This month, as the nation marked the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the president and Congress reached a deal to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff.”
How appropriate: two brilliantly cynical ploys that, despite the hype, did nothing to end their respective forms of servitude.
Just as slavery in the United States did not end until ratification of the 13th Amendment in December 1865 – Lincoln's proclamation applied only to the Confederate states over which he had no control, and he had no authority to abolish slavery in any case – the fiscal cliff deal will only deepen the unhealthy level of dependency that exists between millions of Americans and those who rule the Washington plantation.
Those who believe that taxes exist primarily to impose economic “fairness” were no doubt thrilled that President Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress managed to increase federal incomes for the wealthiest .07 percent of Americans, making the top rate of 36 percent the most progressive since at least 1979.
But when the Congressional Budget Office reports that $620 billion in extra taxes were matched by a mere $15 billion in spending cuts – and Democratic leaders insist on another $1 trillion in new revenues this year – it should be obvious that Americans' economic emancipation remains elusive.
If anyone cares.
The evil genius of modern American politics is that it has succeeded in making almost everyone wards of the state, including (through “entitlement” programs such as Medicare and Social Security) those who pride themselves on their independence. Thus does any attempt at reform generate an angry backlash, such as from clueless voters who claim not to have realized that the fiscal cliff deal might hit their pocketbooks, too, by ending the 2009 “holiday” that reduced Social Security withholding from 6.2 to 4.2 percent.
Americans simply aren't used to having to pay for the government they demand. They'd rather elect Democrats who are only too eager to give them free stuff and enough Republicans to keep taxes from going through the roof. That's why the nation is drowning in more than $16 trillion of red ink and politicians are debating an increase in the debt ceiling despite fiscal-cliff deal and the additional revenues supposedly on the horizon.
In a rational world, willing dependency on such a system would be considered insane, if not suicidal. But just as some people are willing to trade freedom for security, so are millions of others willing to exchange the potential setbacks and victories of the rugged individualism that built this nation for the soul-stifling, liberty-stealing sort of security the welfare state promises but can never truly deliver.
Politicians and the special-interest groups who provide votes in exchange for handouts never talk about government that way, of course. Those who promise more and more spending are the compassionate ones, while those who promote the free market and worry about little things like an insurmountable national debt are dismissed as callous and uncaring.
And so it is seldom noticed that those who are the most ostentatiously compassionate – with other people's money, of course – are also those most eager to promote dependence in exchange for political gain. If you can take care of yourself or can rely on family, friends and private charity, you don't really need some bureaucrat's help, do you?
But America's willing descent into serfdom is so complete that, as the New York Post reports, the supposedly “poor” routinely use their welfare cards to take out cash at liquor stores, strip clubs and adult video stores, and even the nation's most privileged view themselves as entitled to benefits they have not earned. According to a survey of college freshmen by psychologist Jean Twenge, a sense of entitlement is on the rise among college students, whom she said are growing increasingly narcissistic.
Remember when Americans used to gladly clean toilets so their children could go to college? Now we're told the nation must open its borders to the unskilled and uneducated because Americans – who just received an extension of unemployment benefits thanks to the fiscal cliff deal – are no longer willing to do such menial jobs.
Some will call that progress. But the truth is that those who rely on government can never be truly free. They will have only as much, or as little, as their overseers allow.
This month, as we celebrate both the Great Emancipator and Wall Street's giddiness over Washington's latest desperate bid to postpone the day of reckoning, it would be nice if somebody at least noticed the irony.