One of the most amusing cultural habits of American conservatives has been the erection of a kind of social taboo around the rich. Conservatives are not supposed to mention the rich -- indeed, if a conservative must make reference to them, they are usually called "the so-called rich," or set off in scare quotes -- so as not to feed the perception that class differences exist in the United States today. Moreover, they treat any proposal that takes note of the existence of the rich as a personal affront, and react with the hypersensitivity of a campus diversity activist.
Daniel Henninger writes in the Wall Street Journal today:
With less than 19 months left before the next presidential election, Barack Obama has kicked off his campaign, doing coast-to-coast "town hall" meetings last week. At the top of President Obama's re-election strategy is what appears to be a personal jihad against America's "millionaires and billionaires," many of whom, he seems to think, are—there's no other word for it—un-American.
Here are some examples of Obama talking about the rich --
Now, remember I said it is a choice this election. The other side, their main economic idea -- this is their main idea -- is to provide $700 billion worth of tax cuts to the 2 percent of wealthiest Americans, an average of $100,000 for millionaires and billionaires. Now, look, I want people to succeed. I think it’s wonderful if folks get rich. I want everybody to have a chance to get rich. You do, too. I think that’s great. That’s part of the American Dream. But the way they want to pay for these tax cuts is to cut education by 20 percent and to borrow the rest from other countries.
And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply can’t afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. (Applause.) Before we take money away from our schools or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break. It’s not a matter of punishing their success. It’s about promoting America’s success.
As a country that values fairness, wealthier individuals have traditionally borne a greater share of this burden than the middle class or those less fortunate. Everybody pays, but the wealthier have borne a little more. This is not because we begrudge those who’ve done well -– we rightly celebrate their success.
And we’ve also got to end tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. (Applause.) Let me say, this is not because we want to punish success. I suspect there are a bunch of young people in this gym that are going to end up being wealthy, and that’s good. We want you to. We want you to be able to go out there and start a business and create jobs and put other people to work. That’s the American way. But we are going to have to ask everybody to sacrifice. And if we’re asking community colleges to sacrifice, if we’re asking people who are going to see potentially fewer services in their neighborhoods to make a little sacrifice, then we can ask millionaires and billionaires to make a little sacrifice.
But we need shared sacrifice. And that means ending the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans in this country. We can't afford it. (Applause.)
It’s not because we want to punish success. It’s because if we’re going to ask everybody to sacrifice a little, we can’t just tell millionaires and billionaires they don't have to do a thing -- just relax, that's fine. We’ll take care of this. (Laughter.) Go count your money. That's fine. (Laughter and applause.)
Because some of you bought my book, I fall in this category. (Laughter.) I’m speaking about myself. I can afford to do a little more, especially when the only way to pay for these tax cuts for the wealthy is to ask seniors to pay thousands of dollars more for health care.
So the state of the culture is this. Any politician who proposes anything adverse to the short-term interests of the rich must go out of his way to explain at length that he holds deep personal regard for the rich, and his policy should in no way reflect a sense that the rich should be regarded with anything other than admiration. This is not, by the way, a courtesy demanded of proposals that might harm any other group. If you want to, say, slash funding for food stamps, there is no social obligation for you to say that you hold these people in high regard, you merely feel they're eating too much, or whatever. But tax the rich, and you must elaborately dispel the notion of any personal hostility against them.
And them, inevitably, you will be accused of hating them anyway.