Charlie Leonard: Attacked for their success
December 29, 2011
“You don’t get people to like you by attacking them or demeaning their success. I grew up in a family of 10 kids, first one to go to college, and I’ve earned my success. I’ve earned my right to fly private if I choose to do so. And by attacking me, he is not going to convince me that I should take a bigger hit because I happen to be wealthy.”
Those are the words of Robert Johnson, the African-American founder of Black Entertainment Television and several other successful enterprises, responding to several campaign speeches by President Obama deriding “millionaires and billionaires.”
Johnson also said, “I went in business to create jobs, create value, create opportunity for myself and my investors, and that’s what the president should be praising.”
But to anyone who has been listening to the president for the latter half of this year, it’s crystal clear that he has almost nothing good to say about people who are financially successful. In fact, the president has been on a fairly consistent track of blaming our economic ills on the affluent while simultaneously chastising them for failing to do their “fair share” to support the cost of government.
Other Democrats have tried this tack before. Both Al Gore and John Kerry dabbled in populist rhetoric, but it was abundantly clear that these two people, who led lives of extraordinary privilege, were never comfortable in that skin. Their contemporary John Edwards was perhaps a more sincere devotee of class warfare, given his humble beginnings, but he, too, for reasons now apparent, was less than convincing as a moral crusader.
Obama is different. It’s pretty clear that the president has genuine contempt for successful businesspeople – at least to the extent they are also financially successful.
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It’s really quite extraordinary, if you think about it, that a man so personally aware of the ignorance and prejudice associated with stereotyping people based on their race would so casually and routinely malign whole classes of people who work in financial services, insurance and other essential businesses.
The conventional political wisdom on the right is that the president is a calculating cynic who has latched onto a populist message of blaming the millionaires and billionaires for our economic problems to distract attention from his own failure to improve our economic conditions.
Personally, I think the president’s speeches go way beyond cynicism. I think he actually believes the things he says. And, for me, that makes him a much more dangerous threat to our way of life than your garden-variety politician who is willing to say and do things for political expediency.
Sure, Obama is willing to play fast and loose with the facts in a cynical way. I have no doubt he understands that while Warren Buffett may pay a lower tax rate than his secretary, it’s not because high income earners have low tax rates. Of course the president knows that most high income earners pay the highest rate of tax on their personal income and that only a very small percentage of people such as Buffett, who derive most of their income from capital gains, pay a lower rate than average wage earners. The president is also fully aware that the top 5 percent of all income earners pay about 70 percent of all federal taxes, while nearly half of all Americans pay no federal income tax at all.
Yet if you believe that the president means what he says – as I do – it also explains why he has no intention – now or in the future – of supporting economic initiatives and tax policies that would encourage businesses to prosper, grow and hire new employees. It’s quite clear the president sees business as the cause of our economic problems rather than the solution to them.
More than once, Obama has said he wants to “fundamentally change America.” Based on his actions thus far, his version of fundamental change would alter our historical and cultural perception of financial success.
Simply put, the president does not see business as Johnson does – a calling every bit as worthy as government, based on good intentions, the opportunity to create something of value and a chance to realize the financial and personal success that comes with ownership.
In Obama’s world, Johnson will wait a very long time to hear even the faintest praise for his personal accomplishments and the opportunity he has created for others.
For those of us who do not believe we need Obama’s “fundamental change,” I would like to say congratulations, Mr. Johnson – yours is truly an American success story worthy of praise, encouragement and the support of your government.
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