President Obama's second inaugural address will be full of lofty sentiments and promises to move us forward. But I'd like to suggest that instead of eloquent and uplifting rhetoric, the president do something unexpected and brave. What if he actually spoke frankly to the American people about the sacrifices that are needed from all of us if we are to secure our future and salvage our character?
During the presidential campaign, the president said a lot about the need for the wealthy among us to pay their "fair share" in taxes. Bolstered by his electoral victory, he was able to win concessions by Republicans in the form of tax increases. Wealthier Americans will pay higher tax rates on income and investments. And everyone who works has already seen his or her payroll taxes go back up to their previous rate of 12.4 percent beginning Jan. 1 (half of which is deducted from paychecks and half sent directly to the IRS from the employer on the employee's behalf).
But taxes aren't the only -- or best -- way for us to share in the sacrifices necessary for the country to get back on the right path. The truth is, we've become an entitlement nation. President John F. Kennedy challenged Americans, "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." But lately it seems many of us care more about the former than the latter.
Seniors feel entitled to automatic increases in their Social Security checks, even if their actual cost of living goes up less than the Consumer Price Index for urban wage earners, which is what adjustments are made on now. They want better drug coverage and limitless access to doctors, even if it's for the sniffles or minor aches and pains. And virtually all seniors think they've already paid for these entitlements through their payroll and Medicare taxes, even though the average retiree today will receive $72,000 more in benefits than he contributed into the system.
The middle class wants small class sizes for their school-age children, paid for the Uncle Sam or their local government -- even though research shows little to no direct relationship between educational achievement and smaller class size. Instead of saving for kids go to college, many families now depend on government loans at low interest rates. The middle class also wants to keep their deductions for interest on their home mortgage loans, and if they get behind in their payments they want to be bailed out by the government.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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