U2's lead singer Bono once described the difference between an Irishman and an American: When they see a big house on a hill, the American says, "Someday I'm going to live in that house!" And the Irishman says: "Someday I'm going to get the guy who lives in that house!"
America is a great place to be rich, (I have inferred). Taxes are low. Public reverence is high, and people identify with success. Once you count up all the Americans who are rich, admire the rich or think they're going to be rich, you've got a majority.
But in this climate, you've got to wonder how long America's love affair with the rich will last. Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal said last month: "We cannot be, we must not be, the party that simply protects the rich so they get to keep their toys." Jindal is not only thinking it won't hurt him to take a shot at the rich; he must think it's going to help him.
If he thinks that, it must be that the rich aren't seen as behaving very nobly right now.
Nevertheless, many Republicans in Washington are still ardently defending the interests of the rich — most visibly by fighting against a tax rate hike for top earners. But that's just going to further damage the image of the rich. Good regard for the rich depends on whether people feel that they're earning their success, paying their share, pulling their weight and making the country better.
In the minds of many of the nation's rich, they're doing all of that — and more. In Romney's 47 percent video, he was clearly expressing the viewpoint of all the rich people in the room when he said. "There are 47 percent of the people who ... are dependent on government ... who believe they are victims ... who believe they are entitled."
His remarks oozed with self-regard. Those in the room were proudly different from the 47 percent: they were givers, not takers. They were not dependent on government. They earned everything they had, and therefore, they paid too much in taxes. They owed the country nothing further.
That's one view. Here's a rebuttal.
You're not dependent on government? Go take out bin Laden out on your own. Go build your own roads, fight your own fires, patrol your own streets, build your own airports, do your own medical research, enforce your own contracts, inspect your own meat and go on your own to police Wall Street to prevent the crash that will deplete your wealth.
Your taxes are too high? The rich have never been richer, the deficit has never been higher, the taxes on the rich have rarely been lower. By what measure are they too high?
You hate our government? Find a government you like better. Look in Russia, China, Sweden, Morocco, Canada, Nigeria, the Netherlands? If you can't find one, then let's hear you say: "This is the best government on earth."
You're a giver? Have you served in our all-volunteer military? Have your sons and daughters? If not, does it trouble you to think that — to paraphrase Michael Sandel: "you have hired some of the least advantaged of your fellow countrymen to do some of the country's most dangerous business while you go on with your lives unbloodied and undistracted." Do you feel even worse knowing that after you hired others to fulfill this citizens' duty, you would not pay for the people who took your place — instead supporting and accepting a big tax cut in a time of war?
You got where you are on your own hard work? Then take your hard work to Haiti or Somalia. You'll love the laissez-faire society — the regulatory regime, the tax rates. It's the place for rugged individualists. If you made it on your own without the help of government, it can't hurt you to go where there is no government.
You love your country? As you got rich — assuming you made your own money — how many others got rich with you, and how many got poor? Why do you think Romney wouldn't release his tax returns? Is it perhaps because, if voters had been able to sift through all the business deals that moved operations off shore, eliminated jobs or sheltered money from taxes, they might have wondered, "Is there any sign at all in any of these deals of a man who loved his country?"
One factor in the rise and fall of any society is the willingness of the privileged to sacrifice for everyone else. What an ominous contrast between this generation of privileged Americans and the first generation, who — in support of their country — pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.
Tom Rosshirt was a national security speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and a foreign affairs spokesman for Vice President Al Gore. Email him at [email protected] To find out more about Tom Rosshirt and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.