The media, the occupiers, and others engaging in “the bitter politics of envy” have it all wrong. If they were concerned with anything other than dividing Americans and punishing success, their full attention would be on the 21%, not the 1%.
Who are the 21%? They are the Americans who, according to The Heritage Foundation, “rely on government subsidies for their existence.” Read that again: rely on government subsidies for their existence. That is a fundamentally un-American idea. And in 2009 (the last available data), 20.9% of the entire population in America was dependent upon government programs for their existence.
Of course, many of these folks have no desire to be dependent upon government. They have become a byproduct of relentless growth in government programs, which combined with the rapid growth in the number of Americans not paying federal income taxes, has created a dependent class. As Heritage’s Bill Beach notes, “Dependence on the federal government for life’s many challenges strips civil society of its historical and necessary role in providing aid and renewal through the intimate relationships of family, community, and local institutions and governments.”
For this dependent class, the American Dream is nothing but a mirage. Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness are words without meaning. Individualism and self-worth are whittled away. Economic growth is the answer, but it will not solve the dependency problem entirely; in part because government is not the only source of dependency.
Last week, the president of a Chicago-area International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local called a nationally syndicated radio show and expressed his outrage that some of his coworkers were open to voting for one of the Republican candidates this fall. Look at how this union boss describes his colleagues: “These people, whatever wealth they have, whatever affluence they have, and the fact that they still have jobs, they owe it to a union.”
Now, you may be tempted to dismiss this as typical union boss versus evil employer rhetoric. (Of course, we all know those jobs would not exist but for the employer and the free market economy.) But it is more insidious than that; it goes beyond anti-employer rhetoric. The union boss went on to say: “Some of the members voted to leave because they thought the reason they had all these benefits [was] because they themselves were that good.”
That is not an argument against employers, but rather an argument against individualism. It is an argument in favor of collectivism. The union leader seems to believe that his colleagues – most of which are hardworking Americans trying to live the American Dream – did not earn anything on their own merit. According to the union boss, union workers receive whatever their benevolent union hands down to them. He seems to believe, probably to the ire of his members, that they are dependent upon him.
In many respects, this attitude is no different from that of the government. Their message is simple: you, as an individual, are nothing without me. And do not be surprised if you see this in President Obama’s State of the Union address tomorrow night. It will be riddled with populism, government programs and rants against the 1%. But it will fall woefully short on how to empower the 21%.
In fact, that could very well be the dominant theme in the 2012 presidential contest: empowerment and individualism versus dependency and collectivism. Just look at the rhetoric from the men who finished at the top in South Carolina this week.
Governor Mitt Romney warned that President Obama “wants us to become an entitlement society where people in this country feel they’re entitled to something from government and where government takes from some to give to others.”
Speaker Newt Gingrich outlined a goal of empowering individuals by “find[ing] ways to help poor people learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job and learn some day to own the job.”
It is clear that both men have a very different vision from President Barack Obama, not only on how the economy should function but also on the worth and value of an individual. So as you watch the President deliver his State of the Union address tomorrow, ask yourself one question: is he planning to increase the state of dependency? Sadly, the answer is likely to be yes.