Yet Another Speech

President Barack Obama gave yet another “major address” on Wednesday, this time about the economy, but it wasn’t like the good old days. We’re wizened enough to recall a time when every Obama oration was treated as a stop-the-presses event, whether it was major or not, but this time is barely rated a mention.
Obama’s speech at Illinois’ Knox College came in at a Castro-esque one hour and six minutes long, but the hourly updates on the radio gave it only a few seconds. The more high-minded media outlets gave it the dutiful respect of more than a minute of air-time or just enough column inches to necessitate a jump to the inner pages, and the right-wing ranters on talk radio had a few indignant comments, but it wasn’t enough to knock the naming of the new royal baby off the top of the news budget. Even the votes in Congress to continue the National Security Agency’s spying on average Americans and to slow the increase in student loan interest rates were considered livelier topics.
Being both unaccountably curious and almost insanely stout we managed to slog our way through a transcript of the entire speech, and although we concede the possibility that it somehow sounded better in Obama’s sonorous baritone we must say that it was just awful. Not only was it badly written, with an abundance of mixed metaphors and clichés and faux-folksiness and talk of the damage done by meat cleavers left in place, it was also chockfull of half-truths and full-blown untruths and a down-right demagogic dismissal of any disagreement. Mostly is was the same old class-warfare rhetoric that Obama has been peddling his entire political career, as if income inequality were the only flaw in an otherwise flawlessly functioning economy, and a handful of policy proposals that would only make things worse.
Obama starts the hour-long monologue by noting a speech he had given at the college shortly before being elected to the Senate, as if 2005 were so long ago, and admitting that he gave basically the same speech then. After a hackneyed history of the middle class descent into destitution that preceded him, Obama then offered a surprisingly upbeat assessment of the current economy. He touted the stock market’s climb to new highs, as if it weren’t a Fed-fueled bubble, cited the massive new regulations of the financial industry, as if they had done anything but make finance more expensive, touted the boom in fossil fuel production, as if it weren’t occurring on privates lands despite his best efforts to impose higher energy costs on the country, bragged about the revival of the auto industry, as if Detroit had not recently declared bankruptcy, and boasted of doubling wind and solar energy, as if that highly subsidized and ultimately inconsequential increase weren’t the reason that he’s been trying to increase the cost of fossil fuels. He even boasted of deficit reduction, as if the national debt had not increased by nearly seven trillion dollars on his watch.
If there is anything amiss in the economy, say a sluggish growth rate or persistently high level of unemployment and even higher levels of unemployment, Obama places the blame solely on the Republicans that have apparently been running the government unimpeded for the past five years. He’s revived the old argument that all the country’s calamities are a result of “sequester” budget cuts, as if his office did come up with the idea in the first place, and insists that any further decreases in spending must be done with a scalpel rather than that meat cleaver the Republicans have left in place. Of course there was nothing in speech to suggest where that scalpel should cut, just as every Obama has proposed spending increases rather than cuts to anything but national defense, and there were plenty of calls for more and more government.
He called for an increase in the minimum wage, as if high unemployment is a result of too-cheap labor costs, and for immigration reform that would flood the low-skilled labor market with tens of millions of new job-seekers, as if that’s going to alleviate unemployment, and the usual demand for more revenues, as if a healthy tax-hike is just the elixir required for an ailing economy. The rest of it was more lamenting the fact that some people do better in life than others, and although he offered no specific remedies for this injustice the implication seemed to be some people simply shouldn’t be allowed to prosper so much. How this will spur economic growth remained unexplained, but it seems to involve tax hikes.
Perhaps the press paid such scant attention because Obama has promised a series of similar speeches around the country, and they want to dole out his eloquence in measured portions. After months of speculation that various issues have been ginned-up to distract attention from the sorry state of the economy, there is now speculation that Obama has once again “pivoted” to the economy to distract attention from various controversies that have swirled about the White House lately. Obama dismissed these issues as “phony scandals,” as if any concern about the fatal mishaps and cynical lies that were the Benghazi scandal, or the Internal Revenue Services harassment of the president’s political enemies, or the criminalization of investigative reporting, or that congressionally-approved NSA spying on average Americans are of no consequence.
Those things are important, in our view, but so is the president’s stubborn insistence on the same policies that have made this the slowest and weakest economic recovery in the nation’s history.

— Bud Norman

The Celebrities are Revolting

As a general rule we pay no attention to the political pronouncements of celebrities. Film and television actors, pop music performers, comedians, models, and the various other sorts of beautiful people who comprise the celebrity class have no apparent expertise outside their fields of endeavor, after all, and these days they don’t seem to have much talent for anything at all.
Nonetheless, we were intrigued to read that Bill Maher, host of a cable television talk show of some notoriety, was recently heard on the program grousing about his high taxes. The comments came after his guest Rachel Maddow, the boyishly handsome left-wing news commentator, delivered a long rant about the Republican budget proposal complete with the obligatory sarcastic claim that “it says the big problem in America right now is that rich people do not have enough money, they need relief from confiscatory tax rates.” This prompted Maher to respond “You know what? Rich people — I’m sure you’d agree with this — actually do pay the freight in this country … I just saw the statistics, I mean, something like 70 percent. And here in California, I just want to say to liberals, you could actually lose me. It’s outrageous what we’re paying — over 50 percent. I’m willing to pay my share, but yeah, it’s ridiculous.”
The observation is hardly original, and indeed the statistics that Maher “just saw” are well known to anyone who has been paying the slightest attention to conservative arguments during the past many years of tax debates, but it is a hopeful sign when the likes of Maher are offering it. A formerly funny comedian known for his foul-mouthed blaspheming and smug self-certainty, Maher has evolved over the years from an idiosyncratic iconoclast to a drearily doctrinaire liberal who contributed $1 million to Barack Obama’s soak-the-rich presidential campaign and consistently toed the same redistributionist line that Maddow was predictably peddling.
This probably doesn’t signal that the celebrity class will soon turn to the Republican side, but it is yet another indication that the taxes on the highest income earners — especially in such celebrity-infested states as New York and California — have reached a point that more outspokenly liberal rich folks are finding objectionable. Maher joins fellow unfunny comedians Whoopi Goldberg and Jon Lovitz in stating so, along with professional golf star Phil Mickelson and a few other athletes, and if more celebrities feel emboldened to join them it could have pleasant political ramifications.
The recent hatred for the rich has been peculiarly inconsistent, with business executives, entrepreneurs, professionals, and other productive citizens bearing the worst of it while athletes, entertainers, and people who are celebrities for no particular reason continue to bask in the warmth of the public’s affection. One likely explanation for this inconsistency is the tendency of celebrities to embrace liberal causes and thus display their compassion for the little people, unlike those ruthless capitalists who merely provide socially beneficial products and services and seem to be intent on profiting from it, but another possible reason is that they celebrities are better-looking, provide mindless diversion from mundane day-to-day existence, and have publicists who allow the fans to vicariously live the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Should the celebrities rise up en masse to protest on behalf of their fellow one-percenters, the public’s fervor for class warfare might abate.
Or perhaps not. Even Maher’s adoring audiences might decide that they no longer care for someone so greedy as to expect a full half of his paycheck, and even those celebrities who keep their resentments to themselves might sooner or later decide that all the rich must pay for their success. Robespierre and other well-heeled radicals of the French Revolution stoked the fires of class resentment until they found themselves under the guillotine’s blade, and the French aristocracy was far more entertaining and not nearly so annoying as today’s celebrities. We note that even Barack Obama’s press secretary was recently reduced to snarkily responding to a rare question about the president’s regal lifestyle, insisting that multi-million dollar vacations are only fair compensation for someone who cares so deeply about the poor, and Obama is the celebrity-in-chief.
If the beautiful people do find themselves being rounded up in the coming Reign of Terror, at least the public will be showing an admirable consistency.

— Bud Norman

How to Hate the Rich

We’ve decided to get with the times and start hating rich people. All the cool kids are doing it, so our previous attitude that thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house suddenly seems terribly old-fashioned.
Being au courant on the class envy craze is proving more difficult than anticipated, however, because it isn’t quite clear who the rich people are and which ones we are supposed to hate. The recent “fiscal cliff” agreement only raises the income tax rate for people earning more than $400,000 a year, for instance, but perhaps we should still be hating anyone raking in more than the $250,000 a year that the president has always set as a threshold for hatred. There are probably a lot of people out there making between $250,000 and $400,00 a year, so it would save us a lot of energy if we were to forgo hating them, but one can never be too careful when striving to be trendy.
That “fiscal cliff” agreement also contains several reminders that some rich people are to be hated more than others. Buried in the bill are numerous tax breaks for certain essential industries, such as stock car racing and Puerto Rican rum, but apparently the people enriched by such frivolous pursuits as energy, aviation, and agriculture are still to be punitively taxed. The motion picture industry is also exempted from any punitive taxation, of course, and as always the people who become rich by being pretty and able to convincingly pretend to be someone else are to be adored rather than hated. Perhaps this is because movie stars are exceptionally fine people who take time out from their busy schedules of making blood-splattered shoot-‘em-ups to demand that guns be taken from law-abiding citizens.
Such blatant hypocrisy always seems to confer an immunity from class hatred, somehow, although we’re still trying to discern all the subtleties. We see that Al Gore just picked up yet another $100 million by selling his stock in something called Current TV to the al-Jazeera network , making sure he got the sale done ahead of any tax hikes, but we expect that he’ll retain his membership in the un-hated rich. One hundred million bucks is a lot of money by anybody’s definition, and it’s coming from a network owned by dirty-oil-rich Qatar, which intends to use the little-seen network’s cable access to spread its pro-terrorism editorial policy, but so long as Gore flies on private jets from his opulent and energy-consuming mansion to spread the warning about global warming he will likely remain one of the officially designated good guys.
Gore was once a Democratic presidential nominee, too, and that also seems to mitigate the evil of wealth. The John Kerry-John Edwards ticket was by far the richest in the history of presidential politics, but we can’t recall anyone raising any of the moral objections so many people had to Mitt Romney’s much smaller fortune. Maybe that’s because marrying into money or ambulance-chasing malpractice suits that drive up the cost of medical care are more honorable occupations than rescuing companies and their workers from bankruptcy, which will surely screw somebody over at some point, but we suspect it has more to do with party affiliation. To say that our current Democratic president lives like a king would understate the matter by many millions of dollars, judging by the difference in the American taxpayers’ cost of supporting their First Family and what the British spend on the royals, but so long as he’s willing to repay a small portion of it on tax day he’ll always be regarded as a righteous class warrior.
Lacking any information about a particular rich person’s voting registration, political ideology seems to be the most reliable indicator of how much we are supposed to hate them. Warren Buffett has become extremely wealthy by providing tax shelters for his fellow rich people, but he urges further tax hikes on the rich and thus his wealth can be forgiven. The Koch brothers have become extremely wealthy by providing the public with affordable refined gasoline, and then worsened the offense by using some of the money to promote free market capitalism, so of course they are to be hated with a special passion. “Pinch” Sulzberger has made his family less wealthy by turning its New York Times into an unreliable purveyor of left-wing propaganda, so we suppose he’s some sort of saint, but we can’t say for sure.
We’ll eventually figure out all the vexing rules of class envy, and then we’ll begin hating in earnest. It sounds like great fun, and if things keep going as they have been the past four years it might be the only entertainment we can afford.

— Bud Norman