Language Matters: We Need to Set the Terms of the Debate on Taxes and Spending

I am getting more and more frustrated when I see conservatives, Republicans and others debating the Democrats on the terms defined by the Democrats, using language set by the Democrats. Guys, language matters. One of the most basic rules of debate is to build subtle assumptions into your statements and arguments that lead your opponent to accept certain premises that benefit your position. The Democrats are expert at this, and we’ve been stepping into their traps repeatedly.

I’m not saying that nobody is out there fighting to set the terms of the debate. There are talking heads on TV and commentators that do in fact fight on this front. We are losing the battle, though, because too many people accept the language used by the Democrats, and thus unwittingly admit the assumptions and premises built therein.

Tax Cuts “For The Rich”

The most recent example is the debate on whether or not “to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich,” or, for those of us still grounded in reality, whether or not to prevent a massive Obama tax increase on everybody. Worse still, the Democrats have somehow successfully framed the consequence of not raising taxes as somehow costing the government $800 billion. This type of pure unadulterated sophistry should not be tolerated.

The false assumption built into this rhetoric is, of course, that we’ve been paying taxes at the Clinton-era income tax rates for the past eight years. Obviously, this is false. Only in the twisted world of Saul Alinsky liberalism would anybody accept the proposition that not hiking taxes is somehow a government expenditure that has a “cost.”

And yet we debate them on these terms. It needs to stop. NOW. It is high time that we as conservatives begin setting the terms of and language used in the national dialogue. Although we can’t prevent Keith Olbermann or Katie Couric from using whatever statist liberal language they want to use, we can at least start by correcting ourselves. In any discussion in which a reporter, debate moderator, or other person uses loaded language, the first order of business should be to correct the language and built-in assumptions they are using prior to addressing the merits of their question or answering their argument. It is a lot easier to convince people to support efforts to stop tax increases on everybody than to support extending tax cut giveaways to greedy rich fat cats.

“Don’t Raise Taxes in an Economic Recession”

It should be obvious to most Americans that it is a bad idea to raise taxes in an economic recession. The people are with us on this one. However, the problem with this statement is that it carries with it a nasty built-in assumption. When we counter the Democrats’ demands to sock the rich with huge tax increases by saying “the economy is bad!” you are essentially conceding that if only the economy were better, increasing taxes would be acceptable to any reasonable person. Don’t let people get away with the idea that raising taxes beyond the oppressive rates we already pay is ever a good idea. A new catch-phrase is being batted around that hits the nail square on the head:

The federal government has a spending problem, not a revenue problem!

Here is Barack Obama and his lickspittle media parrots on the “extension of tax cut giveaways for the ultra rich”:

If we debate these issues using their language, on their terms, we may win temporary victories, but we will never prevail. Compare and contrast Ronald Reagan’s approach:

The only way we are going to succeed in fundamentally reforming and reducing the size and scope of government is if we set the language and terms of the debate. Make the Democrats answer why $3.107 trillion dollars is somehow not enough to pay for their ever-increasing nanny state. Why is it acceptable for this so-called deficit commission to balance the budget on the backs of Americans by enacting massive tax increases? Why is it that the attention and demagoguery is directed at the modest tweaks to the welfare state but nothing is said about the massive tax hikes?

Ronald Reagan was successful because he did not fall for liberal language manipulation. He defined the terms. He used his own language. He made the other side answer to him. This is the example we must follow if we are to win the coming debate.

. . . And the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Crossposted at Florida Liberty Project.