For the past couple of weeks the Romney camp has been bombarded with new attacks about Bain Capital, along with an unrelenting demand for more than just one year of his tax returns (this is coming from both the right as well as the left). Needless to say, not a great few weeks for Team Romney. However, it appears Romney thinks he may have found some political ammunition with which to fight back.
Recent remarks by President Obama, at a rally in Virginia, left conservatives salivating at the political fodder delivered by the President. The right-wing ‘blogosphere’ has had a field day with the President’s line, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” Conservatives are using these remarks to reinforce their line of attack that Obama doesn’t understand how the economy works, and they’ve even gone so far as to call him un-American. (See John Sununu)
Now, before I go into my usual Republicans are wrong, and have no idea what they are talking about spiel, I will say the President could have been a little more eloquent with his choice of words. Small business owners do have to work incredibly hard, and they do have to take risks, which are not inherent to other careers.
But… that does not mean what the President said was wrong. A little context needs to be added. The backdrop of this past week and half or so has been a discussion about taxes, specifically; ending the Bush tax cuts for the top income earners – or, in many cases, your business owners. The President has been asking for their tax breaks to end in part to address growing deficits, in part to hinder the burgeoning divide between the rich and everyone else, and in part to bring back tax rates to more historical norms when job growth was much stronger. But, it is mostly to ensure the top earners in America are paying their fair share.
And that’s the issue here. It’s not that the President is un-American, quite the contrary. The majority of the twentieth century marked an era where there was an understanding in America, a sort of social contract, that every person should do their part in making America great. This meant higher earners paid higher taxes. No one said this was socialism or the destruction of America, but rather ensuring the American dream stayed alive. It was for this reason we saw top marginal tax rates during this era close to 80 percent, a number unfathomable in politics today. There was a belief, which is true, that if you are successful it was made possible by the help of a lot of other people. So it only made sense for them to pay a little more in taxes.
That attitude changed though. We went from a society where the very wealthy paid their fair share, to a society of Gordon Geckos, a society where greed was believed to be good. We became a society where the wealthy no longer used their wealth to create a better country, but used it to grow their own bank accounts. Their influence went to creating a tax code filled with loopholes and deductions that disproportionately benefited themselves. It went to deregulating businesses at the expense of people and the environment. It went to creating a financial sector where risk was taken off of the investors and bankers, and put onto the average person. We became a country centered on making the wealthiest members of society even richer.
And this brings us to today; where the mere mention of business owners and job creators paying a little more in taxes is wholeheartedly rebuked and deemed as socialism, and to imply that successful people received help from the government is an attack on America itself. When in reality they did have help, and they should pay more. Job creators, like most of us, went to a public school or hired someone who went to a public school, which are paid for by taxpayers. They drove on roads and bridges built by public funds. They most likely advanced their business through the use of the Internet, which was created with the help of government research. (By the way, these are all points the President mentioned in his speech. Shocking – Romney took the line out of context.)
The point is that business owners are successful in part because of people and the government. It is for that reason they should pay higher taxes. Sure, job creators created their businesses, but they didn’t do it alone. In fact, they had a lot of help, whether they want to believe that or not. So it’s not socialism or class warfare to ask the rich to pay more – it’s American.