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Equality or Independence?

All joking aside, America faces a serious choice this November.

By 9.20.12

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Major news organizations are busy this week high-fiving each other over what they've convinced themselves is the death of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. Watching MSNBC these days is like watching the autopsy of a murder victim, conducted by the murderers themselves. Their unseemly jubilation is inspired by a "secret" four-month-old video of Romney discussing the 47 percent of Americans -- myself among them -- who do not pay federal income tax. If I hit the Powerball, I'll try to make good with the Treasury Department, but the fact that I don't make $5 million a year like Chris Matthews is certainly not Mitt Romney's fault. Nor do I blame Matthews, who has real talent of the kind that usually involves wearing a fright wig, a red nose and big floppy shoes.

Despite my lack of resentment, I'm told I should be offended by Romney's remarks about myself and my fellow 47-percenters. Bill Kristol called the Republican candidate's comments "arrogant and stupid." Kristol once worked for Dan Quayle. Insert punch line here.

All joking aside, however, and without regard for the media's self-congratulatory celebration of Romney's troubles, there is a serious question involved: Are the economically less fortunate entitled to constant flattery, lest our self-esteem be damaged? Should we think of ourselves as victims, deserving not only tax exemptions, but also benefits which others are taxed to provide for us? Or is it possible that with a new attitude -- and a different set of policies in Washington -- some of us in the 47 percent might by our own efforts escape the embarrassment of penury and achieve some measure of economic success?

Is it crazy to believe that? Then I might qualify for disability, although Conservative Derangement Syndrome is not among the disorders listed in the DSM-IV. But all joking aside...

My poverty is entirely my own fault. Before I got into the journalism racket, I had a perfectly good job as a forklift driver, and if I'd stuck with that, who knows? I might have been warehouse manager by now. Yet I convinced myself that a suit-and-tie job was more prestigious and more lucrative, which it might actually have been. But then Al Gore invented the Internet, the bottom fell out of the newspaper business, and nowadays all journalists are compelled to scrape for nickels and dimes in the blogosphere, even Harvard graduates like Bill Kristol (magna cum laude, 1973) and Matthew Yglesias (magna cum laude, 2003). The latter is a liberal who no doubt heartily shares Kristol's disdain for their fellow Harvardian, the "arrogant and stupid" Romney (J.D., MBA, 1975). In the 21st century, it sometimes seems, political discourse is conducted entirely among Ivy League alumni, usually on Twitter. Yglesias this week honored his Twitter devotees with a philosophical treatise: "The concept of 'redistribution' falsely implies that the existence of property is prior to the existence of the state. #mythofownership."

Maybe you have to be magna cum laude to understand that, or to be impressed by it. My own academic career more resembled that of the Animal House character Bluto who, when informed that he and his Delta frat brothers had been kicked out of college, memorably lamented, "Seven years of college down the drain. Might as well join the f--ing Peace Corps." I managed to graduate in less than seven years, and could have become a warehouse manager if I'd stuck with that forklift job, instead of getting into the newspaper business. Despite President Obama's eagerness to absolve me of responsibility for my mistake, I contemplate my profession with a weird mixture of shame and pride as I declare, "No, sir, I did build that." This crappy journalism career is all mine.

In 1776, contrary to what children are taught in school nowadays, our nation's Founding Fathers did not sign the "Declaration of Equality." No, the document to which John Hancock and the others signed their names in Philadelphia -- the vow to which they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor -- was the Declaration of Independence. There is a world of difference between the two concepts. While I do not claim to be the equal of such eminent Harvard alumni as Kristol, Yglesias, and Obama (J.D., magna cum laude, 1991), I stubbornly refuse to surrender my independence. And I'm damned well sick and tired of hearing all these smart people on TV proclaiming that folks like me are too stupid to understand what Mitt Romney was saying in that "secret" video.

By God, Romney was right and if anyone is insulted by the plain truth, they deserve to be insulted. Ross Kaminsky is also right: The "secret" video could be just what the Romney campaign needed to spark a serious conversation about Obama's economic failure. Our national debt is now $16 trillion, the annual budget deficit has exceeded $1 trillion for each of the past four years, and 47 percent of us aren't contributing a nickel to fix that problem. A big part of the problem -- and maybe you've noticed this -- is that the economy sucks. Even if you didn't make the mistake of pursuing a journalism career, it's kind of hard to work your way up when the unemployment rate is over 8 percent, a statistic that actually understates the problem. As James Pethokoukis has explained, the broader unemployment rate, including part-time workers who want full-time jobs, is 14.6 percent, and the rate would be even higher if not for a declining rate of "workforce participation." Among the factors in this decline is the extension of unemployment payments to 99 weeks, as well as a troubling rise in the number of working-age adults claiming disability. An additional 1.7 million are now receiving Social Security disability payments, a 23 percent increase since 2007. More and more people are being paid not to work, which reduces the number of taxpayers, and the government is borrowing more money to make more payments to more people, including the increasing number (47 million) on food stamps.

This is no laughing matter, and Obama's consistent "answer" to the problem -- to increase taxes on the rich -- can't possibly solve it. The growth in the percentage of Americans dependent upon government assistance is not a "Change We Can Believe In," to borrow the president's 2008 campaign slogan. To go "Forward" in the same direction, as the president's 2012 slogan urges, is to hurtle into an abyss. So why, faced with a crisis so clearly caused by the incumbent's disastrous policies, are the nation's news organizations doing their worst to cripple the campaign of the Republican challenger? Why is Chris Matthews laughing with his MSNBC buddies while the American Dream is on the verge of extinction?

If that's "journalism," all joking aside, I'd rather go back to driving a forklift.

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About the Author

Robert Stacy McCain is co-author (with Lynn Vincent) of Donkey Cons: Sex, Crime, and Corruption in the Democratic Party (Nelson Current). He blogs at The Other McCain.