25 November 2008

Obama's Version of Giving Back, Asking, and Responsibility

On Monday, president elect Obama introduced his economic stimulus / crisis tackling / stability granting team. He also indicated that the tax increase on the "rich" - folks who earn over $125,000 a year (or something thereabouts…the number is malleable) would be somewhat delayed.

But this morning I read something interesting on Neal Boortz's website. It's a clip, verbatim, from Barack Obama's campaign website, which is apparently still up and running. With regard to taxes, it says:

"Obama will ask the wealthiest 2% of families to give back a portion of the tax cuts they have received over the past eight years to ensure we are restoring fairness and returning to fiscal responsibility."

Much like Mr. Boortz, I find the wording chosen for this statement telling. Mr. Boortz rightly notes that "give back" and "fairness" are telltale signs of government desire to redistribute money it feels it should have. (I hope that I've characterized Mr. Boortz's thought properly.)

One thing to notice about the words from Mr. Obama's website is where they begin. There is no mention of the work required to earn enough money to put one's self in the top 2%. It is as if we are to believe that they are there either through heredity (old money) or luck (not skill).

By skipping over the work required to get there portion, Mr. Obama can make the easy baby-step to taking something from the wealthiest 2%. But again, notice the verb - "ask". Mr. Obama will "ask" the wealthiest 2% to "give back" to the government. "Ask" is a kind verb; it necessarily indicates that one may answer "no" to the question. But any sane American knows that the IRS doesn't ask, and it does not take no for an answer.

But back to the kindly side of Mr. Obama's "give back" plan. He is only "asking" for a "portion of the tax cuts" that the rich have received. Therefore, the wealthiest 2% will get to keep some of what they have been given by the federal government. Notice how the tax cut is now something granted by a connotatively benevolent federal government. But there's something in between the words here - and I hope that I'm reading too much into it. If the wealthiest 2% of Americans will have to forfeit some of the "tax cuts they have received over the past eight years", does that mean that the IRS will be looking retrospectively into our tax records to "recover" some of that tax cut revenue? I hope not, but Mr. Obama's choice of words does not reassure me.

Finally, all of this is done to restore "fairness" and to regain "fiscal responsibility". I'll skip the fairness part - Mr. Boortz did a fine job with that one. But just whose "fiscal responsibility" are we talking about here? The bulk of people I know are fiscally responsible. They take care of their families, their mortgages, their car payments, their credit card bills. Indeed, even the town where I live is fiscally responsible, and not without painful limiting of expenditure (just ask any teacher in the district). What Mr. Obama really means here is that he wants to take more from the wealthiest 2% of Americans so that he can make the federal government more fiscally responsible.

I wonder about the logic of giving someone in debt more money. I wonder even more when the one who is in debt, and who is asking for more money is simultaneously ramping up spending. Just yesterday, there was talk about another "stimulus" package. Mr. Obama wants one ready to go so that he can sign it into law on 20 January. Numbers are unclear at this point, but half a trillion dollars is certainly in the ballpark. That's another $500 billion on top of the $700 billion in "bailout" TARP money.

This passes for fiscal responsibility for Mr. Obama. It doesn't pass for "fairness" in my book, because I am sure that even though I am not a member of the wealthiest 2% of Americans, I will be paying for Mr. Obama's spending spree - one that is supposedly for America. And I won't be asked about it. I'll just be told to give back what I've earned. And that may well damage my family's carefully crafted fiscal responsibility.

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