Among George W. Bush's greatest mistakes was not asking Americans to sacrifice in the aftermath of 9/11. He put the nation on perpetual war footing without demanding new taxes or national service. Obama inherited the so-called war on terrorism and doubled down on the mistake of thinking Americans are too cynical for sacrifice. He gives lip service to national-service programs. In his hands, proposals for higher taxes smack of class warfare rather than shared sacrifice. Can he appeal to our better angels?Let me see if I can explain all the ways this is ridiculous.
First of all, we're just now coming out of a period that felt to most people like a deep, sustained recession. The tax plan the president has proposed -- increases for the very rich, cuts for the middle class -- reflect the (to put it mildly) uneven nature of the recovery. Fournier calls this "class warfare," but, in fact, it would represent "shared sacrifice": the non-rich have sacrificed since 2008, and now the rich might sacrifice a little to make up for the windfall they've received from the boom in their economy. What's insulting about Fournier's words is that, after most people have spent years being kicked in the gut by the economy, he wants them to stand in line for more kicks, as a patriotic duty. Why?
And when we talk about national service as "shared sacrifice," who in particular is going to do the sacrificing? Presumably not every citizen of this country, or even every adult citizen. Presumably it's going to be the young who'll do the enlisting in the military, or do the community service. But the young have had an especially hard time in this downturn; economically, they may never be able to make up for what they've lost by not getting their careers off the ground. Why do they need to sacrifice more?
And who's going to pay for all this? Fournier, being a good right-centrist, surely doesn't believe we have piles of money lying around to pay for all those national service positions. What do we sacrifice economically -- and who sacrifices -- so Fournier can experience the warm glow of knowing we have a shared sense of communing with our better angels?
And is anyone in America naive enough to believe that we could construct a truly fair national service program? Isn't it obvious that such a program would work like everything else in this country -- the children of the 1% would find ways to avoid their obligations or at least get the cushiest slots, while lower-status kids would get the dregs? How shared would this sacrifice be?
It's not clear exactly what Fournier wants, but it's obvious that he thinks we're not supposed to look at inequities in wealth and taxation over the last several decades as we raise taxes to the level that will satisfy Fournier -- now the new burden is supposed to fall on everyone equally, even though the old burden didn't and still doesn't. And as for national service, that's just automatically going to be fair across class lines, even though nothing else is in our society. Sorry, Ron, I'm not buying it.
UPDATE: Charlie Pierce finishes Fourier off.