The "American Dream" upon which Obama routinely waxes-bullshit (McCain is just bad on this front, in fairness) is not - contrary to what he and many of his supporters think - that everyone has the god-given right to be financially well-off.
Before the Obama freaks inevitably jump down my throat, let me state this as clearly as possible.
This is a non-partisan post. I do not support Obama or McCain. Let me repeat: I am completely Party and Candidate-neutral in this election. This is an examination of concepts central to this election, and the philosophies behind them. This post is not intended to be, and in no-way represents an endorsement or criticism of any Candidate beyond the issues discussed. In the next few weeks, we'll likely be posting new material lambasting both McCain and Obama, so please don't be so quick to judge.
Now that we've gotten that out of the way (although I expect the attempt will inevitably be in vain), the WSJ describes the differences between Obama and McCain's "value-based" tax plan:
Sen. Obama replied that it's a matter of values. His plan values work, not just wealth, he said. And after largely dodging Joe the Plumber, Sen. Obama referred to him on Saturday as one of the working people who would receive a tax cut under his plan.
"It's time to give a tax cut to the teachers and janitors who work in our schools; to the cops and firefighters who keep us safe; to the waitress working double shifts, the nurses in the ER," he said. "And yes, the plumbers, fighting for the American dream."
I want to focus on one clause in that statement for a moment, "His plan values work, not just wealth." Let that sink in for a second. Obama tacitly acknowledges that work is valuable. However, based off the subsequent paragraph, above, he fails to make the connection that not all work has the same value, which in capitalistic society is commonly measured by the price paid for that work. (ed: A deeper discussion of the price paid for work being an accurate measure of the value society attributes said work is beyond the scope of this discussion, for another time though for sure, 1-2 care to give it a shot?) My job, for example, is not nearly as valuable or more accurately, not priced as highly as that of a surgeon, an all-star trader, a talented architect, etc, all of whom likely make several times what I do (just take my word for it).
When you break it down, the value of any work, like the value of most things, is a function of supply and demand, itself naturally influenced by several other factors (education/skill/experience required, barriers to entry, perceived value to the employer, risk factors, etc). There are lots of people who want to, and are qualified to be a waiter/waitress relative to the demand for such work. There are far fewer individuals who want to, and are qualified to be a surgeon, relative to the demand for that type of work. This is why the waitress does not make as much money as the surgeon.
One does not need an advanced degree to understand this very simple concept. However, Obama blatantly acknowledges that his system simply "values work," completely subverting the "market-based" valuation of said work. Generally speaking, the "market-based" system rewards increased education, experience, and knowledge. It encourages people to not only work hard, but to work smart. Similarly, it encourages ambition and dedication, generally providing greater (financial) rewards the higher up on the career path one climbs. It is worth mentioning though, and is often ignored in political discussions, that with increased income, more often than not comes increased stress, hours, and responsibility. For some people, sometimes, in some situations, the trade-off makes sense, for others, it doesn't. Essentially, we must acknowledge the fact that making money, at whatever cost, is NOT everyone's goal. This is an important distinction which is notably absent from virtually any rhetoric I've heard from either candidate, and most clearly ignored in Mr. Obama's redistributionist policies.
While we absolutely agree that people have other many other motivations for choosing a particular form of work, it absolutely cannot be denied that money is a significant factor, sometimes the primary one. Any non-deluded person in Law, Finance, Medicine, Politics or a almost any other field will tell you that if it weren't for the money (or the future expectation thereof), they likely wouldn't be doing what they're doing (or working up to where they are).
Just because you live in America does not mean that you are entitled to owning a house, a car or an iPod. You are not guaranteed to be able to take a vacation to Disneyland, to be able to pay for the "best" private schools and Universities or anything that is not explicitly guaranteed in the Constitution, among various other documents of course. (For what its worth, I'd like to see both reform and improvement in healthcare and education, both of which are, and should be guaranteed, but that's a conversation for another time, lest you think I'm some right-wing elitist jackass, which I"m not, but I digress...)
Newt Gingrich probably put it best:
"The Declaration of Independence says we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, among with are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Notice, unlike the welfare state it doesn't guarantee happiness, it doesn't offer happiness stamps, it doesn't suggest the government should pay therapy for those who have not yet found happiness."
Everyone in this country, whether they realize it or not, has the opportunity to be well-off, financially or otherwise. Do some people have upbringings which afford them advantages not given others? Absolutely. Is it likely far more difficult for the average kid from the ghetto or born into a rough familial situation to attain such success? Surely. Addressing this issue though is, again, an important conversation for another time.
Sometimes life just plain ol' isn't fair though. Everyone has to deal with this unavoidable fact at one point or another, to varying degrees and under varying circumstances. These are the things that we cannot control, coming down with a rare genetic cancer, for example.
The important fact that we must remember though, a fact that is painfully absent in the minds of so many Americans, is that there are many things we CAN control.
The kid born to the impoverished, out of work laborer parents isn't relegated to the same destiny. He or she can, through a combination of working harder and smarter, become almost anything he or she wants to be. Not everyone has the natural talent (etc) to do certain things, like play in the NBA or perform at the Metropolitan Opera, but remember, we're talking about things we can control. This is economic and social mobility.
This, my friends, is the American Dream.
Despite the nonsense populist pandering of various Politicians (Mr. Obama is a worse offender than Mr. McCain on this front), we must remember that the majority of us largely have the power to control our own destinies in this respect. This requires us to abandon the denial and sense of entitlement Politicians like Obama reinforce with their rhetoric and policies.
This requires us to remember that our decisions and our actions have consequences for which we must accept responsibility.
When it comes down to it, ceteris paribus and broadly generalizing, we all chose our careers, which for most of us, means we chose our incomes. The waitress who likely never went to college and makes $30,000/year made a series of choices to get there , just like the Wall Street analyst who makes $300,000 likely worked his ass off to get into a good college and top Business School did.
Are there exceptions? Of course! But remember, we're talking about things over which we have control Lets imagine that maybe our waitress got pregnant and needed a flexible job to feed her starving baby, but remember, you don't get pregnant by accident (barring rape, of course). In this example, a bad decision - perhaps it was getting drunk and not using a condom during intercourse, lets say - is still a decision; it was not outside our lovely waitress' control. Good for the waitress that she is accepting the consequence of her actions - getting a job to support her baby - and not lining up for a suckle at the government teet for a handout because of her own poor decisions.
Unfortunately, Mr. Obama would take money (via tax hikes) from people who made decisions which resulted in their financial well-being and redistribute it to those whose decisions resulted in a lower level of financial success. This reeks of socialism, and I challenge anyone to explain how it isn't with a clear, level-headed response.
Those with even a fleeting familiarity with political philosophy must invariably be likewise familiar with the work of Locke and Rousseau, and the ideas of Property and the Social Contract. (I'm skeptical whether either Presidential Candidate fits into this category, but I digress...) I think you'd be hard pressed to find any reasonably sane person who doesn't believe that we should be concerned with the greater good, for example, to make sure that we try to take care of those who cannot care for themselves.
What Obama does not seem to want to acknowledge (with his redistributionist policies) though is that the social contract is not asymmetrical. That is, in agreeing to be bound by it (and to benefit from it), each person tacitly agrees to adhere to it.
Thus, it is not the obligation of those who adhere to the Contract- those who played the game and achieved financial "success" (arbitrarily defined by Obama at $200 or $250k/year) because of it - to be forced to subsidize the lives of those who haven't.
I am not so naive to presume though - as some critics of these policies have argued - that increasing taxes on the rich will cause a massive shift in high-paying jobs offshore, a trend which will trickle-down and result in further job erosion across the board. Will it happen? Perhaps some, but in Obama's defense (see, I really meant non-partisan!), most certainly not to the vast degree which many of his critics claim.
Much to our severe disappointment, both Obama and McCain have consistently demonstrated that their understanding of basic economics (to say nothing of their lack of knowledge of any other related subjects) rivals that of a 5th grader. Maybe.
Naturally you have to discount any political rhetoric leading into an election by somewhere around 50% (+/-), all the more when such rhetoric relates to such broad, sweeping changes like those advocated by Obama. McCain isn't much, if any better here, but realistically I don't expect that if elected, he would be anything close to the "Maverick" he would have us believe he is. Any changes he actually delivered on are likely to be more incremental and far less distuptive than the ones proposed by his opponent. We are not saying that fact leads us to think McCain would necessarily make the better President than Obama; there are many areas in which we need to see significant and sweeping change. However, it is worth nothing that - especially given our current economic predicament - implementing such massive and far-reaching policies like the ones Obama has presented might not be the best idea.
Despite discounting his populist rhetoric, given the Democratic Congres (and other factors), I fear that if elected, Obama just might actually deliver on his redistributionist promises, and it scares the living crap out of me for the reasons I've discussed above.
The U.S. Government is a large, complicated beast, one that Obama wants to make even moreso on both fronts. This is very seldom the best way to go about fixing anything, especially Government, especially in a massive economic downturn (recession, whatever). The "system" is not necessarily broken as Obama would have you believe. Quite the contrary. It was broken, and now we need to rebuild it (better...faster...stronger...wah wah wah wah wah).
Mr. Obama's vision of the American Dream, and the ass-kissing rhetoric with which he presents it are very similar, almost a carbon copy of the political mentality that had no small part in our current economic woes. While it may not be politically convenient, now, more than ever, we need to take this opportunity to remind the Public that we aren't entitled to the things to which we have grown accustomed. It might not be what we want to hear, but it is an unassailable truth which we need to accept sooner, rather than later, lest we learn our lesson the hard(er) way at some point down the road.
Unfortunately, Mr. Obama seems intent on doing the opposite, of fueling the entitlement mentality that has lead us to years worth of negative savings rates, of record debt at virtually ever level, and fueled the mortgage and real estate boom/bust from which we're trying to recover. He can point to greed on Wall Street as the cause of all our problems, but the reality of the situation is that greed on Main Street was just as much to blame.
Rewarding, nay, encouraging such behavior - regardless of what Street it takes place on - is no way to fix anything.