A haze of ugliness hung over Pres. Barack Obama earlier this week in Osawatomie, Kan., where he delivered a speech as malodorous as an Occupy Wall Street encampment and about as thoughtful.
He communed with the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt, who delivered his famous 1910 “New Nationalism” speech there defining progressivism for the next century. The president was after smaller game. He merely needs a campaign theme to patch him over for the next year, so any old argument will do. He settled on all but blaming the rich for trashing the American Dream. Income inequality, he said, “gives lie to the promise that’s at the very heart of America.”
How so? The president maintains that with inequality on the rise, it had already become more difficult in 1980 than at the end of World War II for a child to climb out of poverty into the middle class. What happened between World War II and 1980? For one, we had the advent of the Great Society. The fact that the creation of a liberal dream state coincided, in his view, with the diminution of advancement might make a more reflective man stop and think. Not our president.
The federal government already runs a sprawling, massively redistributionist system of taxes and benefits. The top 1 percent earns about 17 percent of all income and pays about 37 percent of all federal income taxes. By the reckoning of Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, the welfare system has paid out roughly $16 trillion since the beginning of the War on Poverty. According to Cornell economist Richard Burkhauser, once tax policy, transfer payments, and the like are taken into account, all income groups have gained since the late 1970s.
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