A plumber in Ohio wants to know why Barack Obama thinks it is a good idea to punish him for fulfilling the American dream. Why is he being taxed more and more for every success he achieves in his business? "Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn’t it?" the plumber demanded to know when given the opportunity to question Obama.
In response, Obama offered the following: "It’s not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they’ve got a chance for success too. My attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s gonna be good for everybody ... I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody."
Not so fast. Does Barack Obama really care about the people who are behind this plumber or does he, instead, want to make sure that the plumber stays behind his ultra-rich constituency? Robert Frank offers some insights into the factors driving the support of the ultra-mega rich toward positions that seem, on their face, to go against their interests. We know that the ultra-rich increasingly favor higher taxes on the wealthy and tend to spend their time talking about idealistic ways that the government can and should spend tax dollars.
But is it really altruism that drives these patrons of society? It looks to me more like a kind of expensive taste; a "Gucci Liberalism," as they used to say.
Revealing as it is, Frank’s piece doesn’t get to the heart of the issue. He is content to believe that neither candidate will want to tout the results of a survey that shows support for one candidate coming from the "rich" and support for the other candidate coming from the "ultra-rich" in an age where populism rules the day. After all, the "richies" have already decided so the candidates are only competing for the votes of the rest of us. Who among us will consider that our interests are aligned with either category of rich people?
McCain should reconsider that counsel if he reads Mr. Frank’s report. Obama told the plumber that he’s concerned about the people behind the plumber. So Obama wants to tax the plumber (and his richer friends who can afford it) and spread their wealth to those behind and, somehow, this is supposed to improve the economy for everybody. Well, that’s poppycock and we know it. The truth is that he’s protecting his buddies above the plumber from the competition of folks like the plumber. This plumber and other small businessmen like him need to learn their place, pay their taxes happily, and keep their mouths shut about issues that are (obviously) beyond them. They can’t understand things noble causes like caring for the environment or health care justice. They only know things like plumbing and how to grub out a living. If these guys are not taxed heavily, then they might grow their businesses and then expand into real estate or other sectors of the economy. Their children may become lawyers, professors, or politicians. Their families might become very wealthy and then (gasp!) they might begin to expect that they can associate with the likes of Barack’s patrons!
Like Jed Clampetts (only of a more hard-working than lucky variety), these rubes might tote their guns and their God into Martha’s Vineyard or Beverly Hills and upset the whole social order with their small-minded politics. The plumber’s kids, if they don’t just stay put in the plumbing business, should take Michelle’s advice, go to college (on government grants, of course), learn from the faculty there how to become
Democrats enlightened, and then work in the non-profit sector so that they don’t interfere with the high-minded efforts of their betters in the classes patronizing Barack Obama. If they’re lucky, maybe they can write a couple of best-selling auto-biographies.
A populism, rightly understood, would explain to the American people why there are those who want to see their hard work and success punished and who, exactly, they are. And it would also encourage those behind the plumbers to understand that their real friends are not those who want to patronize them with favors from the government, but those who are happy to have them come along--as employees or as competition--in a truly free economy.