Anyone who believes that prosperity means correcting social inequality is a fool. Wanting something you don’t have does not mean that you are being treated unfairly. How many voters who agreed with the president that inequality of income is a scourge that stifles opportunity in America would discard their leftist convictions and turn into loyal Republicans in an instant if we dumped a bag of cash in their laps?
Social inequality drives opportunity in America. It gives us something to strive for. The question is how can Barack Obama, who has achieved success beyond the reach of almost all Americans, justify selling us a minimalist dream that relies on righting perceived wrongs of the past with other people’s money?
Don’t blame social inequality. Blame Obama.
Do not believe that the spirit of compromise lives in Washington because Republicans seemed cowed and we heard a few agreeable noises from the White House during the post-election backslapping. Before the votes were counted the president had already confirmed that we are in for more of the same:
And we tried giving big tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. We tried giving insurance companies and oil companies and Wall Street a free license, do whatever you please. And we got falling incomes and record deficits and the slowest job growth in half a century, and it culminated in the worst financial crisis that we’ve ever seen in our lifetimes.¹
Mr. Obama successfully abdicated responsibility for his own heart stopping deficits and the protracted, record unemployment that killed opportunity for millions of Americans. The White House blames wealth for the recession, but Barack Obama is to blame for maintaining the social inequality he condemns. Americans were given a health care bill. We are still waiting for jobs.
Is a minimalist vision of success good enough for Middle America?
The president claims to share a vision with the middle class:
The basic bargain that says if you’re willing to put in the effort, you can do well enough to raise a family and have a home that you call your own, have some security, put a little away for retirement, and most importantly, make sure that your children, your grandchildren can do even better and dream even bigger than you did.²
There is no bargain between America and Americans and there never was. Working hard and striving for the future guarantee nothing. The vision the president is using to justify his New Year’s tax hike is what we get when fear for the future overtakes hope and opportunity, when too many opt to settle for what they can get, and when the government decides what the future will look like.
Why are Democrats so adamant in their refusal to make entitlement reform part of scampering away from the fiscal cliff (see: Halting the Sequester Will Be a Historic Betrayal)? Because if Social Security and Medicare are what we have left when we can no longer work, we have to depend on government to get by.
Opportunity in America does not mean success.
Instead of endorsing tax hikes and field levelers that push everyone to the center, we should celebrate social inequality. Democrats like to talk about the teary-eyed experience of coming to America as an immigrant and starting with nothing while becoming stronger through the struggle to succeed. They would never apply the same rhetoric to those who lost out to the Obama recovery. Instead, we get condemnation and blame directed at those who rose above the president’s nonexistent American promise and its middle-of-the-road version of success, and more cries for the tax code to make everything fair and equal:
Our fight goes on, Ohio, because this nation cannot succeed without a growing, thriving middle class and roads — and paths of opportunity for everybody who is willing to work hard to get into the middle class. (Applause.) Our fight goes on because America always does best when everybody gets a fair shot, and everybody does their fair share, and everybody plays by the same rules.³
Opportunity does not mean fairness, either.
Talking about getting a fair shake confuses fairness with opportunity. Opportunity is what the Obama recovery took away. Social inequality encompasses a lot more than ethnicity, civil rights, and other headline grabbers. Just ask one of the five million long-term unemployed how they feel about opportunity in America while administration officials tell us things are getting better:
We’ve transformed a terrible crisis into a stable and durable recovery. To state otherwise is to wage war on the facts. We’ve erased all of the private sector job losses since the president took office and created an additional 1.2 million new jobs.4
Not everyone is going to do well.
Americans will never play by the same rules. Some will never own their own home. Some will lose their fortunes and die destitute. Some, like the president, will achieve goals unimaginable to many of us. Uncertainty is the American dream we bought into. The uncomfortable question is why someone who has achieved as much as Barack Obama is pushing a mundane vision of success financed with the tax code. Americans need something better to hope for than an insipid, middle class existence bestowed on them by someone else’s dream.