Monday, July 23, 2012
By: Noah Silverman, RJC Congressional Affairs Director
The upshot of this week’s political developments is clear: President Obama’s ideology and the way he talks about it are becoming a real problem for his reelection campaign.
By now, everyone who pays attention to politics has heard about the President’s controversial remarks last Friday After touting his proposal to hike taxes on small businesses and wealthy individuals, the President observed (at the 33:32 mark):
You know, 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.
Many commentators have noted that these remarks hew closely to the argument offered by Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren in a remarks that were widely circulated on the Internet.
But Obama’s tone may have been even more dismissive of business owners concerns, which leads to what Washington Post political reporter Aaron Blake calls “Obama’s ‘You didn’t build that’ problem.”
Obama’s team argues that he is pushing for an increase in government funding for programs that are broadly popular…. But the bluntness of his “you didn’t build that” quote is going to obscure those details. After all, Obama was basically addressing business owners directly in an adversarial way. (emphasis added)
John Kass vividly recalls the “government men coming from City Hall” to collect tribute from his father and uncle as they struggled to build their small business – a neighborhood supermarket:
They wanted steaks.
We didn’t eat red steaks at home or yellow bananas. We took home the brown bananas and the brown steaks because we couldn’t sell them. But the government men liked the big, red steaks, the fat rib-eyes two to a shrink-wrapped package. You could put 20 or so in a shopping bag.
“Thanks, Greek,” they’d say.
That was government.
Many Americans have similar impressions – of government more as an impediment to the fulfillment of their ambitions than a help. Many more worry that an expanding government will tip the scales in the wrong direction by saddling taxpayers with ever-higher taxes to pay for ever-growing social programs and debt service and squelching innovation with burdensome regulation.
Obama’s off-the-cuff encomium to the indispensability of government to our fulfillment only begs the questions that are weighing on these Americans’ minds.
- Based on what are we to sustain any confidence that a government that squandered the 2009 Stimulus will do better if it sets out on another binge?
- When so many state governments are staggering under the burden of past promises come due, why does the federal government seem more interested in bailing out the most imprudent of them than in addressing its own underfunded promises?
- What limiting principle prevents this rationale from becoming a justification for unending government power and money grabs? If there is none, it’s no exaggeration to say that accepting this argument would leave our traditional notions of property rights and limited government entirely hollowed out.
Liberals like President Obama may have a tough time understanding where Americans who have such concerns are coming from. They’re used to feeling frustrated that government isn’t growing faster.
Their exasperation is evident in the current spasm of saber-rattling over how to deal with the scheduled expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. Democrat Senators can’t contain their bewilderment at colleagues – and voters – who would deny them the proceeds from soaking ‘the rich,’ which they see as a politically easy windfall to collect.
Seemingly, their ideological tunnel-vision makes it impossible for them to look at it from the perspective of people like John Kass’s father. If they could, perhaps they’d understand how outrageous it sounds to struggling small business owners when “government men” insist that Americans who produce tax revenue are “doing fine” and it’s those who consume revenue who are bearing the brunt of the weakest economic recovery in living memory.
They’d see Democrats whose actions bespeak a dogged determination to “take care of their own,” an attitude that makes Democrat politicians’ habit of citing true public goods like public safety and roads appear revoltingly cynical.
The Americans whose concerns the President so brusquely belittled hear the indifference and contempt in his words loud and clear. They see through the liberal Democrat shakedown style of politics.
And that’s why this has been a bad week for President Obama.