Rich Man, Poor Man

"Not sure why so many people who barely make $50k per year are so rabid in protecting the rich from tax hikes." ~ Anonymous comment

The battle lines have never been more clearly drawn.

President Obama’s speech in Osawatomie, Kansas was a watershed moment in American politics. The choice of venue, the invocation of progressive Republican president Theodore Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism” speech in 1910, and the attention the administration called to the speech prior to its delivery was a clarion call as significant as President Ronald Reagan’s declaration at his 1981 inaugural address:

In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we've been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden.

Just as President Reagan in 1981 signaled a return to America’s founding principles of individual liberty, self-governance, free markets only lightly regulated for worker protection and public safety, and a government tightly bound by the restraints of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, President Obama’s speech was a dramatic call to reject those traditions in favor of a political ideology not of American origin, but which has taken root in soil fertilized by fear and watered by covetousness, envy and entitlement.

This isn’t a revelation to most of us because the president’s actions and, occasionally his unscripted words, reveal a man deeply devoted to the concentrated power and supposedly superior morality of the state over the wisdom and values of the American people which are exercised millions of times a day in acts of self-restraint, respect for the rule of law, voluntary association, and compassion and charity toward those in need. While the backdrop and buildup were unique, the message was anything but for this president.

What I deeply resented, however, were the falsehoods, cynicism, and hypocrisy undergirding his comments. It is clear to me that retaining power is important enough to him that he is willing to rip the country in two in order to do it, and he is confident that appealing to the worst instincts of humankind will net him enough votes for re-election.

The hypocrisy is apparent in the fact that this president has benefited the most from the wealthy he holds up as villains, and they in turn have become wealthier under his watch. President Obama’s campaign coffers are bursting with Wall Street cash, more than all the Republican candidates combined, and the financial services industry has made more more during his three years in office than in all eight years of President Bush’s two terms. He is not a populist; he is a charlatan.

His cynicism is evident in his demonization of people who make enough money to be counted among the “1%” who have apparently become the source of all evil in the world. Most successful Americans earned their success, and using the few who possess ill-gotten gains to disparage the many, and justify the dismantling of American prosperity at its foundation, is irresponsible and unworthy of a leader.

Money doesn’t create greed.  There’s an old saying that money simply makes one more of what one already is, and those who abuse the system, in government as well as the private sector, lacked the necessary virtues to be good stewards well before they acquired their wealth.

Yet, if President Obama is successful with his campaign rhetoric, he will have denigrated an entire class of Americans and incited hatred and, potentially, violence toward them and their families despite the fact that, even if he gets every policy prescription he desires, he still will not have solved the problems and relieved the pain so many Americans are feeling these days.

We are out of money. Not even every penny of every person making $100,000 or more would cover even one year of federal spending, never mind the spending and debt at the state level. Government can't save us - it is not only broken, it is broke.

In effect, the president proposes to fix a broken arm by amputating, and that does our nation a disservice. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now.” We need policies that bind us together, not tear us apart.

Americans must reject class warfare and strive to become one nation again with a united purpose. We are better than this president's cynical strategy.

His lies were revealed when he declared that the “simple theory” of “trickle down economics” - the Left’s derogatory euphemism for capitalism - has never worked, and he went on to cite historical examples in which he attributed periods of economic growth to government intervention in the free market when, in fact, taxes were a much lower percentage of the nation’s gross domestic product, and government was significantly smaller in those periods than it is today.

Most of our current economic struggles, which he attributes to the policies of his predecessor, are in fact due more to his record deficits and the heightened uncertainty introduced by his administration’s massive intrusion into health care, and its failure to put forth even a budget, much less a coherent economic strategy.

Economic freedom, predicated by individual liberty and self-governance, is the foundation of capitalism, which has raised the standard of living for more people around the world than any other economic system ever devised or put into practice. Even journalist, author and commentator Fareed Zakaria, no laissez-faire capitalist he, admitted as much:

The simple truth is that with all its flaws, capitalism remains the most productive economic engine we have yet invented. Like Churchill's line about democracy, it is the worst of all economic systems, except for the others. Its chief vindication today has come halfway across the world, in countries like China and India, which have been able to grow and pull hundreds of millions of people out of poverty by supporting markets and free trade.

Pressing on, however, the president mischaracterized the position of his opponents, declaring they sought to abandon Americans in need at this critical juncture in American history - “You are on your own,” he mocked. Truth be told, no one in America has truly been “on their own” in generations. The growth of government at all levels has been the only constant, and it is integrated into our lives to such a degree that to say anyone is “on their own” is a bald-faced lie. Commentator and author Mark Steyn offers an alternative, and more truthful, analysis:

Americans are ever less “on their own” in housing, education, health, and most other areas of life — and the present moribund slough is the direct consequence. It would be truer to say that the present situation reflects the total failure of “you’re not on your own” economics — the delusion of statists that government can insulate millions of people from the vicissitudes of life.

Our history tells us, in fact, that even before the advent of a pervasive federal government, Americans never permitted their “rugged individualism” to harden their hearts to the plight of others. As Alexis de Tocqueville astutely observed in 19th century America, the truly needy were never left to fend for themselves because we came together in voluntary associations - churches, civic organizations, community centers, and more - to ensure our local communities exhibited compassion and care whenever a need arose.

Statists would have you believe that this once-natural element of the American character is ill-suited for modern times, but there is not, nor has there ever been, a more effective way to care for one another than to care for one’s neighbor. It is neighbor to neighbor where needs are best understood, care most efficiently and effectively delivered and, critically, virtue in both the giver and recipient of aid reinforced.

Think about that last point for a minute. The Left cloaks itself in the language of virtue, with the always popular and amorphous term “fairness” being their favorite. The president's definition of “fairness,” however, reminds me of Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland:

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

The Left doesn’t have a monopoly on compassion or fairness, however, and local voluntary aid is unimpeachable not only in its effectiveness, but in its potential to build character.

If the person seeking help is your neighbor, do you not gain more emotionally and spiritually from helping someone you know or who lives in your community? Are you not affirmed and encouraged to continue or increase your giving when you can observe first-hand the positive impact of your gifts on your community, and directly in the lives of those to whom you give?

Isn’t your ability at the local level to distinguish between the truly needy and the “layabouts,” to use a favorite British term, demonstrating the virtues of wisdom and prudence in your stewardship of the resources entrusted to you?

Are your “giving muscles” not exercised more when you personally devote your time, talents and treasure to helping others, rather than presuming a distant government apparatchik is using your tax dollars the way you would use them were they still in your hands?  Are you not still exercising your discretion when you voluntarily choose which charities and associations will be the best stewards of your resources, as opposed to hoping on a wing and a prayer that some portion of your tax dollars will actually end up in the hands of a truly needy person?

Is it even possible to outsource the gift of “helps,” to use a spiritual term?

If you are the recipient of aid, are you not more responsible and accountable to your neighbors who help you than you would be to a nameless, faceless government bureaucrat? Are you not less likely to defraud someone of their money when they live in your town and you’re likely to see them many times a week?

What the president doesn’t understand, or chooses to ignore, is the fact we have never proposed leaving people “on their own.” We support a return to the American model of self-governance, which is a unique blend of individual liberty and voluntary local associations to meet community goals.

Tocqueville correctly pointed out that this model is what distinguished America from the French, who lacked the virtue of community fostered by such associations, and therefore devolved into mob rule and chaos following the French Revolution.

The First Amendment itself implies freedom of association, and it is the liberty we have to come together and help each other, as opposed to the confiscatory power of the state, that spawns true virtue.

This is the level at which we must engage the nation. Thomas Jefferson said:

To take from one because it is thought that his own industry and that of his father’s has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association—the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.

While President Obama resorts to shop-worn classist labels like “haves” and “have nots,” we have actually become a society of “makers” and “takers,” with fewer “givers.”

The word "take" by its very nature implies entitlement on the part of one party and theft perpetrated against the other. To "make", on the other hand, implies inspiration, perspiration and creation, while to "give" implies free will, compassion and charity.

The government, by design and purpose, "takes," which is antithetical to free will, so its distribution of what it "takes" is not "giving", and it "takes" its cut as it distributes so that, according to studies on government aid, only 30 cents of every dollar actually reaches its intended recipients.

Government is neither compassionate nor charitable because it "takes" from those who "make," it "takes" as it distributes, and it discourages “giving” by usurping the role of private charity. Were it truly an engine of compassion or charity, it would encourage people to "make", it would "take" far less and it would "give" people the freedom to prosper and to show care.

For the record, lovers of liberty should discard the words “redistribute,” “redistribution,” or any derivatives thereof, from their vocabulary. Redistribution implies that wealth is, from the start, a fixed asset that is arbitrarily distributed by fate or chance, rather than a resource that is earned and grows, and that government is the only institution benevolent enough to reallocate the funds fairly. I refuse to buy into the Left’s mythology about wealth.

So to address the anonymous comment that led off this article, I would say this: We are not “rabid about protecting the rich from tax hikes,” but we are passionate about protecting their liberty to earn and keep the fruits of their labors, because it is our liberty to do the same which is also at stake. If the choice is between materialism and liberty as the measure of human dignity and worth, I choose liberty.