Contrary to popular opinion, Scripture doesn't call money the root of all evil. It's the love of money that's the problem – a trait all too often shared by rich and poor alike.
But because nobody's going to get elected by admonishing Americans against coveting their neighbors' wealth, our political discourse has been reduced to ads accusing Mitt Romney of killing people for profit and, no doubt soon, of running mate Paul Ryan throwing granny off a cliff just to shield the rich from higher taxes.
With a national debt fast approaching $16 trillion, I'm not about to argue that the budget can be balanced and the existing red ink reduced by cutting spending alone. But President Obama's incessant talk of “fairness” and demands that the rich “pay their fair share” is such an obvious appeal to humanity's baser instincts that voters should examine it closely.
While they still can.
Lost in all the soak-the-rich rhetoric is the fact that, even if the federal government could somehow confiscate 100 percent of the earnings of people making more than $1 million, it would collect just $616 billion – or roughly one-third of this year's projected deficit. And since most people don't become or stay rich by being stupid, the IRS could never take everything. They would either take advantage of loopholes or shelter the money off-shore (as Mitt Romney is alleged to have done) or refuse to earn it in the first place.
Ryan's plan for shrinking the deficit could indeed inflict some hardship on some individuals, which is probably why Romney has been reluctant to embrace it. But it is at least a plan; one that addresses the undeniable need to control so-called “entitlement” programs – as if one person is ever entitled to what another person has earned.
But president's plan seems to be this: Turn a virtue into a vice by making villains of the very people who start companies, create jobs and, yes, pay taxes.
The top 10 percent wealthiest households already pay more than 70 percent of federal taxes, according to the Congressional Budget Office, while the Tax Policy Center estimates that 46 percent of households pay no federal income taxes at all. The president, however, has already said he believes the tax code exists to enforce fairness, not to collect revenue.
In 2008, he told ABC-TV's Charles Gibson he wanted to increase the capital gains tax rate even though Gibson pointed out that previous increases had produced less income for the government. And so he continues to insist that the Bush-era cuts in tax rates be increased from 35 percent back to about 38 percent for millionaires, even though there is no guarantee it would generate more income and the elimination of tax breaks and loopholes as suggested by Republicans might produce as much or more revenue.
In a sane world, the politicians would forge some sort of compromise: a modest increase in tax rates (they have been much higher in the past) in exchange for serious entitlement reform. The debt is ballooning out of control because neither party has been willing to budge, but the Republicans' intransigence is at least matched by real efforts to reduce debt.
The Democrats respond by failing to pass a budget in the U.S. Senate for three years and by making virtual murderers of anyone who wants to prevent the country from falling off the cliff.
I would have preferred several Republican candidates over Romney, and would have preferred Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as his choice for vice president. But the choice of Wisconsin Congressman Ryan at least guarantees that the coming campaign will, sooner or later, get around to real ideas and real facts that offer voters a real choice:
Is this still a country that admires and rewards success? Is this still a country that values charity but also self-reliance and hard work? Do Americans still believe they should pay for the things they want? Is this still a country that believes in capitalism and free markets?
Or do we define "compassion" as the willingness to give away other people's money? Are we more interested in preserving our share of the federal pyramid scheme than we are in providing a better standard of living for our children?
If the Democrats were serious about encouraging investment in America, they would stop demonizing the wealthy and support a tax climate that encourages people with offshore accounts (including perhaps Romney himself) to put that money to work here. Instead, they suggest (on the basis of unnamed sources) that Romney has often paid no taxes while supporting policies that encourage the wealthy and corporations to do the very thing they claim to despise.
The president has branded his opponent "Romney Hood," suggesting he would take from the poor and give to the rich. But the Robin Hood soak-the-wealthy approach is no better.
Belief in fairy tales is no way to run a real country.