In order to have a true populist revolt, a person must define the enemy. Throughout the campaign, President Barack Obama did just that by saying that people owning small businesses making more than $250,000 are rich. (The actual number he’s using is $200,000 for individuals.) $250,000 is very subjective. $250,000 here in Texas is a mighty fine sum. $250,000 in New York City or San Francisco might land you in the middle class. For example, the cost of living in New York is 76% higher than in Houston, Texas, but the pay is only 15% more. The net change in disposable income is $150,856.00. Just think of how many health care policies a person could buy for that much money.
Second, we have to instill a sense of unfairness. It’s not that some people took bigger risks, or made tougher decisions to get where they got. It’s that the system favored them and needs to start favoring the disaffected masses. As Obama said to Joe the Plumber, “People who make $60,000/year work hard, too. If you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”
Finally, there needs to be the symbolic harm. Americans are not too thrilled with the bailouts. In this ownership society, lots of people have seen their 401Ks diminish into oblivion while the financial guys now get bailed out. It’s not fair. And then, to find out that they get $165 million in bonuses (they are retention payments, because guess what? no one wants to stay on a sinking ship). Outrage ensues. It’s a witch hunt. ACORN mobilizes their tiny force. AIG employees live in fear.
The fact is, I felt that President Obama was appealing to the basest of desires all the way around during the campaign. The have nots bought into the talk and nobles liked it, too. He spoke smoothly and had a presidential temperament. As the contemptible Christopher Buckley opines, fluish and back from landing his Cessna and gazing at the Iditarod:
I voted for Barack Obama largely on the basis of his temperament, which I thought superior. He is only 47 years old, but to me seemed older than that: a man of precocious aspect and judgment. In the French wording, un homme sérieux.
Of course you did, darling. You nincompoop.
So there were two ends of the spectrum that voted for Obama–the discontented and those suffering a fit of noblesse oblige. As in, no matter how much taxes the mighty Obama can put forth, it won’t matter for the super rich or for Senators, because they find their way around taxation anyway. Can you say Maryland?
In between these extremes, are the people who work for their money, who built businesses and who pour their earnings back into their business in order to grow it. What the President has been attacking isn’t wealth but talent and ambition. The working people are people who work with their hands, grunt and lift things, turn a wrench, while rich people, as Matt Yglesias said, “sit in cushy chairs.” James Joyner responded to that with this:
There’s no doubt that many low paying jobs require a lot of physical effort. Indeed, most of them are more physically demanding than most of the jobs that pay very well.
On the other hand, as Matt acknowledges offhandedly, those jobs have very low barriers to entry. One doesn’t study hard for four years of high school, four years of college, and three to eight years of professional schooling to become a mover or a stockboy or a stenographer. That’s a lot of work that’s generally put in while deferring income that those who took lesser paying jobs were earning right away.
Another key difference is that people who schlep boxes for a living don’t take their work home with them. They’re not thinking about better ways to get a piano down the stairs on the weekend or stressing about how much packing tape they’re using on the drive home.
Of course, we don’t pay people based on how hard they work any more than we grade students for how hard they studied. Ultimately, it’s about how much value others place on your services and how much competition there is for them. But the idea that an executive isn’t working hard because his chair is confortable is rather silly.
This resentment is more than resentment at the rich–it’s resentment at those who have taken the time, committed to the work and had the smarts to achieve. It’s not class warfare so much as it’s achievement warfare. Look at how the AP’s Matthew Brown summarizes the Montana plane crash victims:
Vanessa Pullen was a pediatrician, Michael Pullen was a dentist, Erin Jacobson was an opthalmologist and Amy Jacobson was a dental hygienist. Brent Ching was an orthopedic surgeon.
Buddy Feldkamp identified the pilot as Buddy Summerfield.
The Yellowstone Club, near Yellowstone National Park, is a millionaires-only resort that counts former Vice President Dan Quayle and Microsoft founder Bill Gates among its 340 members.
The loss, in terms of humanity, and brain drain is staggering and yet, the author finishes by making reference to Dan Quayle and “millionaires-only”.
The Leftist’s anger isn’t against rich, it’s against achievement. If you have succeeded in the private sector, you’re suspect and to be maligned. If you’ve achieved your wealth through graft and corruption like many in the public arena, well, that’s to be forgiven. The key is to make everything public-owned, then no one is better than anyone.
The ultimate goal of the Left’s populism is simple: socialism.