Commentary Magazine


Jeb Bush: Protect “the Right to Rise”

“If we want the whole world to be rich,” P.J. O’Rourke famously wrote, “we need to start loving wealth. In the difference between poverty and plenty, the problem is the poverty and not the difference.”

This is starkly at odds with President Obama’s overwrought, aggressively divisive rhetoric on income inequality. Demonizing wealth earned honestly, as the president likes to do, puts the nation’s poor at great economic risk. Defending the free market system that enables the poor to rise is essential to moving beyond divisive economics and giving everyone the same opportunity. That is the crux of Jeb Bush’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today:

We have to make it easier for people to do the things that allow them to rise. We have to let them compete. We need to let people fight for business. We need to let people take risks. We need to let people fail. We need to let people suffer the consequences of bad decisions. And we need to let people enjoy the fruits of good decisions, even good luck.

That is what economic freedom looks like. Freedom to succeed as well as to fail, freedom to do something or nothing. People understand this.

Punish job creators and you will have fewer jobs; punish wealth and you will have less wealth. Those who don’t have much wealth to begin with–the poor–will suffer most. The central question of a Mitt Romney candidacy, should he win the GOP nomination, is whether or not he will he feel secure enough to make this argument. On “Fox News Sunday” yesterday, Romney left the impression of a candidate who is halfway there:

WALLACE: Rick Perry calls for a 20 percent flat tax. Newt Gingrich has a 15 percent plan. You would keep the top tax rate at 35 percent. And in contrast to most of your rivals, you would not lower the tax on capital gains and dividends for anyone making more than $200,000 a year.

Question: aren’t you basically right there with Barack Obama; the rich should pay more?

ROMNEY: No, I’m just saying don’t raise taxes on anyone. I want to make sure that with the precious dollars we have, that we can provide tax relief, that those dollars go to middle income Americans.

The people who have been hurt in the Obama economy are not the wealthy. The wealthy are doing just fine. The people that have been hurt are the people in the middle class, so I focus those precious dollars that we have, I focus that on the middle class.

It’s unclear what Romney actually means when he says “those precious dollars that we have,” but the implication certainly seems to be one of attacking “the difference” and not “the poverty” itself. Later on in the interview, however, Romney comes back around to offering the kind of common sense and historical proficiency the current president lacks:

WALLACE: In your last book, you repeatedly talked about creative destruction, the idea of creative destruction in capitalism. First of all, what does that mean to you? Creative destruction?

ROMNEY: Well, it’s an unfortunate but in some respects essential part of free enterprise and the example I use in my book is when someone came up with inventing the tractor, it destroyed a lot of jobs. It destroyed many enterprises that people in the horse-drawn plow business went out of business. And yet the wealth of the American people and the well-being of the American people grew dramatically. Invention — whether of a new product or a new technique or a new invention tends to put some enterprises out of business and encourage other businesses to become more successful with the — with the outcome that the entire society becomes better off.

Romney is going to have to repeat that line often enough for the country to hear it over the inevitable flood of class warfare that the president’s nearly $1 billion will buy him. That’s what it boils down to: the president is proposing a system in which  “the right to rise,” as Bush calls it, is constantly attacked. Romney is defending a system in which the right to rise is available to all. He need not be shy about it.