Fairness and equality are 2012’s version of 2008’s hope and change. Barack Obama is monopolizing those brands while shirking the business of responsible governance and national purpose. Last week, millions of Americans received an unsolicited email from the White House urging individuals to “Just enter a few pieces of information about your taxes, and see how many millionaires pay a lower effective tax rate than you.” This was no ordinary piece of election year propaganda, but rather a draft notice urging citizens to report to duty and fight the class war declared by the president himself. With titanic debt and deficit values assuming the ignorable status of imaginary numbers, he is refocusing our anxieties on the tangible fortunes of our neighbors.
Obama’s case for reelection rests on a false choice: America can retain its basic humanity via government intervention or sell its national soul for private profit. The press, as usual, is the megaphone. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll asks: “What do you think is the bigger problem in this country—unfairness in the economic system that favors the wealthy, or over-regulation of the free market that interferes with growth and prosperity?” Fifty-two percent said “unfairness,” and 37 percent said “over-regulation.” Some have pointed out that the poll sample is heavily skewed toward Democrats and the results are therefore meaningless. But that misses the larger point. The question is meaningless. Choosing between over-regulation and unfairness is like choosing between lethargy and obesity. For the past 50 years, federal regulation and income inequality have grown in tandem. See charts here and here.
If government intervention corrects unfairness, as liberals insist, why when placed side-by-side, do the two look as cozy as temperature and CO2 in an Al Gore propaganda blockbuster?
Conservatives are failing entirely to take this debate where it needs to go. Over-regulation isn’t just unfair in the “it’s not right to tax my billions because I’ve earned them” sense. Overregulation is unfair for everyone. An over-regulated American housing market saw lenders forced into giving loans to buyers without sufficient credit. When it came time to pay up, the whole scheme went under in a flash, nearly taking financial markets down, and causing the job-killing recession from which we continue to suffer. If the 2008 collapse put you out of work blame a disastrous piece of liberal legislation known as the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act—not millionaires.
Federally instituted “fairness” furnishes undeserved opportunities for house-of-cards companies like Solyndra to edge out less fashionably green, but more worthwhile, competitors. Financial regulation aimed at curbing Wall Street greed only serves to discourage smaller start-up capitalists without the money to troubleshoot the regulation maze as ably as giant corporations.
Obama isn’t offering fairness at all. He’s pitching therapeutic divisiveness: “see how many millionaires pay a lower effective tax rate than you,” get mad, make them pay. In 2008, the guns-and-Bible part of Obama’s “bitter clinger” comment made headlines, but there was more to what he said. He also scolded Americans who “cling to antipathy to people who aren’t like them … to explain their frustrations.” That antipathy is the Obama 2012 campaign message. Just let him pick the targets.
Responsible parents tell their children at the first signs of self-defeating envy, “Don’t worry about everyone else; worry about yourself.” What is beneath the dignity of children is embraced by our president. If indeed our national soul now hangs in the balance, its salvation depends on how Americans respond to the calls for disunity coming from the highest office in the land.