The Corner

Behind the D.C. Slugfest


About 50 percent of taxpayers don’t pay federal income taxes. Almost half of American adults receive either the majority of or all of their income in some form from government. They are naturally desirous of even more entitlements, in the sense that even higher taxes on the top 5 percent might ensure at least some of the needed revenue to pay for them. And if that echelon must pay 70 percent or 80 percent rather than the present 60 percent of all collected income taxes, it would still not be such a bad thing, inasmuch as the circumstances surrounding their earned income must be somewhat suspicious. In the words of the president, the so-called affluent surely at some point must realize that they have made enough money and have hundreds of thousands in unneeded income that could easily be assessed with higher taxes.

The agenda of the poorer and lower-middle classes is championed mostly by an affluent elite located on the two coasts, who find power and influence in representing “the people,” and are themselves either affluent enough, or enjoy enough top government salaries and subsidies, to be largely exempt from any hardship that would result from their own advocacy of much higher taxes and larger government expenditures.

Lost entirely in all these disputes over taxes, relative affluence, and government entitlements is any serious examination of whether federal payouts themselves consistently alleviate poverty or accomplish what they are intended for, or whether, in the age of high-technology, dirt-cheap imported manufactured goods and huge government subsidies, the notion of being poor itself should be redefined. The point is not whether the hundreds of billions invested in, say, a Head Start actually improved school performance, but, implicitly, whether thousands of constituents were employed in its administration, and, explicitly, whether its advocates felt a sense of transcendent caring in such public magnanimity (often not so easily evidenced by the fact of where they otherwise live or send their children to school).

Instead, we hear the rhetoric of Dickensian poverty, usually in terms of relative rather than absolute want, as in the president’s constant referencing of “corporate jets” for “millionaires and billionaires” rather than any statistics about average American access to a big-screen TVs, serviceable automobiles, or personal computers. The president made this clear when, during the campaign, he rejected any idea in cuts in capital-gains taxes even if it should lead to greater national and collective wealth, “fairness,” he said, being the only issue. (I supposed that meant something like “it does not matter whether I am better off if you are way better off.”) And completely absent in the current debate of who gets more and who pays more is any adult discussion over the causes of being less well off than someone else, and whether such criteria can always be addressed and remedied by more government money.

Nor, in this argument over the big-deficit/big-government/high-tax/redistributive state is there much awareness of comparative evidence: Did the EU redistributions to southern Europe result in economic prosperity and fiscal stability, do blue states have smaller deficits and better employment percentages than red states, do the blue-chip Obama economists—a Goolsbee, Orszag, Romer, Summers—still write and argue that their massive Keynesian agendas brought prosperity from 2009 to 2011?

Finally, if you add all of candidate and president Obama’s class-warfare rhetoric up (e.g., “redistributive change,” “spread the wealth,” at some point “made enough money,” hundreds of thousands of dollars in unneeded income, fat-cat bankers, etc.), collate it with the reversal of the Chrysler creditors, the NLRB’s attempted shutdown of the Boeing plant, the government takeovers, the gorge-the-beast deficits, the constant harangue to increase taxes, the creation of a new $200,000 annual-income Mason-Dixon line, and so on, you can sense how insidiously we have entered a new era of class warfare. Quite simply, Barack Obama will be remembered not so much for being the nation’s first African-American president, or even the man who ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden, or even for his Obamacare, but as the president who grew government the largest, ran up the largest deficits during any presidential tenure, and laid out most candidly and confidently the argument of why the United States is an intrinsically unfair society and how that must be remedied by government.

Behind the current mess and shrill rhetoric in D.C. are these two larger competing visions—the belief that the Obama agenda is the road to serfdom for everyone, and the belief that it will result in a long-overdue equality of result.   

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.

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