Another GOP debate has rolled around (and another clip has been added to the "Low-Lights" reel from my post about the debates on my own site). This time it wasn’t the audience response that should have been embarrassing to any sane political party, but a candidate’s response.
Michelle Bachmann’s answer to a young tea partier’s question about taxes qualifies her as a contender and earns her a spot in the ring for a round of what I call "Class Warfare" Smackdown.
In this edition, Ms. Bachmann goes up against reigning progressive champion Elizabeth Warren.
"No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own -- nobody.
"You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory -- and hire someone to protect against this -- because of the work the rest of us did.
"Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless -- keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along."
And in the challenger’s corner is Michelle Bachmann with the right’s best answer to Warren (this week).
I think you earned every dollar. You should get to keep every dollar that you earn. That's your money. That's not the government's money. That's the whole point. Barack Obama seems to think that when we earn money, it belongs to him, and we're lucky just to keep a little bit of it. I don't think that at all. I think when people make money, it's their money.
Obviously we have to give money back to the government so that we can run the government. But we have to have a completely different mindset, and that mindset is the American people are the genius of this economy.
Bachmann’s answer says alot about the Republican party. Her answer, as Bruce Bartlett pointed out, drew applause and cheers from the audience, and no challenges from her fellow candidates says even more. And, since she’s running with the rest of the pack to challenge Obama in 2012, it’s worth pointing out that the president essentially knocks out Bachmann’s argument with one punch, with an answer that would have fallen well within the 60-second time limit at the Fox/Google debate.
"I appreciate the fact that you recognize we're in this thing together," Obama said. "We're not on our own. And those of us who've been successful, we've always gotta remember that."
The win goes to Warren, It’s an easy knock-out.
Granted, it’s probably not fair to pit Bachmann against Warren or Obama, because it’s nowhere near an even match.
If nothing, you gotta admire Bachmann’s fancy footwork. In practically the same breath, Michelle Bachmann advocated zero taxes while simultaneously maintaining that "Obviously we have to give money back to the government so that we can run government," while completely dodging the inherent contradiction. How can you "keep every dollar you earn" and a the same time "give money back to the government so that we can run government"?
Bachmann essentially trips over her own argument and faceplants on the canvas without landing a punch. How can she do otherwise when she’s making really making two conflicting arguments? Bachmann’s "keep every dollar you earn" is essentially an argument to abolish government. Conservative disdain for government has metastasized into an outright hatred of government that fuels nearly everything on the right, from threatening to default on America’s debts to the latest shutdown threat.
The GOP candidates have to make that argument, because that’s what the tea party wants. The problem is that it runs headlong into the reality of what the majority of Americans want. The truth is, the government does many things that many Americans want it to keep on doing, because they see the benefits in their own lives, their families, and their communities (that includes tea-baggers and their Medicare and Social Security benefits). Plus, they don’t mind that the government must tax to do these things as long as everyone pays their fair share.
Republicans don’t have an answer to this, except for the one Bachmann summed up with her "write a check" response to the president’s jobs plan, or the conservative suggestion that patriotic millionaires who want to be taxed more should just "donate money to the government" and shut up. They don’t have an answer because they have concept of a legitimate role for government, beyond the tea-party-defined parameters of defense and (maybe) "contract enforcement." (Except for that pesky social contract, of course.)
It’s a sad moment "the Party of Lincoln" when a Democratic president has to remind them how well Abraham Lincoln understood what the party that once proudly invoked his name seems to have forgotten.
But there's always been another thread running throughout our history — a belief that we're all connected, and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation.
We all remember Abraham Lincoln as the leader who saved our Union. Founder of the Republican Party. But in the middle of a civil war, he was also a leader who looked to the future — a Republican President who mobilized government to build the Transcontinental Railroad — (applause) — launch the National Academy of Sciences, set up the first land grant colleges. (Applause.) And leaders of both parties have followed the example he set.
Ask yourselves — where would we be right now if the people who sat here before us decided not to build our highways, not to build our bridges, our dams, our airports? What would this country be like if we had chosen not to spend money on public high schools, or research universities, or community colleges? Millions of returning heroes, including my grandfather, had the opportunity to go to school because of the G.I. Bill. Where would we be if they hadn't had that chance? (Applause.)
How many jobs would it have cost us if past Congresses decided not to support the basic research that led to the Internet and the computer chip? What kind of country would this be if this chamber had voted down Social Security or Medicare just because it violated some rigid idea about what government could or could not do? (Applause.) How many Americans would have suffered as a result?
No single individual built America on their own. We built it together. We have been, and always will be, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all; a nation with responsibilities to ourselves and with responsibilities to one another. And members of Congress, it is time for us to meet our responsibilities.
As a contrast, Bartlett offers a few examples of "countries where people are lucky duckies -- those where taxation is a small fraction of what it is here""
Equatorial Guinea: According to the Republican-leaning Heritage Foundation, those who live in this small country in sub-Saharan Africa are lucky duckies indeed. Because of recently discovered oil deposits, the citizens of Equatorial Guinea pay less than 1 percent of the gross domestic product in taxes. The comparable figure for the United States is 26.9 percent of G.D.P., according to Heritage.
However, Equatorial Guinea doesn't seem to be a very pleasant place to live. The people are poor and have little freedom. Heritage says that "persistent institutional weaknesses impede creation of a more vibrant private sector" and "the rule of law is weak." This sounds suspiciously as if government is too small to do its job properly. But I'm sure that the citizens of Equatorial Guinea don't mind having a dysfunctional government; after all, they're lucky duckies.
Myanmar: The people who live in this small country in Southeast Asia are also lucky duckies, if not quite as lucky as those in Equatorial Guinea. According to Heritage, taxes in Myanmar are 3 percent of G.D.P.
Oddly, this also doesn't sound like someplace one would want to live. Heritage says "longstanding structural problems include poor public finance management and undeveloped legal and regulatory frameworks." Apparently, the government doesn't protect property rights very well, the infrastructure is poor, and there is a lot of corruption. But at least the people get to keep almost all their earnings.
Libya: Why the people revolted in this North African fiscal paradise is a mystery. According to Heritage, government revenues are just 3.4 percent of G.D.P.
Chad: Heritage says the people of this African nation pay just 5.3 percent of G.D.P. in taxes. But for some reason, the nation is mired in poverty. Perhaps because, as Heritage says, "the efficiency and quality of government remain poor." I wonder why.
Republic of Congo: The people of this country in Africa also pay 5.3 percent of G.D.P. to the government. But it is also very poor. Heritage says a key reason is "the government has failed to provide basic public goods and infrastructure." This doesn't really make much sense by the logic of Republican candidates, who seem to agree that all government spending is bad unless it goes to the Defense Department and that public works are nothing but worthless pork.
The "class warfare" smackdown is a battle between two opposing visions of what America should be. Anyone who wants to win it should probably start throwing or keep throwing punches like those most recently thrown by Warren and Obama -- and keep it up until Election day 2012.