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The 'fairness' meme

We don’t know exactly what Barack Obama is going to say when he fires up his teleprompters at George Washington University tomorrow. The color, we do know, however: it’s red, as in “red ink,” what Mitch Daniels at his speech at CPAC earlier this year called “the new red menace.” (I like to think that the invocation of the old “red menace,” the Communist, socialist one, was deliberate: it is, I would argue, apt.)

The substance of the speech, as ABC notes, is “closely held.” Everybody thinks that there will be at least pro forma acknowledgement that spending on such programs as Medicare and Social Security needs to be reined in. But the big O will also return to one of his favorite themes, a by-word from his 2008 campaign: “increased taxes on the wealthy” (that’s according to “White House officials”).

Here’s my bet: the operative word in Obama’s speech tomorrow night, the mantra that will be repeated endlessly not only by O but also by the left-wing commentariat, is “fairness.” You remember his campaign shtick: the Saddleback Church event, for example, when Rick Warren asked candidates John McCain and B.O. about taxes. “Define rich,” he asked. McCain tossed out an income of $5 million, which elicited derision. But the gravamen of his response came in the elaboration: “I don’t want to take any money from the rich. I want everybody to get rich.”

How different was B.O.’s response: What he was looking for, he said, was “a sense of balance, and fairness in our tax code. It is time for folks like me who make more than $250,000 to pay our fair share.”

“Our fair share.” That, as I noted at the time, is B.O.’s refrain. “[W]e will save Social Security for future generations by asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share.” It’s a small step from the invocation of “our fair share” to Obama’s call for a tax on “the windfall profits of oil companies,” a tax increase on capitals gains, elimination of the tax on Social Security tax, etc., etc.

The crucial point here is that what Obama is interested in is not increasing revenue but in promulgating redistributionist policies that make it harder for people to prosper economically. William McGurn, writing in The Wall Street Journal back then, recalled Obama’s response to ABC’s Charlie Gibson when Gibson observed that raising taxes led to decreased revenues: “Well, Charlie,” Obama replied, “what I’ve said is that I would look at raising the capital gains tax for purposes of fairness.”

“For purposes of fairness”: that means, “for purposes of economic egalitarianism.”

McGurn observed:

[I]t doesn’t really matter whether a tax increase actually brings in more revenue. It’s not about robbing from the rich to give to the poor. Robbing from the rich will do, especially if it’s done in the name of fairness.

Now there are good reasons Mr. Obama is not likely to pursue the revenue side of the fairness question. As this newspaper noted in a recent editorial, the latest data from the Internal Revenue Service does not show to Mr. Obama’s advantage. As we come to the end of the Bush administration, the top 1% of American taxpayers already pay 40% of all income taxes -- the highest level in 40 years. The top 10% of income earners pay 71% of the taxes.

The bottom line is that when Obama invokes “fairness,” he wants us to feel guilty about economic success. This is the secret of his appeal to the socialistically inclined.

It worked in 2008. Let’s see how it goes down tomorrow. Over the last two years, Barack Obama has presided over an economic Armageddon. Everyone knows about that $14 trillion that is the federal debt. Few people, I suspect, really appreciate what that unimaginable figure represents. And the kicker is, $14 trillion is only a tithe of the trouble. As Kevin Williamson and others have pointed out, the country’s real debt, when you factor in state indebtedness and unfunded so-called “entitlement” liabilities, is closer to $130 trillion. That horror-movie figure is just too awful to contemplate, so I will draw a veil.

But I do not want to be merely negative.  Maybe the president has a point about “fairness” (though in truth, whenever anyone starts talking about fairness, I think of Hamlet: “Use every man after his desert, and who shall 'scape whipping?”). And in that spirit, I would like to adapt the excellent suggestion Glenn Reynolds made yesterday about raising taxes. Here’s his proposal:

A 50% surtax on anything earned within five years after leaving the federal government, above whatever the federal salary was. Leave a $150K job at the White House, take a $1M job with Goldman, Sachs, pay a $425K surtax.

I like it! Of course, it would no more raise significant revenue than B.O.’s other “tax-the-rich” schemes.  But it would certainly make people -- some people, anyway -- feel better. I know it would make me feel a lot better.  In fact, I feel better just thinking about it. And it would have the additional benefit of discouraging, if just a little bit, the obscene revolving door that shuttles folks between the government and those who want something from the government, i.e., from you and me.

Contemplating the many benefits of Reynolds’ proposal, though, I realized he was insufficiently bold. Fifty percent may be OK for your average bureaucrat, for Robert Gibbs, e.g., who is conjuring with all manner of lucrative offers in his post-White-House-spokesperson existence. But what about former senators and Cabinet ministers? Seventy-five percent, at least!  And former presidents, 90 percent, don’t you think, especially if it involves a book deal?

Now that’s a species of “fairness” I can get behind.