In his speech to the Democratic National Convention, former President Bill Clinton postured as the unhappiest millionaire.
"And most of us, almost all of us, from Republicans to independents and Democrats, we wanted to be asked to do our part, too," said Clinton, presuming to speak for American rich people. "But all they asked us to do was to expend the energy to open the envelopes containing our tax cuts."
Here's a suggestion for Clinton: Open another envelope, insert a check and send it to the U.S. Treasury.
If Clinton feels guilty about amassing a fortune, and believes the government is not taxing him enough to take care of the needs of what he now calls "ordinary" people, there is a simple solution to his problem: He can give his money to the government.
Many charities, of course, would also gladly relieve Clinton of his wealth. No law compels Clinton to hoard his money. This is still a free country: He can give every penny to the Sisters of Charity. He can provide handouts to impoverished stem-cell researchers.
If he liked, Clinton could return tomorrow to the ranks of the "ordinary" people. Or, he could limit his annual income to $199,999.99. That is the income threshold below which Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry seems to believe Americans are properly taxed. Accordingly, Kerry claims he will raise taxes only on those who make $200,000 or more. Why is this precise annual income Kerry's magic number? Who knows? But, curiously, it is a bit more than the taxpayers generally pay to members of the U.S. House and Senate. (The House speaker, the best-paid member of Congress, gets $203,000 per year, while House and Senate leaders get $175,700, and rank-and-file get $158,100.)
Maybe the Democrats' definition of "rich" is anybody who gets paid more than House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi hopes to get paid next year.
I raise these points to demonstrate that the way Bill Clinton, John Kerry and the Boston Democrats approach taxing and spending the hard-earned money of Americans is not really about money, it is about liberty. It is about who decides: Do you decide what to do with your money or does the government decide? Do you take care of yourself or does the government take care of you? Are you an autonomous individual -- free and independent -- or are you currently or potentially dependent on the state?
Personally, Clinton and Kerry prefer to decide for themselves what to do with their money. This is self-evident: They haven't given it all away. But as politicians they also want to decide what to do with more of your money -- and to do that they first have to take more of your money.
In his speech, Clinton made an illogical and ironic statement about wealth and power. He said of Republicans: "They believe the role of government is to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those who embrace their economic, political and social views, leaving the ordinary citizens to fend for themselves on important matters like health care and retirement security."
This is illogical because if Republicans really did view government like that, they would not have indiscriminately cut tax rates for limousine liberals like Clinton and Kerry who do not "embrace their economic, political and social views." They would be trying to slap rich liberals with targeted taxes so they could transfer their wealth to Americans in lesser income brackets who think like House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
Clinton's argument is ironic because it's liberals like him who really want to increase the concentration of "wealth and power" in America -- and the precise place they want to increase that concentration is in the federal government.
Under the traditional American system, the power of the central government was constitutionally limited and the property of the citizens was constitutionally protected.
As a consequence, Americans fended for themselves. We put roofs over our own heads, funded our own health care and retirement, and took care of the needy in our own families and communities.
Government could not tell us what to do because we were not dependent on government.
Modern liberalism has offered Americans a new deal: Government will take care of you with somebody else's money. The more people who take the deal, the more money and power must be concentrated in government. The more money and power becomes concentrated in government, the more likely it is that people who have grown dependent on government will keep liberals in office.
If there is anything that makes rich, liberal politicians happier than having power over their own money, it's having power over yours.