reduction in the rate of the state's growth "draconian cuts" or "savage slashes."
Meanwhile, the Republican Party can't even find the words or the reasons for the liberty it routinely surrenders.
If today's Republican Party had led the Cause of Liberty, it's doubtful we'd be free. In 1776, Republican "leaders" would have brokered a deal with George III.
We would have gotten something like a "Parliamentary Savings Account" to be phased in over a seven-year period starting in 1802 with credits for American families amounting to a 2.5 percent modification (amounting to an increase) in the Tea Tax, the Sugar Act, and while they were at it, the GOP would have reintroduced the Stamp Tax and the Intolerable Acts.
Worst of all, the surrender of principle would have been called a "victory for colonial families."
Thankfully, the Revolutionaries didn't fight England's tyrannous efforts to tax and rule the colonies with GOP-style words or plans. They wanted chains put on government because they treasured liberty. They trusted the free citizen. They distrusted those in power. And they used language that would prove their case.
We have forgotten that to keep government a servant of the people requires vigilance and dedication. And the first step is to frame the issue that taxes are the people's earnings, not the royal right of a slothful bureaucracy.