Sunday, February 15, 2009

Defining One's Terms, the website affiliated with the Tampa Tribune, ponders the quandary of Floridian legislators who signed on to a "No new taxes" pledge prior to the current financial mess.

The money quote:
It was probably foolish for anyone to sign it, said Tom Slade, former head of the Republican Party of Florida.

"You never know what's going to happen tomorrow," Slade said. "You don't know how wide or deep the river's going to get. Saying I'm never going to use a life boat seemed foolish to me."

Some seem to think that by changing definitions they can squeak by:
[Grover Norquist, founder of Americans For Tax Reform and author of the pledge] makes an exception, though, for raising user fees. It's an option that many Republicans prefer, though the difference between a fee and a tax is often hazy.

Sen. Mike Fasano, who has signed Norquist's pledge, describes the cigarette tax as a user fee - meaning, he said, that he could vote to raise it without breaking his word.

The GOP has put real effort into redefining the vocabulary of public debate over the last few decades. "Tax and spend," for example, has no bearing on the Defense Department's budget (nor nowadays on the Department of Homeland Security); "Family Values" applies to a very narrowly constrained view of the family; "right to life" only applies before birth, and so on. Apparently now, "tax increase" is foul language, so "user fee assessment" must be employed instead.

Florida's budget is in appalling shape, with revenues down substantially. 2010's budget, at the moment, looks worse. Too many in the legislature, unfortunately, have signed on either literally or in principle to the no-new-taxes pledge to actually raise taxes. Something, however, must be done, and the GOP is fast warming to the idea that they can assess levies to at least help bridge the gap so long as the word "tax" isn't even breathed during the debate.

One of the beauties of representative democracy in principle is that the representative is the voice of his/her constituents. Party affiliation, in that definition, is the association of representatives with at least some shared philosophy of government who remain free to address issues of interest to those they represent. Tragically, the top-down approach the GOP has adopted in the last few decades squelches that collegial atmosphere and institutes a far more doctrinaire approach. It is true that both major parties are in some part guilty of this behaviour, but the degree and the lengths taken in such efforts is markedly different.

Democracy and republicanism imply determining policy from bottom-up processes. The GOP seems ever more intent on taking its policy planks verbatim from a few select and unquestionable sources and pushing them down the ranks. There's a somewhat different term for such an approach.

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