by Victor Davis Hanson
I grew up in a Democratic household. The talk at the family dinner table in the early sixties, to the degree it touched on politics, concerned the minimum wage, 40-hour work week, overtime pay, civil rights, disability insurance, or bond money for school construction and teacher training. In other words, it was a sort of “level the playing field” to ensure equality of opportunity.
I don’t recall discussions about the evils of American foreign policy, racial quotas, drug legalization, open borders and amnesty, the need for gay marriage, or abortion on demand. I do remember the national spokesmen whom we were supposed to admire — Pat Brown, Harry Truman, Hubert Humphrey — did not look or act like John Edwards or John Kerry.
Now one can argue that the seeds of the present Democratic desire for an imposed equality of result, embraced by a Howard Dean or Nancy Pelosi, is but the logical evolution from the old Democratic square deal. But there is a difference as well. In those days, except for the Kennedys, liberalism was not synonymous with big money and the desire for the elite lifestyle. These days it is and it makes it hard for liberals to square their abstraction with reality. Very wealthy people seek to be exempt from the regulations and taxes they impose on the middle classes on behalf of the poor they studiously avoid. I thought of all that when reviewing some of this week’s news.
Item: John Kerry was extolling the stimulus effects of unemployment benefits, as in more money returns to the economy for each dollar paid out to the unemployed. If so, why not simply put us all on unemployment benefits and watch the economy grow?
Or perhaps Kerry could advocate a national boat sales tax to collect the sort of revenue that he so carefully had tried to avoid. Or perhaps he might look carefully at zillionaire family trusts and the billions they divert from the strapped federal Treasury. Or perhaps he could take away the tax deductions on third or fourth homes above a certain square footage, maybe ending the deduction for property taxes on multiple homes?
My point? Why do Democrats always go after the orthodontist, electrical contractor, or insurance agency owner, and never the Buffetts, Kerrys, or Gateses? Bill Gates and Warren Buffett will defer more money from the federal Treasury by avoiding inheritance taxes (to channel their profits into their foundations) than all the billions lost this year by keeping tax cuts for small businesses.
Item: Hillary Clinton, a multimillionaire, given her past lucrative books deals and sales, and her husband’s near $100 million in honoraria after a near decade of speaking fees, is now hawking signed DVDs of her convention speech in 2008. Apparently she hopes to pay off her sizable campaign debts that still exceed $9 million.
Questions arise: the Clintons this summer were just negotiating to buy a $11 million Westchester County mansion, despite owning luxurious homes in Washington and New York. (Chelsea’s wedding looked like the opening scene of The Godfather.) Cannot the Clintons defer purchase of such upscale estates until they pay what they owe, since the cost of the estate and the debt owed are about equal? (I think Harry Truman would have said, “I pay what I owe and I don’t need a mansion.”) Nearly half the total of the campaign debt is also owed to her friend, the liberal pollster Mark Penn. Cannot he let some of his old debts be done with, especially since his poor advice and performance helped sink her campaign? Is it proper for a sitting secretary of State to hawk DVDs while in office? Given the hundreds of millions raised by liberals in 2008 — given that Obama was the only general election candidate in public campaign financing history to reject public funds and their limitations — cannot leftwing philanthropists cover Hillary’s debt if she is unwilling to give up her Westchester mansion?
Item: Charles Rangel is both an advocate of cradle-to-grave federal entitlements and the higher taxes needed to fund them. But he shows two disturbing recurring liberal hypocrisies: a desire to avoid income taxes (see Timothy Geithner, Chris Dodd, and Tom Daschle) and a fondness for the good life (his multiple rent-control apartments or Caribbean getaway). Moreover, Rangel has repeatedly advanced the argument that his prior heroic service in Korea must be set against his current various ethical violations — failure to pay income taxes on unreported income, House ethics violations, and abuse of New York rent-control laws. Is not that “Dream Act”-like tax exemption a dangerous precedent? I don’t recall former Congressman Duke Cunningham — the only Navy flier to achieve “ace” status in Vietnam — being given exemption from bribery charges, informal or legal, despite his heroic war service.
And when Rangel lists all the felonies that he did not commit — bribery, sexual shenanigans, etc. — to offset the crimes he did commit, should we laugh or cry? When the IRS knocks on your door, try that: “But I did not sleep with underage girls and never paid off a cop.” Then see the reaction.
Item: The Obama encomiast Richard Wolffe reported that Obama told an obese staffer to lay off the fatty food and eat a salad instead. The incident is being reported as an example of Carteresque micromanaging: Obama directs the diet of his subordinates while unemployment hits 9.8%. But I think the real message is one of narcissistic exemption. Obama believes that his own behavior is exempt from his own moral strictures. By all accounts he is a devoted smoker who cannot quit. On the list of sins, smoking is as serious as poor dieting.
And do we need more examples in the vein of class warfare waged from Martha’s Vineyard and Costa del Sol? We get news that the Obamas are going to Hawaii for Christmas. I do not begrudge them the warm weather and would like to go there myself for the first time. But I wonder, how do we offset the Obama propensity for Hawaii, Martha’s Vineyard, and Costa del Sol against lectures and sermons about the evil rich junketing to the Super Bowl or jetting off to Las Vegas? Downright mean country?
A Final Note as Unemployment Hits 9.8%
I think that after the stimulus failed, the $1.3 trillion-dollar deficits did not pump the economy, Orszag, Romer, and Summers, the architects of these policies, fled, and the healthcare mess, there is a sort of feeling of: “We tried every liberal nostrum and none worked.”
Now what? I think the answer is more talk about another “summer of recovery” and hopes that the Obama trash-talking of business, takeovers, and massive deficits is ending with a new Republican House. So the administration’s de facto new attitude is: “OK, they stopped us. We can’t do any more to you. So hire, buy, and get back in our game.” Then they can claim things got better than they were in January 2009. And, as a bonus, they were not the ones to trim what had to be trimmed from Social Security. It may be easy to hamper the US economy in two years, but it is very hard to sidetrack it completely.
And that tactic may work — the more Republicans can stop Obama from being Obama.
©2010 Victor Davis Hanson