A New Generation of Conservative Thought

The class warfare president

By Dr. Grace Vuoto
December 2, 2010

President Barack Obama, like other socialists, misunderstands the nature of America. In this nation, the poor, the working class and the middle class do not seek to tear down the wealthy: they want to join the wealthy.

It is the great fortune of the United States that the public, by and large, enjoys the pursuit of wealth and does not envy those who succeed. Instead, we celebrate their success as bearing witness to the possibility that every citizen who pursues riches, regardless of his origins, has the potential to become a part of the wealthy elite. This is the “American Dream” and the “American Way.” It is the cornerstone of American optimism—and what separates us from Europe, where class divisions and redistributionist statism are permanent features of public life.

Yet, Mr. Obama and the Democrats are importing a European-style dialogue into an analysis of our economic woes. Suddenly, we are not all Americans, who have in good measure equally contributed to the housing bubble, the national spending binge and the debt crisis. Instead, we are pitted against one another: Wall Street vs. Main Street, Big Oil vs. the American worker and the wealthy vs. the middle class.

This mindset is most starkly apparent in the current debate on the Bush tax cuts that are set to expire on December 31st, unless Congress extends them. The Republicans insist all the tax cuts be extended permanently, whereas Mr. Obama and his party maintain the extension should be granted only to those whose incomes are below $200,000 for an individual and below $250,000 for a couple—this category defined as “middle class.” The Democrats have floated possible compromises such as extending the cuts temporarily or lifting the cap to those who earn less than $1 million. In other words, Mr. Obama has determined that, as our far-sighted and gracious leader, he is endowed with the right to “level the playing field”—that is, make the wealthy pay for his spending programs that mostly benefit the lower classes.

The president is trying to present this as the “responsible” course of action in an era of massive deficits and vast national debt—that he helped to create, by the way, but we digress. However, he is taking a destructive position. As conservatives correctly insist, the upper echelons of a society have the capital to create jobs; small businesses are the primary engine of job creation and will be hampered by a tax increase if the Bush tax cuts are not extended to them also. This is a sound dollars-and-cents argument. But a more important point should be raised: The president must be told that in America—unlike in Kenya, France or Cuba—we do not vilify the rich, but embrace them. In America, the miserable politics of class warfare falls on deaf ears.

Our Star Trek President acts as though he is a benevolent leader, while speaking a language that undercuts the American way of life.

This attitude is not entirely of his making. The graduated income tax—that allows the government to force the middle and upper classes, especially the wealthy, to participate in the creation of a welfare state—is the culprit. While deemed “progressive” in its day and in ours, it is instead a reversal of the Founding vision: Americans are equal under the law. Equal does not mean finding ways to stick our greedy little fingers into our neighbor’s pie; his good fortune is not to be confiscated to serve the state, regardless of how badly the state bungles its finances.

Ironically, it was this very type of crisis—the British monarch’s desire to get the American colonists to pay their fair share of the imperial national debt—that was the catalyst for the American Revolution. The British imperial government had incurred massive war debts at the end of the French and Indian War (also called The Seven Years’ War, 1756-1763). British leaders began a drive to tax American colonists in order to pay these debts—obligations which, they argued, they had incurred for the benefit of American colonists who were not paying their just portion of the cost for their defense.

America’s national identity was thus forged in this tax battle. Suddenly, the colonists recognized that they had a common enemy and a common goal: they became Americans by rejecting the idea that a “benevolent” monarch and his parliament could arbitrarily tax them, even if the funds used were to benefit them, in this case, for colonial defenses.

As they created a republic and a confederation of states, the Founding Fathers were at first reluctant to create a central government that had the power to tax the Thirteen Colonies. This was, after all, the very kind of power that they had resisted. The linchpin of limited government was precisely that the government would not have the power to levy arbitrary—and unfair—taxes. And indeed, for about the first 86 years of the republic, there were few national taxes.

We have now traveled eons from the Founding vision. The liberals have held since 1913, when the income tax became permanent in America, that an unequal tax system—with higher rates for one class and lower for another—is essential to good governance. In reality, this is little more than the communist principle of empowering the central government to redistribute wealth.

When Mr. Obama singles out “the rich” in this tax debate, he is in essence saying that there are two Americas—and the government is the arbiter between the two. However, his role is not to mitigate or abolish class discrepancies—that is far too presumptuous a task. (Not even God has dared intervene in human society to redistribute wealth for since time immemorial there have been great disparities between the rich and poor).

The president needs to read his own brilliant 2008 campaign speech: “We are not red states or blue states;” he said, “we are the United States of America.” And what made us “united” in the beginning was a stark recognition that the government has no right to levy taxes based on its perception of what is “fair.”

In other words, the American government should be class-blind. What is good for one class is good for another. Otherwise, we will gradually degenerate into a state where there are masters and slaves: one class has rights and privileges that another does not. This is as problematic as arbitrary one-man rule; it is the “tyranny of the majority” that the Founding Fathers also feared could destroy the republic.

In essence, Americans overthrew that way of thinking in 1776. In the current tax debate Republicans ought to take a stand on principle as our Founding Fathers did so valiantly hundreds of years ago. The era of “classes” is long dead. There are only “Americans” who want the central government to show restraint in exercising its power, whether that restraint benefits the poor or the rich. In essence, we need a class-blind tax policy.

-Dr. Grace Vuoto is the Executive Director of the Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal.