The Obama campaign is regrouping after the bungled speech by Obama last week where he belittled business owners and entrepreneurs and is attacking the Romney campaign for twisting the President’s words and omitting key sentences. Let’s revisit the entire quote in context:
“There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
“The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.
“So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the G.I. Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for President — because I still believe in that idea. You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.”
As many have pointed out, this speech seems to be largely based on Elizabeth Warren’s earlier speech and the Obama campaign likely saw how it resonated with a certain demographic and seized it. The relevant portion of Ms. Warren’s speech goes:
There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you!
But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea — God bless. Keep a big hunk of it.
But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
First of all, the tenants of their argument don’t stand up well to scrutiny and factual analysis. The best dissection of these speeches can be found here. In summary: maybe 25% of the federal budget goes towards the programs identified (so the remaining 75% is what? optional? a waste?), given that the top 1% pay 37% of the total federal taxes we can eliminate all the taxes for the rest of the 99% and still have 12% surplus, and they erroneously conflate local vs. federal taxes. Go read the entire thing – there are other well defended points made in the piece.
However, the question that I think most reasonable, thinking people are left with after hearing either or both of the speeches is: so what? What do you want done? Ms. Warren is a more explicit than the President – likely because the Obama campaign knows that having him explicitly state what the other shoe dropping sounds like would be detrimental to his campaign: pay more taxes. And herein lies the difference in approaches between a conservative and a liberal – and hopefully between Romney and Obama. President Obama, Ms. Warren and others of their ilk think that the rich – after covering over 37% of the total federal taxes should pay more. They essentially say that businesses that succeed should pay more taxes – and I’ll assume corporate taxes here – which will only make the United States a less attractive business environment and investment. They will couch Romney’s position as wanting to avoid said tax increases as a benefit to the rich and will craft it like he is giving tax breaks or tax cuts to the rich.
Personally, I think Romney should come out and directly challenge the President on this. Make the President admit publicly that yes, if you succeed you should pay more taxes. Not that you haven’t ALREADY paid taxes that went towards these programs, but you’ve also paid taxes that went towards other parts of the federal government and to entitlement programs and bailouts, etc. etc. Ms. Warren shows her true colors in this area when she said, “You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for” – aside from the horrid grammar of ending a sentence with a preposition, she erroneously defines the argument that the successful person didn’t pay for the roads that they used. In fact, the successful person probably paid a larger share of the road than others taken individually. She could have said, “You moved your goods to market on the roads for which all of us paid” but didn’t and that should be telling.
If a successful person feels like they should contribute more towards the federal government there is nothing stopping them from writing a check to the U.S. Department of the Treasury and mailing it in (hello, Mr. Buffett…written that check yet?) On the other hand, conservatives, and me, personally, believe that we should trim the waste and tighten the belt. Yes, it’s going to hurt and there are going to be some people who don’t fare well but the system as it stands is unsustainable. Note that I said conservatives and not republicans. That will prove to be the difference – which politician has the political will to take on this issue on the national level. Paul Ryan has to some degree. Here’s hoping others do. In the meantime, keep a sharp eye and ear out for the protestations of the liberals and the Obama campaign and watch how they twist the argument and couch their position with regards to taxes and the federal budget.
* – apologies to The Bard. While the quote for the title of this piece uses the word “protest” and I have taken it in the modern meaning, the original quote’s use of the word was more along the lines of “solemnly attest”. And Gertrude was commenting that the queen’s vows in Hamlet’s play were too insistent and eloquent – over the top. But, if one wants to take my meaning as Obama is affirming his position in a similar manner, I wouldn’t protest it too much.
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