I am continually disturbed, and now even disgusted, how often, and in how many places, the word “citizen” is being replaced by the word “taxpayer.” They aren’t the same, nor should they ever be.


“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not money, I am become as a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not money, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not money, it profiteth me nothing.
Money suffereth long, and is kind; money envieth not; money vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
And now abideth faith, hope, money, these three; but the greatest of these is money.”

George Orwell

I am continually disturbed, and now even disgusted, how often, and in how many places, the word “citizen” is being replaced by the word “taxpayer.” They aren’t the same, nor should they ever be.
Language matters, and in this case, language matters more than ever. What we call ourselves reveals what we identify with before all others and our real priorities as a people.
So, reducing the people of this land to simply being taxpayers is frightening. Is that who and what we are - consumers? Are we now just one part of a transaction? I can live with that label, say, at a restaurant. I pay for food and I expect it to be brought to me as I ordered it. I have certain rights as a customer, but few, if any, responsibilities.
Government is not a simplistic fiscal transaction, however. No matter how much we would prefer it to be some easy paint-by-numbers constitutional exercise, it’s not. In fact, it has never been, nor will it ever be that way. Anyone who tells you it can be is either a fool or a liar. In a land of more than 300 million people, achieving that kind of simplicity is impossible.
It takes work, hard work, to make this system work. The founders knew this. People like Washington, Adams and Jefferson were children of the enlightenment. They understood, and endorsed, the idea of the social contract. Because of that understanding, we now have the Constitution.
Oh, some people, particulary in the Tea Party, are just in love with the Constitution these days, but only inasmuch as they can treat it as little more than a receipt. “Look at how much I paid,” these people cry. “Give me my money’s worth!” For a movement that supposedly eschews entitlement, they sure seem to have a lot of it.
Those are the civics of the taxpayer. It is the mentality of “mine, mine, mine!” They want the benefits, but not the obligations of the contract.
That’s not to say that point of view is all wrong. We do pay taxes and we deserve to have certain reasonable expectations met - namely that our investment be managed wisely and the funds distributed fairly. I can’t think of anyone reading this who would disagree. But that isn’t the only expectation we lay upon government, or that government lays upon us.
A citizen, however, thinks much broader than the taxpayer. The taxpayer thinks in terms of “I”. The citizen thinks in terms of “we.” The taxpayer demands. The citizen negotiates and compromises. The taxpayer wants perfect value. The citizen knows that is simply not attainable. The taxpayer draws arbitrary, angry lines in the sand. The citizen deliberates before deciding.
The founders clearly wanted us to be citizens. They clearly expected more out of us than self-indulgent fiscal whining. The preamble to the Constitution clearly refers to “We the people.” It clearly says we need to “promote the general welfare,” and “insure domestic tranquility.” They knew the work would remain unfinished, that the Constitution was the start of a process not the end. That’s why they called it, “A more perfect union.”
People, promoting the general welfare is not socialism. That’s being a good neighbor. Insuring domestic tranquility isn’t a pipe dream. It’s a hope for maturity among the populace. A “more perfect union” requires work - work the founders hoped we would take up with an eye toward the things they listed in the preamble, not a call for defunding government, shutting doors and not having the problems of other be your concern. The constitution is an inherently unselfish document.
So, please, let’s stop being “taxpayers.” There’s nothing special whatsoever about a person who can pay a bill. It’s a lazy way to refer to our rather extraordinary American lives.
This nation requires citizens, not simply taxpayers.