President Obama pronounced himself “amused” the other day at the protests of the Tea Party activists on April 15, D Day for the IRS. “They should be saying, ‘thank you,'” says our president to considerable applause and laughter from the Democratic activists at a fund-raiser.
For someone who is so widely hailed as being “scary smart,” this guy seriously doesn’t get it.
First of all, I believe it shows remarkable lack of grace to mock the common folks out there who are earnestly exercising their freedom of speech and voicing their concerns about the direction of the country. I don’t believe George Bush, amid all the outrageous exaggerations and calumnies that were hurled at him, ever expressed anything but dignity and respect for the protesters who met him at virtually every appearance. “People disagree with me on that; I respect that,” he said time and time again. Obama makes fun of them – this is, after all, the same kinds of folks who cling to their guns and their religion in the face of changes they don’t understand, at least, apparently, in his view. A few more unguarded comments like that and people will come to the conclusion that he really has contempt for them, and couldn’t be bothered to bend an ear to what they have to say. Hardly what one might have expected from the post-partisan politician who was going to help us rise above it all.
In the second place, his “thank you” remark shows how little he thinks of the American people: if I got some sugar courtesy of the government, then I should be happy about it and not ask questions about what happens next. He was referring, of course, to the fact that the beneficent government in its expansive wisdom saw fit to borrow lots of money from some people and give it to other people, thereby making life better for the second group. So they should say “thank you” and shut up.
This is of a piece with conventional wisdom among many Democrats, who can’t seem to fathom that people will raise their sights to see beyond their own self interest. Thomas Frank, now the Wall Street Journal’s house liberal (they could easily have chosen someone more persuasive) lays his claim to fame on a book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? in which he tries to fathom how it is that the decidedly non-rich Republicans of that state favor policies that, in his view, favor only the rich. If Kansans really saw which party would butter their bread, he figures, they would vote Democratic – except that they are befuddled by all those social arguments about abortion and all the rest. Similarly, the New York Times’ Kate Zernike views a recent poll with consternation: the people who are out in the streets protesting aren’t the ones feeling the pain of this tough economy – they tend to be better educated, more well off, etc. What do they have to complain about?
But the Tea Party folks see way beyond that – further, apparently, than Obama expects them to – and reckon with unerring accuracy that the bill for all that benevolence will be visited upon them and their children and their grandchildren. And the irony is that these folks are more in tune with the national zeitgeist than the President. Yesterday a Pew Research poll came out with the shocking revelation that nearly four out of five Americans do not have basic trust in their government. I remember Candidate Obama saying “it doesn’t matter whether government is big or small but whether it works.” Well, the American people have apparently made up their minds on that, and the conclusion is not one that is in tune with the course the President has charted out for us.
There are lots of reasons people have lost confidence in their government, but one glowing, throbbing, magma core of a reason has got to be anti-democratic way Obamacare was forced into the congressional record. Even after Scott Brown was elected in the most reliably progressive state in the nation, seizing the seat held by the Liberal Lion himself for forty years, and doing so on the explicit promise that he would be the deciding vote against health care reform in the Senate – Democrats chose to ignore the brightly flashing yellow light and bull ahead. Thus they passed a highly imperfect legislation, some of the provisions of which are only now coming to light (such as the one in which Members of Congress and their staffs are denied coverage under the Federal plan immediately, long before the insurance exchanges to which they are supposed to refer have been set up. Ooops. Expect that one to get fixed.) and using procedures that most Americans view as dubious at best, if not high chicanery.
And so, in an era when the general populace views government with mistrust, and consequently expansion of government with considerable suspicion if not hostility, here comes Mr. Obama proposing to ratchet government involvement in the country’s economic affairs up to European levels. Now the inevitable is starting to seep into the public discussion – talk of all the taxes that will have to be levied to pay for it all. Very few people believe any more Obama’s ‘not one dime” promise of no higher taxes on the middle class. And sure enough, the Value Added Tax – easily understood as another sales tax on top of the one we all pay already (in Chicago, it’s over 10% – and that’s before the Feds pass theirs) – is now being bruited about as the least offensive way to soak the general public for the money needed to run Obama’s government.
You see a lot of old style 18th century patriot symbolism with the Tea Partiers, and it is with good reason. They are clamoring for a return to what Thomas Payne wrote of: Common Sense. Robin Hood economics, robbing from the rich to give to the poor, is not good government policy. It deadens the economy, it discourages wealth creation, and it discourages the poor – the recipients of the largesse – from getting off their butts and making something of themselves.
Liberals, I think, have the best of intentions – they see the poor as people who, through no fault of their own (a critical assumption), have fallen on hard times, and it is the communal duty of the rest of us, organized through the government, to help them pay for the things they lack. And without a shred of doubt, there are people who fit that description. But in helping them, what message do you send to those on the very next step up on the economic ladder? They are the ones who are making sacrifices, working long hours to make a start in life, to house and feed a family, and to do so on their own merits. They see Sportin’ Life next door taking home about as much money with absolutely no cost in time or effort, it makes one think, what’s the use? What about the homeowners who have the integrity to pay their mortgage even though it is greater than the value of their house, who are doing without to meet the obligations they willfully signed up for, and they see the grasshopper next door who escapes his obligations with help from Uncle Sam? This kind of compassion is short-sighted; it helps those immediately targeted, but at the cost of a widening alienation on the part of those who fall outside the safety net. The natural reaction is that the safety net widens: people find ways to become included, liking falling 90 days behind on their mortgage payments, so they can get in on the gravy train. And two very negative things result: the problem spreads rather than diminishes, and the corrosion of the civic culture spreads as well.
The old-style virtues voiced by the Tea Party folks may sound quaint, even outdated. But they are truths, and their verity does not diminish with time. These protesters, more than any politician or political party, have concentrated like a laser beam the concerns of millions of Americans. President Obama and his allies on the left may be undignified enough to make jokes at their expense, but my guess is they are running scared. It will become increasingly clear that the “social justice” view that Obama brought to office does not sit well with the American people. These folks value hard work, resourcefulness, personal responsibility. They are not about to say “thank you” for a few silver coins from Washington.