The deeper problem with the “47 percent” argument is that it is right-wing Elizabeth Warrenism. It reflects the belief that federal income taxes are an expression of our togetherness. If you aren’t paying them — or aren’t paying enough — you are a sub-citizen.

Representative Michele Bachmann says everyone should pay income taxes, even if it’s “the price of two Happy Meals a year, $10.” Texas governor Rick Perry has said it’s an “injustice” that more people don’t pay. Warren wants to tax rich people as a statement of our patriotic commitment to one another; some conservatives evidently want to tax the poor and seniors for the same reason.

How does this look in the real world? If a couple earning $35,000 with two kids has no income-tax liability thanks to various exemptions, deductions, and credits (the child tax credit has been especially important in removing families from the rolls), how much should we tax them to get them to shape up and fly right? How much do they have to pay the Internal Revenue Service to learn a lesson in basic civics?