Call it the “bread slicers’ debate.”
“Bread slicers” is a term once used by the late Jack Kemp as he happily described to me the difference between himself and then-Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders, the latter famously a self-described socialist. Kemp described himself as a “bread baker.”
The concept was as obvious as it is simple. Redistributionist economics is, if you will, the equivalent of slicing a loaf of bread. There are only two questions to be had: who gets the thick slice and who gets the thin slice. Bread baking economics — aka “Reaganomics” or supply-side” or “classical” economics — is about abundance, baking an endless number of loaves of bread to feed everyone.
As Kemp biographers Morton Kondracke and Fred Barnes have noted of Kemp in a recent Wall Street Journal article:
Kemp first got into tax policy to help his suffering Rust Belt constituents in Buffalo, N.Y. He was all about economic growth, and believed in government policy to encourage work, savings, investment and productivity. Kemp insisted growth was the key to economic strength and national unity. Robust growth would help everyone rise—rich, middle class and poor. In a stagnant or contracting economy, he said, “politics becomes the art of pitting class against class: rich against poor, white against black, capital against labor, Sunbelt against Snowbelt, old against young.”
The present era resembles the miserable 1970s. Growth is glacial. Incomes are stagnant. The country’s mood is sour. Divisions are widening. In 1979 only 12% of Americans thought the nation was headed in the right direction. Now it’s around 30%. And politicians are pitting class against class: the “1%” against the “47%”; white workers against Mexican immigrants. The public is furious with Washington, and no wonder. Polarized Republicans and Democrats do nothing for them.
Exactly so. But what America will see tonight nonetheless is four dedicated bread slicers arguing over who should and should not get the thickest slice. And the game afoot will be to convince those getting the thinly sliced that really… really!… they got the thickest slice!
Kemp was also fond of another illustration of the idea — this one that was starkly illustrative of the perils of bread slicing. One day the entire loaf has been sliced — and eaten. Then what? Kemp put it this way:
Think about a wagon. It is a simple but forceful way of visualizing an important aspect of government. The wagon is loaded here. It’s unloaded over there. The folks who are loading it are Republicans. The folks who are unloading it are Democrats.…
Obviously, you can’t unload a wagon faster than you load it. Sooner or later it’s empty, and while you’re living from hand to mouth, the unloaders will complain. They will complain that the loaders have failed, what you need is a new system of loading, one that rewards collective effort instead of individual effort. The next step suggests itself: Nationalize the wagons.
Bread slicing and finding ways to ultimately nationalize the wagons is, in whatever form, the heart of this and all Democratic debates. Senator Bernie Sanders is at least honest about his intentions — he’s an inveterate bread slicer and wagon unloader who wants to nationalize America’s economic wagons. The others are varying shades of lesser — but still all are together as determined slicers and unloaders.
Take ex-Maryland Governor and ex-Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley. As noted here by the inimitable Cal Thomas in the Washington Times, O’Malley has had the chutzpah to say the following in his pursuit of the nomination, bold print supplied for emphasis:
“Today, the American dream seems for so many of us to be hanging by a thread,” said Mr. O’Malley, adding, “We must save our country now. Tell me how it is that you can get pulled over for a broken taillight in our country, but if you wreck the nation’s economy, you are untouchable.”
Say what? Did Martin O’Malley just suggest that Barney Frank and all those liberals who made of Fannie Mae one giant wagon through which they would unload houses — aka mortgages — to those who were financially not qualified for them should go to jail? After all, as my former Reagan colleague Peter Wallison noted way back in February of 2009.
The New York Times “reported in 1999 that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were under pressure from the Clinton administration to increase lending to minorities and low-income home buyers — a policy that necessarily entailed higher risks.” Wallison cited the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and the “affordable housing ‘mission’ that the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were charged with fulfilling.”
One could get back into the weeds of the 2008 financial crisis but to put it in Kempian terms that decidedly apply to the Democrats’ debate, the “wrecking” of the economy of which O’Malley speaks occurred as his party colleagues set about slicing the loaf of housing policy. Thick slices were cut for liberal favorites and thin slices for taxpayers. Eventually, there was no more bread to slice. Or to use the other Kemp metaphor, the wagon of federally subsidized mortgages was unloaded. And there was no one baking more bread or loading the wagon. Thus emptied — the “wrecking” of the economy of which O’Malley speaks was inevitable.
But has O’Malley learned the bread slicing lesson? Of course not. A trip to his website and there he is going on about debt-free college education. Aka, a thick slice for students — with someone somewhere (the taxpayers) being stuck with the thinly sliced crust.
As Cal Thomas also noted in that column of O’Malley’s repeated urges to tax and spend in Maryland:
This constant taxing and overspending contributed to the defeat of Mr. O’Malley’s handpicked successor, Anthony Brown, and the election of Republican Larry Hogan. It also caused an exodus from the state by some fed-up taxpayers. In 2012, CNBC cited a study by the anti-tax group Change Maryland that found that “a net 31,000 residents left the state between 2007 and 2010, the tenure of a ‘millionaire’s tax’ pushed through by Gov. Martin O’Malley. The tax, which expired in 2010, imposed a rate of 6.25 percent on incomes of more than $1 million a year.”
Which is to say, Maryland — and riot prone Baltimore — have been bread sliced to death. The empty wagon produced the usual results.
But far be it for me to pick on Mr. O’Malley. Every one of the rest of his fellow debaters on that Las Vegas stage are bread slicers as well. Bernie Sanders may want to slice faster, and Hillary may wish for the village to do the unloading, but make no mistake, bread slicing and wagon unloading are what these people are all about.
After seven years of Obama-style bread slicing, millions now have to have food stamps to replace the bread they were once able to bake for themselves. And almost 95 million are stuck in what is called in Orwellian terms the “labor participation rate” — which is to say America has the lowest number of people in the workforce in 38 years. Say again — 38 years, when Jimmy Carter was the Bread Slicer in Chief.
So buckle in tonight. The Bread Slicers Debate will be called to order.
How many slices will they propose cutting? How many thick? How many thin? Stay tuned. There they go again.
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