What Conservatives Don’t Understand About The Constitution and Taxes

bachmann-constitutionIt’s become nearly a daily occurrence on a couple of pages I help run, there will almost inevitably be that one person who goes off on some tangent about food stamps, charity and taxation while screaming about how “TAXATION IS THEFT” and it should be a “voluntary exchange” when it comes to helping the poor or even funding infrastructure. The whole argument really ends up boiling down to how they believe taxes, especially income taxes, are unconstitutional – even though Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 of the Constititution clearly states the following:

The Congress shall have power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common defence[note 1]and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

To establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current coin of the United States;

To establish Post Offices and post Roads;

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

(Source)



There are many more enumerated powers given by the Constitution to Congress (mostly dealing with military matters) but the fact remains that while you can complain all you want, taxes are valid under the Constitution (whether you want to argue technicalities on the 16th Amendment or not). As I stated in a previous article:

Taxes are like root canals and death. Nobody really looks forward to those any more than they like receiving that Christmas letter from that over-achieving, smarmy relative who wants to brag about their honor roll student or their fairy tale second honeymoon. But guess what? Taxes are the price we pay for living in a society with navigable roads, schools and even your favorite college football team. (Source)

“But we had a country for over a century without an income tax and we were just fine” is the common retort once it has been explained that the ability to levy taxes is outlined in the Constitution. Well, let’s see. The income tax system we have today was passed in 1909 and ratified in 1913. Prior to that, we had only two major conflicts since the ratification of the Constitution, and both of those were paid for with new taxes or an increase on tariffs (The War of 1812). Back then, we also didn’t have a national telecommunications system, interstate highways, the FAA, the CIA, a large standing army deployed all over the world, NASA, the CDC, or the military industrial complex. And while you may not like some of these entities or improvements, the fact remains that these advances in technology, government and infrastructure weren’t made by the private sector.

Also, the Constitution as it was originally written was not a perfect document. That’s why there have been amendments made to it to allow for things like the freedom of speech, the right to keep and bear arms, the right for women and minorities to vote, etc. But when you point these things out to those who wail loudly about taxation, including the fact that taxes are much lower now than back in the 1950’s, then the subject changes to how the government spends too much and the national debt. Yes, we do spend more than we take in but under President Obama, the deficit has actually shrunk to $492 billion, the lowest since 2009. In other words, we’re still putting ourselves into debt but at a substantial slower pace than we were before. In fact, before the Bush tax cuts, we were actually running a budget surplus which would have stopped and even reversed the increasing debt. Instead, Bush stopped the surplus and promptly started two wars and also introduced Medicare Part D, none of which were paid for by additional taxes. You know, the opposite of what a fiscal conservative would do.

Our government and its role is much larger than it was in the 1700s, but so is our population and its needs. In the 1700s, public infrastructure was nearly non-existent and electricity wouldn’t even be available as an energy source for nearly another century. In 1790, the US population was 3.5 million. Today, it is nearly 320 million. Today, the current life expectancy in the United States is 78.61 years, more than double the average life expectancy in 1790. Back then, we didn’t need Social Security or Medicare because the average person was dead before their 40th birthday. How is it that we get to live more than twice the length of time our great-great-great-great-great grandparents did? Advances in public sanitation, vaccines and other medical science which were brought to you in part by, you guessed it, tax payer funded projects.

So if you’re still deadset against the toll you pay in order to live in a society and refuse to accept the power of the federal government, then please go ahead and drop the whole “I’m a strict Constitutionalist and American patriot” shtick. Of course, we know most of you really enjoy those interstate highways instead of having roll a covered wagon a few hundred miles every time you want go visit grandma in Arizona or not watching your kids die from a smallpox or typhoid outbreak. The thing is, you like all of the perks that come with living in a first world country, you just don’t want to pay for them – and that makes you a freeloader like you accuse the poor of being.

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  • John Spriggs

    Well said!

  • Alierias

    I’ve used this very same tact with my pig-ignorant relatives….

    • Someone

      How do they reply?

      • Alierias

        They sputter and change the subject, or come back with some Faux News/Rush Limbaugh anecdote that is completely either disproved/wrong, or an outright pants-on-fire lie. Then, when I look it up, they reject it as being “leftist propaganda”

      • Marie

        LOL I’m with you, I’ve had the same experience. A relative of mine was convinced of death panels and scaring a more elderly relative – when I used the evidence provided by snopes it was dismissed as a leftist site.

        Hard to argue with someone who dismisses any evidence to the contrary as “leftist propaganda.”

  • Mark Zellers

    If taxation without representation is tyrany, then representation without taxation is lunacy

  • sherry06053

    I always say you get what you pay for…the price we pay for what we get and GIVE is a bargain! And I have no problem helping the poor. I DO have a problem with my taxes going toward war and the invasion of Iraq, but there is nothing we can do about it now – except make sure it doesn’t happen again. When the cost of war is calculated, it needs to include our soldiers coming home with wounds that can not be seen. We need to pull out all the stops when it comes to dealing with the people who risked their lives – even if we don’t agree with the conflict. Cost should never be an issue with helping those people deal with the horror that they have seen.

  • Yes yes yes! Taxes, and the use of them to help the less fortunate among us, are part and parcel of living in civilization. If I don’t like that my taxes funded the Iraq war, and a conservative doesn’t like it that his/her taxes go to SNAP recepients (or even to help poor people get insurance, as one idiot once argued with me)–too goddamned bad. You live in a civilized country, that’s the price you pay.

  • Cemetery Girl

    I need to point this out. Just because an average life expectancy was low (say 40 years old), it didn’t mean that most people that reached adulthood would die around 40 years old. If the average life expectancy in 1780 was 40 (I don’t know the actual age) then it meant the average age at death for children born that year would be 40, well expected to be. Meaning roughly have of those children would be expected to die before 40, and half after. Child mortality, especially infant mortality was high. Many of the children that would die before 40 would actually die before reaching adulthood. Many of the children that survived to adulthood would end up living to an older age. If they had AARP then if you survived to adulthood you were fairly likely to live to join it. This was less true for women (due to risk of death due to childbirth), but this would also effect the statistic. The reality is if you wander in old cemeteries you will find plenty of very old graves showing people living to 50, 60, 70, or even more. There is a misconception that if a population had a low average life expectancy that the population generally only lived a short life, but they forget that the expectancy is a statistic.

  • Being human

    Republican mindset, “Yes to spending all of our taxes on useless wars. No to spending money on things that actually go to help people like: social security, medicare, medicaid, and national healthcare.” It’s pretty funny how republicans think Obama is weak for not wanting to go to wars with other countries, and think he’s weak for trying to make peace. It’s quite sad really.

  • Vince

    First, I would like to note that the people who spout this rant of taxation being theft are obviously misinformed. If they claim to be Republican then clearly they are only by title for they clearly incorrectly represent Republican ideology. This typically comes from extreme libertarians like anarcho-capitalists. There is hardly any right-wing minded people that would take such an extreme stance on taxes. It typically boils down to how much. Also, despite Republican philosophy and right wing philosophy, it is typically targeted mostly on the Federal level simply on the argument of what the states should do vs the federal government. (ie. The tenth amendment) In regards to things we have now that we did not have at the early point of our history. I would say again it is about how much. Just as there are extreme conservatives, there are extreme liberals and it should be kept in mind that some radical extremists or misinformed/incorrect people cannot represent a general ideology. I am also curious as to what amendments have been made to allow freedom of speech, and the right to keep and bear arms? I know there have been court cases validating these rights, but they have always been in the Bill of Rights. It is simply a matter of enforcing/validating them. On the national debt, let’s face it, both sides are guilty. I am no Bush fan and definitely no fan of Obama, but conservatives are not solely to blame for the finger pointing game. Liberals are just as bad at it and it is a constant of being on the defensive end when ones party is in power, then offensive when they are not. On the whole, “I’m a strict constitutionalist and an American patriot” schtick, I would say AGAIN that it is not an argument to prevent these lovely luxuries, but rather an argument as to if the states should be handling it, or how much taxes should be invested. This is simply just an attempt at some fair clarification so that we don’t continue feeding into the finger pointing game and demonize just one side and act like the other is innocent. This is not an attempt to be a jerk just so we’re clear.