High Taxes vs. Good Government

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High Taxes vs. Good Government

by Ari Armstrong, November 15, 2005

The personal attacks against opponents of Referendum C continue.

In his November 5 column for the Rocky Mountain News, Mike Littwin praises Referendum C without managing to offer arguments as to why its passage was a good idea. That's no surprise. But he crosses the line when he writes, "Marc Holtzman, in making Ref C a campaign issue, joined forces with Jon Caldara and the other anti-government types."

"Anti-government types?" Here's my reply to Littwin, as edited for possible publication in the News: "It would be nice if you would refrain from making inflammatory comments such that those who oppose higher taxes are 'anti-government types.' Neither Caldara nor any spokesperson against Referendum C is 'anti-government.' The debate is not over whether there should be a government or not. The debate is over the proper functions of government and how much funding those functions require. (Of course, not that your newspaper bothered to adequately report this fact, but, had Referendum C failed, general-fund spending still would have increased by nearly a billion dollars by the end of the five-year span.)"

In reply, Littwin said that, by "anti-government," he didn't really mean "anti-government." He granted that opponents of Referendum C want government to do certain things. Littwin also referenced Grover Norquist's bathtub quote, which I granted was over-the-top. However, even in that quote, Norquist implied an appropriate role for government.

It was suggested to me that, if I want to beat up on Littwin for calling opponents of higher taxes "anti-government types," then I need to be careful not to refer to people who merely want restrictions on guns as "anti-gun" advocates. That's a legitimate point. (I generally use alternate language, but I've probably used "anti-gun" imprecisely on occasion.) However, the use of the term "anti-gun" is not comparable to Littwin's use of the term "anti-government types," for two reasons. First, as Littwin is surely aware, the term "anti-government types" carries connotations that are not invoked with the phrase "anti-gun." Second, while it's plausible that a person who wants severe restrictions on gun ownership is "anti-gun" in a significant and meaningful way, a person who wants lower (or at least not higher) taxes is not "anti-government" in any way whatsoever. For example, a person who wanted to ban all guns for civilians but not for police could meaningfully be called "anti-gun," but a person who opposes tax hikes, or who wants lower taxes, is still generally pro-government in a fundamental sense.

The debate about Referendum C was not over whether to lower or increase taxes. Instead, it was a debate over whether to increase tax revenues by a little or a lot (as I've reviewed). Most people who actively opposed Referendum C, and most people who voted against it, do not favor large tax cuts. However, a few opponents of Referendum C, such as my Objectivist friends, believe government ultimately should be financed voluntarily, not through taxes. Yet even wanting to eventually eliminate all taxes does not make one an "anti-government type." Instead, Objectivists are enthusiastically pro-government. They argue that government is necessary to protect individual rights by means of the courts, the police, and the military. Indeed, they argue that high taxes are antithetical to good government, insofar as high taxes violate economic rights. Most small-government conservatives want taxes, just not higher taxes.

Anarchism comes in both left and right varieties. "Anti-government" means anarchist. Littwin should use the term "anti-government" only to apply to anarchists, not to people who explicitly advocate government. Of course, should Littwin decide to write about anarchists, he should describe their actual positions. (I should grant here that, in some of his columns, Littwin has been reasonably fair to the opponents of Referendum C.)

The second example is worse. In a letter to the November 15 News, Jerry L. Colness writes of Jon Caldara's "jingoistic misinformation," but Colness does not offer an actual example, nor does he subject the advocates of Referendum C to the same standards.

Colness writes, "Would that these ideologues of 'no government' had gotten the public's message that their ideas to blindly starve government are as radical as they are ignorant." Colness's statement contains several errors. First, the opponents of Referendum C are not "ideologues of 'no government'." Colness's statement is a lie, and it is an ad hominem attack. Second, Colness confuses 52 percent of voters with "the public." Third, Colness states, without evidence, that opponents of Referendum C act "blindly" -- another empty ad hominem attack. Fourth, Colness implies that the defeat of Referendum C somehow would have starved state government, even though general-fund spending was already expected to increase by nearly a billion dollars over five years, had Referendum C failed. Fifth, Colness uses the terms "radical" and "ignorant" as empty ad hominem attacks.

Here's the letter I sent to the editor of the News's editorial side:

Dear Mr. Carroll,

Today your newspaper again printed the lie that opponents of Ref. C are "ideologues of 'no government'." (Littwin called them "anti-government types.") However, no spokesperson against Ref. C is against government. Every spokesperson against Ref. C believes the government serves certain essential functions.

And please count up the number of times that your newspaper reported the fact that, according to both Legislative Council and the Office of Planning, general-fund spending was already expected to increase by nearly a billion dollars by the end of the five-year span, had Ref. C failed. I don't recall your paper reporting that fact even a single time, though I may have forgotten or missed something. Yet your newspaper diligently reported Henry Sobanet's claim that the budget faced $365 million in "cuts" next year -- even as your newspaper suppressed the fact that about $310 million of that amount consisted of anticipated increases in spending.

For the most part, the editorial side of the News avoided the overt and persistent bias in favor of Ref. C that was shown by the news side of the News and both sides of the Post (with some notable exceptions), and I appreciate that. But the letter your paper printed today (by Colness) is not an argument, it is a lie.

As I've written, a free pass is given to the advocates of Referendum C, while "relentless and vicious personal attacks against critics of Referendum C are chic." But perhaps there's a silver lining to this. I suspect that when Ken Gordon, Jerry Colness, etc., demonize the opponents of higher taxes, the attacks will only heighten the motivation of the targets.

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