When did Republicans replace “Citizens” with “Consumers”? (and why?)

My guess: it began in the aftermath of 9/11 when George W. Bush told us to go shopping. - promoted by hesterprynne

From what I have observed, unless they are talking about their beloved Second Amendment, Republicans have replaced the term “citizen” with “consumer”.  This is painfully obvious in the health care debate, but it also runs through financial regulations, protection of the environment, again, just about everywhere with the notable exception of a citizens right to bear arms.  Why they have not altered this to read “the right of the consumer to purchase a firearm” is a mystery to me, but I digress.

What is it about the word “citizen” that is abhorrent to so many Republicans?  A dictionary I referenced defined citizen as an inhabitant of a city or town; especially : one entitled to the rights and privileges of a freeman.

Ah, is that it?  Citizens has rights?  Citizens are entitled?  Citizens have privileges?  Such words run counter to the Republican adoration of the wealthy job creators, the self made men, the ruling class that they (and sadly too many Democrats) have hitched their wagons to.

I have listened to Republicans arguing against the forced mandate of health care insurance as “Forcing the consumer to purchase a product they do not want”.  What is this “product”?  If it’s a worthless piece of paper with huge deductibles, high premiums, and arcane policies, why of course, who would want to buy it, much less be “forced to buy it” as a “consumer”?

On the other hand, given the reality of the high cost, but life saving medical advancements of the past 100 years, what citizen would reject the right to these advancements in order to prolong or improve their life?  We are not consumers of health care anymore than we are consumers of national security.  As citizens we acknowledge that many of us will pay for the services that few of us may need, in the same way that we, as citizens join together to buy a Lockheed Martin F-35.  Most of us will never, ever need this, but we know that some will and we, as a collective of citizens, accept that responsibility and demand the entitlement of protection if needed. We do this with police stations, public schools, fire departments, all as citizens.

In the repeal of banking regulations, by repealing the fiduciary rule Republicans was cheered as a repeal of “limited consumers’ choices in financial products,” with no mention of the word “citizen”.

As consumers, we build shopping malls and go to Disneyland.  As consumers, we watch Dancing with the Stars and the Super Bowl.  As citizens, we call our senator, our state rep, we vote on election day and we watch CNN.

A citizen has a right to health care.  A consumer has the right to access to health care, but this does not guarantee actually health care anymore than my right to access to a new Ferrari means I can head over to Boch’s lot tomorrow and drive away in my new 488 GTB.

A citizen has the right to protection from financial fraud of other individuals and companies, protection provided by our government at no charge to every citizen.  A consumer has the right to a free market and should that consumer enter into a less than beneficial outcome with a financial company, that individual has the right to shop elsewhere, tell his or her friends about that bad experience, “vote with their wallet” (as to many free marketers are fond of saying) take their beating, learn from it and move on.  The market will protect the consumer.

A citizen has the right to clean air, water.  A consumer has the right to purchase clean air, water.

A citizen has the right participate in free and fair elections.  A consumer need not vote at the polls and will receive numerous reminders that elections are rigged, the results don’t matter, and that voting with their wallet is all they need to rely on.

I would suggest that as Democrats, moving forward, we fight this move towards stripping us of our citizenship and lowering us to the status of consumer. We need to emphasize that we stand for citizens.


7 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. I agree

    I could add that “It’s the economy, stupid” didn’t help … but that probably wouldn’t help the discussion.

    Tom Birmingham put it better: “We’re a society, not an economy.”

    • And Thatcher has the real conservative corollary

      When she said ‘there is no such thing as society’.

      I think both sides underestimate the power of society and how a multi tiered society with many little pontoons and mediating institutions functions best. We have lost a lot of those middlemen-so we are left with a federal government some perceive to be distant and foreboding and others depend on as their sole lifeline. States should take on a lot more responsibilities, I agree with conservatives there, since they are governments closer to the people. This state has a golden opportunity to be a progressive innovator in state governance-but chooses not to. I actually feel that the federal government should teach them how to fish instead of giving them fish in the form of block grants they can turn down or waste on right wing ideological crusades.

      No responsible Governor should’ve turned down ACA funding. But too many did-and that’s one of the real reasons nobody talks about for why costs didn’t go down. Well of course they don’t when not every state was able to attain better rates of insured or reduce costs through a wider Medicaid pool. So I would revive Nixon’s New Federalism with a caveat that states can innovate within the federal governments parameters. We don’t care how you educate all your children or insure all your citizens-but you gotta do it. There are just certain responsibilities they have no choice to refuse.

  2. Consumers

    Years ago, I was at a presentation by Chris Matthews and his wife, then a local news anchor for NBC in DC. They kept on talking about “news consumers” and it rankled me. I stood up and asked Matthews how he would program MSNBC not for news consumers but for an informed citizenry, telling him I considered myself a citizen not a consumer.

    Matthews drew himself up, took in a breath, and exploded with “I’m not going to answer such a goo-goo question!”

    This conflation of citizen with consumer is endemic in our politics and in our political press. Keep pressing that button, though, because it makes the “consumer” crowd uncomfortable.

    • Problem is...

      …even if Matthews did not want to be quite so dismissive, there’s the issue of news divisions treating viewers as consumers for the sake of ratings. Time was the broadcast networks assumed that the news side would post losses and they were fine with that.

    • I've been losing a lot of respect for Matthews over the years

      and this chips away at what’s left. He’s a sell out. He has no principles.


    at a time when voters wanted to understand issues before opening their yaps to venture an opinion on current affairs. Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite — ‘the most trusted man in America’— and Dan Rather et al were serious journalists who put their country ahead of ratings.

    But it soon devolved into what FCC Commissioner Newton Minnow — a JFK appointee — called ‘the vast wasteland’, focused on profit and entertainment and reaching its apex with the clown in the White House today.

    Fred Rich LaRiccia

  4. The Gospel according to Jared Kushner

    From today’s WaPo:

    “We should have excellence in government,” Kushner said Sunday in an interview in his West Wing office. “The government should be run like a great American company. Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens.”

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Wed 26 Apr 5:50 AM