To my great disappointment, it appears that the politics of division are making a big comeback. Many Americans share my disappointment – especially those who were filled with great hope a few years ago, when then-Senator Obama announced his candidacy in Springfield, Illinois.
Do you remember what he said? He said that what’s stopped us from meeting our nation’s greatest challenges is, quote, “the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics – the ease with which we’re distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems.”
I couldn’t agree more. And yet, nearly three years into his presidency, look at where we are now..
Instead of working together where we agree, the President has opted for divisive rhetoric and the broken politics of the past. He is going from town to town, impugning the motives of Republicans, setting up straw men and scapegoats, and engaging in intellectually lazy arguments, as he tries to build support for punitive tax hikes on job creators.
The House-passed budget was full of proposals to get rid of corporate welfare and crony capitalism. Why are tax dollars being wasted on bankrupt, politically-connected solar energy firms? Why is Washington wasting your money on entrenched agribusiness? Why have we extended an endless supply of taxpayer credit to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, instead of demanding that their government guarantee be wound down and their taxpayer subsidies ended?
Rather than raising taxes and making it more difficult for Americans to become wealthy, let’s lower the amount of government spending the wealthy now receive.
The President likes to use Warren Buffett and his secretary as an example of why we should raise taxes on the rich. Well, Warren Buffett gets the same health and retirement benefits from the government as his secretary. But our proposals to modestly income-adjust Social Security and Medicare benefits have been met with sheer demagoguery by leading members of the President’s party.
The politics of division have always struck me as odd: the eagerness to take more, combined with the refusal to subsidize less.
Telling Americans they are stuck in their current station in life, that they are victims of circumstances beyond their control, and that government’s role is to help them cope with it – well, that’s not who we are. That’s not what we do. Our Founding Fathers rejected this mentality. In societies marked by class structure, an elite class made up of rich and powerful patrons supplies the needs of a large client underclass that toils, but cannot own. The unfairness of closed societies is the kindling for class warfare, where the interests of “capital” and “labor” are perpetually in conflict. What one class wins, the other loses.
The legacy of this tradition can still be seen in Europe today: Top-heavy welfare states have replaced the traditional aristocracies, and masses of the long-term unemployed are locked into the new lower class.
The United States was destined to break out of this bleak history. Our future would not be staked on traditional class structures, but on civic solidarity. Gone would be the struggle of class against class. Instead, Americans would work, compete, and co-operate in an open market, climb the ladder of opportunity, and keep the fruits of their efforts. Self-government and the rule of law would secure our equal, God-given rights. Our political and economic systems – rooted in freedom and responsibility – would reward, and thus cultivate, traditional virtues.
Instead of appealing to the hope and optimism that were hallmarks of his first campaign, he has launched his second campaign by preying on the emotions of fear, envy, and resentment. This has the potential to be just as damaging as his misguided policies. Sowing social unrest and class resentment makes America weaker, not stronger. Pitting one group against another only distracts us from the true sources of inequity in this country – corporate welfare that enriches the powerful, and empty promises that betray the powerless.
Ironically, equality of outcome is a form of inequality – one that is based on political influence and bureaucratic favoritism. That's the real class warfare that threatens us: A class of bureaucrats and connected crony capitalists trying to rise above the rest of us, call the shots, rig the rules, and preserve their place atop society. And their gains will come at the expense of working Americans, entrepreneurs, and that small businesswoman who has the gall to take on the corporate chieftain.
Instead of policies that make it harder for Americans to rise, let’s lower the hurdles to upward mobility. That’s what the American Idea is all about.
In the midst of all the joys and sorrows of our everyday lives, I think we sometimes forget why America was considered such an exceptional nation at its Founding, and why it remains so. To me, the results of the Founders’ exceptional vision can be summed up in a single sentence: Throughout human history, the American Idea has done more to help the poor than any other economic system ever designed.
Americans, guided by our ideals, have sacrificed everything to combat tyranny and brutal dictators; we’ve expanded opportunity, opened markets, and inspired others to resist oppression; we’ve exported innovation and imagination; and we’ve welcomed immigrants seeking a fresh start.
Here in America – unlike most places on earth – all citizens have the right to rise.
View text and full video of Paul Ryan’s full remarks here.