The Dangers of Leveling - At Home and Abroad

Michael Medved

4/8/2009 8:52:56 AM - Michael Medved

One of the most important distinctions between liberals and conservatives involves their contrasting explanations of the existence of inequality.

Those on the left see the disparities between rich and poor individuals, or between prosperous and impoverished societies, as automatic evidence of unfairness. They instinctively assume that some people do better than others only because they began their lives with unjust advantages, or exploited the less powerful, or benefited from random good fortune. On the other hand, the less favored members of society suffered from racism or sexism or colonialism, and progressives believe that any reference to their own dysfunctional or self-destructive behavior amounts to “blaming the victim.” Liberals want to use governmental initiatives to close all gaps and level all playing fields (to cite two of their favorite clichés), in order to make up for the unwarranted and irrational processes that created the glaring and wretched inequity in the first place.

Conservatives and libertarians, on the other hand, view success or failure as the inevitable consequence of different levels of talent, hard work and productivity. While acknowledging that a few lucky slackers may be born into fortunate circumstances that they never earned, or that some virtuous and gifted individuals can suffer reverses or tragedies that they don’t deserve, right wingers believe that worldly advancement (particularly in the USA) comes for the most part from focus, toil and smart choices. They therefore resent government redistribution programs for taking hard-earned wealth from the people who deserve it most and giving it to those who merit it least.

There is no doubt which attitude characterizes the worldview of President Barack Obama. As Charles Krauthammer recently wrote: “Obama is a leveler. He has come to narrow the divide between rich and poor. For him the ultimate social value is fairness. Imposing it upon the American social order is his mission. Fairness through leveling is the essence of Obamaism.”

Unfortunately, the President’s recent trip to Europe showed that he applies the same leveling instinct to the international arena. His apologetic tone, insistence on “listening and learning” from the nations he visited, and controversial references to his own nation’s purported “arrogance” all suggest that he believes Americans ought to feel more guilty than grateful, more embarrassed than proud, over our disproportionate power and prosperity.

The United States remains so freakishly favored in our levels of freedom, opportunity and comfort for our citizens that any attempt to achieve global “equality” will necessarily produce efforts to lower the American standard of living and “spread the wealth around” (in the chilling phrase Obama used with Joe the Plumber). In the midst of all the trillions in new spending initiatives, the media hardly noticed President Obama’s commitment of unprecedented billions for the International Monetary Fund to aid developing nations. If “the wretched of the earth” face their misfortunes due to the West’s record of colonialism and imperialism, and not because of their own leaders’ record of malfeasance and corruption, then the never-ending drive for fairness requires punitive policies against those societies that benefited in the past.

The President’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel famously commented that the Obamatrons remain determined that they “will never waste a crisis” – suggesting that they intend to use the current economic difficulties to reshape both American society and the global economy. Just as the privileged are supposed to give up some of their wealth and privileges within the United States, so the nation itself is supposed to pull back from its preeminent position in the family of nations. Far from echoing the old American cheer, “We’re Number One!” the President and his pals might offer a new chant that says, “We’re Just One of a Number.”

While his policies at home to “soak the rich” and “share the wealth” will face strong resistance (and even counterattacks) from individualistic Americans, his corresponding efforts to address global inequality by cutting his own nation down to size might do permanent (and tragic) damage to the position of the United States in the family of nations. Instead of demonstrating more harmony and cooperation, a world without American leadership will become more chaotic, unpredictable, unjust and dangerous.