Given the emergence of last summer’s OWS crowd and the tone of the campaign rhetoric to date, we can expect that money and possessions will be central themes throughout the current election cycle. As our economy continues to stagnate and so many continue to struggle, it would seem only natural that themes of greed and fairness would take center stage in the theater of this ongoing class warfare battle, but is this really the most pressing issue facing our country? Does vilifying the wealthy provide any real solutions or does it simply make us feel better in the short term?
There was a time in the not so distant past when we were taught to respect and emulate the successful. Through hard work and sacrifice, great men and women became pioneers in their fields and rose to positions of respect and power. This was thought to be a good thing, the “American way” if you will. The filthy rich seemed less “dirty” and somehow more affluent, abundant and successful. They were role models to some degree and certainly not the convenient tools of political expediency for a party with little to stand on and a well of hope that’s quickly running dry. We’re learning to despise the wealthy and find that it’s easier to take from others rather than elevate ourselves. This temporary solution works well until the caviar jars of the 1% are empty and there’s nothing left to spread around.
With the possible exception of a handful of wedge issues that would only serve to alienate the much needed independents, the Obama campaign can speak to few accomplishments that resonate outside of their core base. When in doubt, avoid your record and demonize your opponent. Divide and conquer is a far more reliable strategy than uplift and unify. Despite many promises of greater transparency and less partisanship, this stands to be one of the most divisive campaigns we’ve ever seen.
Paving the road for this theme, Massachusetts Senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren made the following statement during a previous speech,
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You build a factory out there, good for you, but I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers that the rest of us paid to educate.”
In a strange display of synchronicity, speaking to supporters recently, the President stated,
“If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.”
He later added the controversial line, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that”.
This will most likely emerge as a central theme in the months ahead – collectivism vs. the individual or the 99 vs. the 1.
Staying on point, much ado has been made regarding Mitt Romney’s role at the asset management firm Bain Capital as though being a successful capitalist in the United States of America is somehow a bad thing. The Obama team released a scathing ad about Bain’s control of Kansas’ GST Steel suggesting that a cold and heartless Romney personally destroyed the lives of hundreds of workers. It was a powerful ad with only one problem. Romney had left Bain two years prior to this incident. Another inconvenient truth was that the control of Bain at that time rested in the hands of one of Mr. Obama’s top money bundlers, Jonathan Lavine.
To be “fair”, despite the gross politicization of this issue, there is a growing income disparity in our country and we’re well on our way to finding ourselves in a society of those who have and those who have not. The middle class has taken up ranks with the Spotted Owls and the Polar Bears of the economic environment but unlike these manufactured disappearing acts, the vanishing middle class is anything but a cheap political parlor trick. Real solutions will require more than grandstanding and finger pointing.
As with the Reagan/Bradley compromise of 1986, any meaningful attempt at tax reform must address the current loopholes that do indeed favor the wealthy. Republicans will have to compromise on this point. Conversely, we cannot have meaningful change until the black hole of entitlement spending is confronted honestly. Democrats, this is your cue. Given the current political climate in D.C., this will require a level of compromise and cooperation that seems inconceivable at this time.
As the mud flies with ever increasing intensity between the camps of us and them this summer, it should be noted that regardless of the desperate attempts to portray the wealthy as our enemies, the top 5% of earners in this country currently pay 64% of all federal taxes while the bottom 47% paid nothing at all. The top 50% pay a staggering 97% and to make the point even clearer, the top 400 earners in our country pay nearly as much as the entire bottom 50% combined.
The President has spoken consistently on the urgent need to raise taxes on the wealthy, but even if he was granted everything he’s asking for, the increased revenue would only cover about one week of spending at our current $4 billion per day habit. Future arguments should be directed toward Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell as they continue jousting for sandbox supremacy rather than solving the nation’s problems.
Keep the numbers above in mind as we hear what will surely be endless references to the evil rich and the unfairness of our nation. We’ll be told that the tax records of Mitt Romney are the issue of the day while a growing pile of dismal unemployment, national debt and economic statistics sits quietly unnoticed behind the curtain. Mr. Romney should release the records and clear the air sooner rather than later but this would also be a fantastic opportunity to insist that Mr. Obama finally release his college records. Fair is fair. If Joe the Plumber were here today I could almost hear the words, “I think when you spread the truth around, it’s good for everybody.”