Unhappiness vs. Disappointment

Last night, I was with my good friend Paul. Paul was once a diehard Red Sox fan. Legions of real Sox fans out there read that sentence and were unable to process. Once a Sox fan, always a Sox fan, right? Wrong. Paul is now a diehard Kansas City Royals fan. What? Huh? Are you kidding me? You thought I was going to say he sold out to become a Yankees fan, didn’t you? Why in the world would a sports nut like Paul (a former senior editor at Sports Illustrated before his retirement) switch his allegiance from the perennially contending Red Sox to the perpetually dreadful Royals? Well, it all has to do with disappointment. Or, in this case, the impossibility of every having any. You see, as Paul explained it to me, without any expectations whatsoever, there is no chance for disappointment. Since the Royals would drop to last place on April 5th and stay there until the leaves change colors in Boston, he would never have to watch a game, read about an agonizing loss in the morning paper, or lament a zero-filled box score. No expectations = no disappointment. Personally, as a diehard Nats fan, I plan to run 100 mph toward the wall of possible October disappointment, but I definitely see his point. And, it got me thinking about President Obama, the real point of my story.

There is a lot to be unhappy about with the president. Pretty much everything, in fact. The economy is in a perpetual state of malaise, possibly headed for yet another recession, unemployment is stuck at more than 8%, consumer confidence is low, foreign policy is a mess, with friends ignored and enemies unsuccessfully embraced, the free markets are gummed up with hundreds of new and destructive regulations, and on and on. There’s no doubt he’s awful and his approval numbers accurately reflect that. But, if you elect the Kansas City Royals president, you can’t expect first place performance. Maybe I’ve pushed the baseball reference a tad past its inherent utility, but I think you get my point. In almost all of the areas I mentioned above, the president has done more or less exactly what he said he would do in 2008. He ran as radical leftist who embraced the failed ideas of Keynesian economics and big government. He arrogantly claimed that he could solve all ills in the Middle East with a friendly handshake with Ahmadinejad. He professed his allegiance to the UN and his disdain for American exceptionalism. And, folks, he said these things BEFORE he was elected. So, you cannot act surprised that he did them once he got into office. It’s perfectly reasonable to be unhappy about the outcome, but you cannot be disappointed about something as predictable as the Yankees taking a weekend set from the Royals.

But (and you know my blogs always have a big BUT somewhere along the line), there is one area of his presidency that does bring me great disappointment because I had much higher expectations. I actually believed that electing the first African American president could bring a uniting force to our country. Instead, we have the single most divisive figure in my political memory. THAT is very disappointing. I expected much better. I cannot pretend to understand what it would be like to be African American in this country, but I am confident it comes with great challenges and high barriers.  I watched my father spend a career working to lower those barriers in the workplace and I am proud of him for it. We’ve made great progress toward a color blind “one country” mentality. If we hadn’t, the current president never would have been elected with a large majority.

Why then, would he take office and immediately begin a 4-year frontal attack on those people who have helped to make America strong – the business owners, executives, and entrepreneurs who have built great companies and, along the way, created some wealth doing it? Why would he so vilify people who have lived the “American Dream?” I don’t use those words lightly – American Dream. I understand we often throw them around willy nilly. I’m not doing that. In fact, I went to the ultimate source of all information – Wikipedia – and looked up “American Dream” and found it defined thus:

The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States; a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility achieved through hard work. In the definition of the American Dream by James Truslow Adams in 1931, “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.

Seriously, read that a few times. It’s really powerful stuff. The opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility achieved through hard work. President Obama’s entire 2012 reelection campaign is focused on the notion that people who have achieved prosperity, success, and upward mobility through hard work are fundamentally evil and should be punished for it with higher taxes. “They aren’t paying their fair share,” he prattles on. Never mind that they pay essentially all of the taxes today, they are cheating the system and it’s just not fair! He seems to have decided that his only hope for reelection is to irreparably divide the country.

Fortunately, I don’t think it will work. I don’t think anyone, but the liberal elite, in America shares the venom he spews at the people in this country who have worked hard, built businesses, and been successful. To the contrary, I think this continues to be the American Dream for most. No doubt Obamanomics and the Eurosclerosis it has imbued in us have put the American Dream on hold for many. But, I don’t think he has killed it. And, I am hopeful that people will vote the American Dream and its vast potential back into office and send President Divisive back to Chicago. I am disappointed in him. I really expected more. Go Royals.

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About Bruce Robertson

Bruce Robertson is an amateur writer and professional provocateur
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12 Responses to Unhappiness vs. Disappointment

  1. Dan Grabois says:

    It’s always interesting to read your take on politics. I can relate to your unhappiness, speaking as one who suffered through 8 years of George Bush’s presidency. What is interesting about your reaction, and I feel that you are not unique on the right, is the way you attribute evil motives to Obama. Obama wants to regulate medical devices? That’s because he despises technological advancement. Obama wants to tax the wealthy? He wishes rich people would all die a painful death. He wants to provide a medical program that covers all Americans? That’s because he despises the free market and wishes to bring the country under a Soviet style dictatorship.

    Now, you know I’m exaggerating your positions for effect. But you see what I mean. So I’m thinking back to my experience in the GWB years for comparison. For instance, George W. structured his tax code to benefit the wealthy over the 99%. I remember going to my accountant in a year in which big tax breaks had been touted. I excitedly asked my accountant how I would do. He just laughed: “Taxes for people like you are going up.” Meanwhile, people like Mitt Romney reaped big gains. I did not, however, conclude that Bush was hoping to destroy the country by enriching the already-rich until class divisions blew the country apart. I just thought he was a guy with a theory of how the country should be that differed from mine. I feared that he was making poor decisions. They certainly were not decisions that improved my life.

    When my health care costs ran higher and higher, and the Bush administration did absolutely nothing about it, I didn’t think that Bush hated people like me and wished we would die so that rich people didn’t have to wait in line after me to see their dentist. I attributed his position to a combination of being isolated from the problems of people like me, receiving huge amounts of money from people who disagreed with me, and being a bit of a moron.

    When Bush attacked Iraq, I did not say, “He is trying to end American democracy by alienating us from the rest of the West.” I think he genuinely thought he was doing the right thing. Again, he had motives that I disagreed with, but I did not say he was a monster. Just an idiot.

    I have heard you say (blogilly) that Obama hates small business. That is preposterous. Believing in regulation does not mean despising small business. You think Obama despises the rich because he wants to increase taxes on the wealthy. “Never mind that they pay essentially all of the taxes today,” you write. Do you know what that sounds like to someone like me? You can go ahead and look up my salary, which is undoubtedly posted online. You will not be impressed. Perhaps you would like to make people at my income level to pay more in taxes to provide relief for you guys who pay so much? Perhaps to show some gratitude? This is, of course, logical: I am hardly a job creator, so what use could I have for my money anyway? I should really pay my share. Or perhaps we should just get the government off our backs so we can all pay less. You want police protection? Hire a security service. Fire protection? Hire a firm to do it. Why have a government bureaucrat make your health care decisions when an insurance company bureaucrat can do it instead, free from nasty government regulation?

    Obama has a different view of the country and how it should work from your own. He thinks the economy will work better if the wealthy pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes (tax rates seem pretty low at the top, by historical standards, but even raising them to Reagan-era levels will not fly with you, it seems), because he disagrees with the proposition that enriching the already-rich will lift all boats. By the way, it hasn’t done so yet, in spite of these historically low tax rates. He thinks that the health care system in America is not working for many, many people. You disagree. I have a colleague who is 48, and he and his wife can’t afford health insurance. That’s because it is REALLY expensive. It’s great if you are insulated from that, but not everybody is. You have an intellectual disagreement with the philosophies of the democratic party, but you let yourself get sucked into some kind of Limbaugh-esque demonization of Obama which doesn’t feel up to your normal extremely high standard of reasoning. I am fearful that if smart people like you get into such a frame of mind, their is no hope for any compromise EVER in a country that desperately needs it.

    OK — let ‘er rip.

  2. As always, Dan, I appreciate your comments and the thought that goes into them, however misguided that may be:)

    I don’t think I’ve demonized Obama. I think I have correctly characterized him by noting that he has started an all out battle of class warfare. You give examples of policy decisions upon which you disagreed with Bush. You note that you never felt like he was “trying” to do the wrong thing. You just disagreed with him, but figured he was trying to do what he thought was right. I think Obama finds himself in a very different and difficult spot. He came into office to take one more shot at the failed policies of Mcgovernite liberalism and Keynesian economics. We have never had so much trouble pulling out of an economic downturn and it is because of his policies. Now realizing that he cannot possibly run on his failed record, he has decided to demonize a particular class of people. I think that’s just wrong and it is intended to be misleading. So, while I appreciate your notion and agree that Bush was always trying to do the right thing, Obama, I am certain, now knows he’s doing the wrong thing. But, he’s stuck. He bet his presidency on a brand of liberalism that has never and will never work and, with nothing but failure in his own track record, he’s turning to class warfare. That’s not what this country is about.

    By the way, it is preposterous (I love that word) to suggest that Bush raised taxes on “people like you.” Since I don’t know your particular situation, I will refer to the general middle class, including many older people on fixed incomes including dividends from their nest egg. President Bush dropped rates on dividends and capital gains. While that may have benefited wealthy folks (which is a GOOD thing for the economy), it also benefited the middle class tremendously, especially small business owners, whose companies were structured as subchapter S-corps and paid the business taxes at the individual rates.

    To be clear, as I have written in the past, I most certainly do NOT want to raise your taxes to level the playing field, nor anyone else’s. I just find it annoying and profoundly insulting that the top 10% pay 70% of all taxes and yet Obama has the gall to suggest that the wealthy are not paying “their fair share.” What would be fair? That the top 10% pay 80%? 90%? 100%? Seriously, if 70% isn’t even remotely fair, then some much higher number must be fair. So, if the middle class likes their over-regulated economy, they should thank a wealthy person for paying for all the extra SEC enforcement officers!

    Finally, police and fire protection are both provided locally and paid for with state and/or local taxes. Nothing the president can do could have any effect on that so it is a spurious argument to bring into a discussion of national politics or taxes.

    • Since it is getting late, I will only respond to some of this.

      1. “I don’t think I’ve demonized Obama. I think I have correctly characterized him by noting that he has started an all out battle of class warfare.” Cousin, that is hilarious. First of all, I am so amused that you are shocked, shocked at the state of political campaigning in this country. The people who brought you the Swift Boat slime didn’t get to you, but Obama’s calling for higher taxes for the super-rich crosses the line! When you set up a system where wanting to tax wealthy citizens at a higher (but still historically low) rate is equivalent to a call for class warfare, you have rigged the argument.

      2. “He came into office to take one more shot at the failed policies of Mcgovernite liberalism and Keynesian economics.” Liberalism has changed a lot since 1972. I confess that I find the old style pretty attractive. Nonetheless, Obama is far from an old-style liberal. As far as health care goes, he has not said a word about a single payer system (alas). On the terrorism front, he sent in the Seals to nail Osama (George W., are you listening?). He has been fairly moderate in the spectrum of views of the Democratic party. Many of us feel that he has given away the store. And by the way, the spankingly clean and modern policies of the Bush era have not exactly landed us in good shape. Obama propped up the automotive industry to a point where it is actually surviving today. Now, you might argue that that is excessive government interference, but a lot of Americans would probably disagree with you.

      3. “So, while I appreciate your notion and agree that Bush was always trying to do the right thing, Obama, I am certain, now knows he’s doing the wrong thing. But, he’s stuck. He bet his presidency on a brand of liberalism that has never and will never work…” A couple of things. First of all, there are sane (you may disagree) people who argue that Obama would have come out with a better record had he actually been able to go FURTHER with his McGovernite liberal policies: more stimulus! So, you can argue (and win) that Obama is a lousy politician who is not able to ram smart policies through Congress. In my opinion, stimulating the economy LESS would not have provided a miraculous end to our problems. But neither you nor I can tell the future. So when you say Obama knows he is doing the wrong thing, I can assure you that there are people out there, including yours truly, who actually think he has been trying to do the right thing. Can you believe it? Finally, as I said before, he is now CAMPAIGNING. In America, campaigns get nasty. I don’t think it’s fair to expect Obama to forego emotional politics, especially in the Willie Horton era.

      4. “So, while I appreciate your notion and agree that Bush was always trying to do the right thing…” Let’s introduce a subtlety here, lest I be taken out of context. I think Bush thought he was trying to do the right thing. I do not think he did much that was right. But I am giving him the benefit of the doubt, even though I disagreed with just about every one of his policies, that he thought (or at least deferred in the matter to Mr. Cheney) what he was doing was right. I disagree with you that Obama knows what he is doing is dead wrong and will kill the country but wants to do it anyway out of some evil quest for power at all costs (ok, perhaps I have exaggerated your view slightly). Let me assure you that other people besides me who are way smarter than I am also think Obama is doing the right thing. We are not all evil power mongers.

      5. “I just find it annoying and profoundly insulting that the top 10% pay 70% of all taxes and yet Obama has the gall to suggest that the wealthy are not paying ‘their fair share.’” You are a huge fan of Ronald Reagan. Are you furious that taxes on the wealthy were so high then? Don’t you tout his policies as having lifted the country to unheard-of prosperity? Taxes on the wealthy now are lower than they were then. It’s easy to toss percentages around, and I don’t pretend to know the first thing about economics (you might then ask why the hell I am presuming to address you on these matters, which would be a fair question). But I do know that, as wealth becomes more highly concentrated in the hands of the people at the top, if they do not correspondingly pay more tax, the people at the bottom will suffer. Now you may say, “Tough shit. Get a better job and shut up.” But from my vantage point, I don’t like that situation.

      6. “…especially small business owners, whose companies were structured as subchapter S-corps and paid the business taxes at the individual rates.” Well, you got me there. I have no idea what that means. Here’s how I was structured: I earned money on W2 income and money on 1099 income. I paid a bunch of tax on the W2 and a bunch of higher tax on the 1099. My tax burden never seemed to get lighter, as confirmed by my accountant.

      7. “Seriously, if 70% isn’t even remotely fair, then some much higher number must be fair.” To provide the context, you were being mocking here. Let me turn the tables. If the wealthy are the job creators, they should clearly be taxed less. The less they are taxed, the more jobs they will create. The wealthy logically should not be taxed at all, so that they create the maximal number of jobs. Therefore, the only way for the lower classes to rise economically is to eliminate all taxes on the wealthy. Now, perhaps you actually agree with that, but I doubt it. The real issue here is this: taxes are used to provide services to people who can’t afford them. You can afford expensive health insurance, but my colleague cannot. You pay taxes that help him, through various programs, to afford it. You can afford high taxes to maintain our highways, while others can’t. Your taxes help them, while harming you. Our differences are NOT about what works, since neither of us can really know. They are philosophical differences about how to structure a society. I am happy to disagree with you, because that’s life: we all have different ideals.

      8. “Finally, police and fire protection are both provided locally and paid for with state and/or local taxes.” Touche. I was writing quickly and did, indeed, come up with examples of local services. Kindly substitute federal highway works, social security, bank regulation, etc., as national programs that people could subscribe to individually. At any rate, I suspect that you understood the gist of what I was trying to say: either we do things together as a society (NO!!!!! that would be communism!!!!) or we have an a-la-carte system. I think I like the first way, you like the second.

      OK, done. Nail me.

      • Dan, you have both twisted my words and changed the subject a few times. I am fine with subject changes, which I’m sure I invited with my gratuitous pot shots at Obama, but I’m not OK with word twisting so please allow me to first do some untwisting. The original and only premise of my original post was that I am hugely disappointed in the way this president squandered an opportunity to be a uniter of classes, due to his unique position as our first minority president. Instead, he chose to be one of the most divisive public figures in recent memory. That point stands. To be clear, this is not, as you attempt to characterize it, a case of “hey, all campaigns are rough and tumble.” He has taken this approach to governance since January 21, 2009 and it is a big disappointment FOR ME (maybe not for you and that’s OK too). Thus, it is specious to compare it to swift boat ads or Willy Horton.

        On the subject changes, I think we need to acknowledge that we have a fundamental and irreconcilable difference of opinion on the purpose of a federal income tax. Your words (and please set me straight if I’m misreading) suggest that you believe that at least one purpose of the federal income tax is to redistribute wealth from the wealthy to the less wealthy. I disagree with that and find it antithetical to the founding principles of the country. I believe the only purpose is to run the federal government. We will never agree on the ideal size of that government, but I don’t claim it should be non-existent and, thus, it needs some dough to keep the lights on. I’m even OK, as stated in other blog entries, with the wealthy paying, as they do today, vastly more than their fair share of federal income taxes. The wealthy don’t use more federal government services than the less wealthy and in some very expensive cases (e.g., Medicaid at ~$400 B per year), they use a lot less. Still, I am fine with a progressive tax code where the wealthy pay more. It’s not “fair” to the wealthy, but I’m not arguing it. What I am not OK with is a system where the wealthy pay vastly more than their fair share and then the top government official in the land vilifies them as evil robber barons for trying to get away with paying too little.

        You do a bunch more word twisting on the 70% of taxes that the top 10% pay by implying that I’m suggesting the wealthy should pay no taxes. Per the prior paragraph, I’m not saying that at all. In fact, I’m OK leaving tax rates right where they are, with the wealthy essentially funding the entire federal government. I am definitely not sanguine with increasing them (which nearly all serious people of both parties agree will further slow economic growth from its current anemic rate) and, at the risk of being painfully repetitive, I’m not sanguine with having the wealthy be made the villain in Obama’s little play.

        A few other clean up items. You have repeatedly suggested that taxes on the wealthy were higher under Reagan than they are today. That’s factually inaccurate and easy to look up. The current top tax rate is 35% and it hits 33% at $217,000 of annual income for a couple filing jointly. The 1981 Tax Reform Act dropped the top tax rate from a staggering 70% to 50% and the 1986 Act dropped it to 28%, well below today’s rate.

        You take exception to my characterization of Obama as a McGovernite liberal by noting that he’s not liberal enough. I dare say that says a lot more about you than it does about Obama, but I love you anyway! However, to cite that he’s never mentioned anything about a single-payor health system as evidence of his right-wing tendencies is, to use your words, hilarious cousin. Of course, he never used those words because when Hillarycare did in the 90s she got run out of town on a rail. Obamacare is a clear and deliberate march to a single-payor system. He is just way to politically savvy to call it thus. And, it was recognized as such, which is why he had to ram it through using very questionable backroom political maneuvers after Scott Brown was elected.

      • OK, here’s my reply to Bruce’s last reply to me (Debbie, sorry – I couldn’t resist the taunt above). Bruce, we are getting to the nitty gritty when we talk about the purpose of government. Last I looked, we are supposed to have a government of, by, and for “the people.” So, what the hell does that mean? First, let me say a little bit about “of” and “by.” Our government is made up of politicians who have very little to do with the kind of people I know. They often seem to be in a class by themselves – fantastically wealthy, somewhat out of touch with the kind of life someone like me leads (they rarely play the horn, and they have a lot of trouble counting the rhythms in contemporary music). Much of what they do is informed by their ability to raise campaign funds, which draws quite a distance between them and the needs of “the people.” So we’re in a little trouble already. The real issue, though, is this (to me): if government is for the people, what the hell does that mean?

        Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to say that it means taking your hard earned money and giving it all to the homeless. Nor will I suggest that we should take profits from companies doing well and give those profits to poorly run companies. Nor would I ever suggest that it means having the state take over the operation of industry, agriculture, or any other sector (government bureaucrats conducting the orchestras? Think again). The government takes in money and puts it back out, right? You agreed that you can live with the 1% paying a heavier load than the rest even though they consume less in the way of government-supplied stuff (I’m not saying I agree with that part). So where does that money go? The answer is that much of this money goes to protect those who have needs. You yourself could probably pay for lots of stuff that the government provides for you. If you had to pay tolls for every mile you drive, you could swing it. If you had to pay a service to make sure you got untainted food and medicine, it would cost you a pretty penny, but it would be worth it to protect your family and you’d cough it up, with plenty left over. And so on.

        But many people could not. So, whether or not we agree on who consumes more of government supplied distributions, it is certainly the case that the less wealthy need those distributions more than the wealthy. So, while I’m not going to get into the territory of “redistribution of wealth,” I’ll aver instead that our sharing of costs through progressive tax codes makes our high standard of living possible for lots of people who would have amazingly shitty lives otherwise. And I think that is the function of government, in a nutshell. It is a sharing of the burden of funding a certain standard of living for the whole country. We don’t expect the poor not to have electricity in their houses (that was a federal project) or plumbing or contaminated water. You get that kind of thing in the third world, but not here. Could you pay for a water cleaning installation in your house? Maybe. Should you have to? No.

        Now, I recognize that people with a lot of money don’t enjoy paying lots of taxes (please note that there are LOTS of legal ways for those of means to avoid paying the kinds of taxes many of us pay, and if you disagree, I urge you to investigate “Romney, Mitt”). Nonetheless, I think that the wealthy, the middle class, and the poor ALL benefit from what government provides. Things like highways are good examples. But here’s another. I lived in New York for 24 years. In that time, I saw lots of people who were in desperate straits. I lived among them for the early part of my time in NYC. As I made more money through my career, I was willing to pay taxes that would go to improve those people’s lives, for two reasons: first, and this is the selfish one, when their lives are better, they don’t menace my own life. And second, I believe in helping those who need help. This is what I don’t understand about the Republican desire to make government perform way fewer services. When the society is filled with people who are not miserable, we all have better lives. There will always be people who need food stamps. Do you want to say fuck ’em, or do you want to give them food stamps so they don’t mug you? Personally, I go for the food stamps. Will some people abuse the system? Yes. That’s life – you can’t make a frictionless system. It’s still worth it to me, both morally and selfishly (I don’t like being mugged).

        I have heard for lots of years now that the way to improve all of our lives is to cut taxes on people like Mitt Romney. You have charts that “prove” that helping Mitt is good for the economy while helping that beggar on 181st and Fort Washington hurts the economy. But I have to tell you that I’m not convinced. Maybe the economy as a whole won’t produce as much wealth if the government helps the beggar, but my life will be better, the beggar’s life will be better, and, in my view, the society will be healthier.

  3. Dan, since you raised the notion that there wasn’t enough stimulus spending, I decided to officially debunk that myth in a separate post with some very compelling data. See https://brucecrobertson.com/2012/08/06/stimulate-this-2/

  4. BHO is the worst President in my lifetime. America as we know it will be destroyed if he is not voted out of office. You got it right the first time, Bruce.

    • Debbie, I agree with your first statement, but not your second. It will take more than a dope like BHO to destroy America. Our country has a pretty darn good immune system against really bad ideas.

  5. Dan Grabois says:

    Debbie, I agree in part. We really need a much more forcefully liberal presence in the White House (not to mention Congress) if we are to pull out of this mess! I’ll look forward to Clinton for president in ’16.

  6. Pingback: Liberalism vs. Conservatism Explained | Bruce's Blog (til I come up with a catchier name)

  7. Joe Spivack says:

    Small point: The federal government does now and then provide grants to states in order to allow them to higher more police – Bill Clinton’s COPS plan is an example. Many think it was a waste and failed. Only saying the feds do meddle (& occasionally fund) in local matters.

  8. Joe Spivack says:

    Sorry for the typo! “higher” = “hire”

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