Catherine Rampell of the New York Times takes on the White House for damning the successful in Are the Rich Just Lucky?
Here’s the entire post:
Christopher Bergin, the president and publisher of Tax Analysts, makes an interesting observation about the rhetoric the Obama administration has been evoking in its efforts to end some of the Bush tax cuts:
When talking about the rich, Treasury Secretary Geithner and President Obama refer to them as “fortunate,” insinuating — if not just stating it outright — that the rich are lucky. That’s why they’re rich. This is a point of view I’d expect from a couple of liberal arts college professors, not from those in charge.
I’m all for a progressive income tax system. And I’m all for a strong estate tax for the idle rich. But the people I know who are well-off work hard for their money. They worked hard in school and worked hard in business. They took risks, which weren’t backed by government safety nets. They created things. And, as they rose, they learned that there are some in this country who like to demonize success — even fear it.
There’s a saying that I’m fond of: Trying to blow out somebody’s candle won’t make yours burn any brighter. I’m fully aware of the growing gap in this country between the haves and the have-nots. But building class warfare by arguing that the land of opportunity has changed into the land of the fortunate few is not the answer. The tone at the top matters.
Referring to the rich as “fortunate” is certainly not a new turn of phrase, and I’m not sure how calculated its use was in the case Mr. Bergin cites. (I have found a few other uses of this language by administration members, but not terribly many.)
But even if the word choice was not deliberately intended to provoke class warfare, it does seem to epitomize one of the key fault lines between liberals and conservatives: to what extent the wealthiest (as well as the poorest) members of society have earned, or rather simply received, their present fates.
If it’s true that it takes only luck to be successful in America, we should close down the schools, recall all textbooks and treatises and encourage everyone to move to Vegas.
In other words, why exert yourself at all if luck is the determining factor?
When Geithner and Obama call the rich lucky, they know precisely what they are doing. They know that if they say that disparities in wealth are created by disparities in intelligence, hard work and perseverance the non-wealthy aren’t going to feel very good about themselves. And when you make people feel bad about themselves, they usually don’t vote for you.
The politics of envy and class warfare work and that’s why Obama and Giethner practice it.