Obama's Shared Prosperity: A Euphemism Wrapped in a LieBy Daren Jonescu
(See also: "From the Giving Pledge to Totalitarianism")
Those who believed, in 2008, that Obama's off-the-cuff "spread the wealth around" line was indicative of his real, socialistic intentions, rather than simply a poor word choice, can now relax. The president has finally clarified things, this time with the benefit of a script, so at last we can understand his true plans.
As it turns out, his remark to Joe the Plumber was merely a gaffe after all. For we now know that when he said "spread the wealth," what he really meant was "share the prosperity." See the difference? No? Then allow me to unpack it for you.
"Spread the wealth around" sounded like the casual remark of a tone-deaf authoritarian, someone used to speaking to rooms full of like-minded leftists. The problem lay chiefly in the word "spread": so impersonal, it gives the impression that someone -- Obama obviously meant government -- should just forcibly disperse the successful citizen's property to others, willy-nilly.
Government will spread your wealth around. Aside from completely addle-minded, entitlement-besotted slugs, what American would approve of reconfiguring America in accordance with such a principle?
Four years on, Team Obama has refined the message considerably, or at least kept the spokesman on script. First of all, the impersonal external force implied by the word "spread" has been replaced with the modern moral euphemism "sharing." Obama puts it this way:
So the stakes are clearly set out: Obama intends to complete his fundamental transformation -- here dubbed a "new vision" -- of America, turning a nation that, at least in theory, defends the right to private property, into one in which private property is phased out. But don't worry -- none of this will be done in a way that ought to offend anyone. For this isn't a matter of forcing you to give up your property. This is about "sharing." In other words, your sacrifice of natural rights is no longer represented as a compulsion from without. It is now a moral imperative: successful Americans ought to be willing to "share." That is to say, if you do not accept this "new vision," you are morally culpable.
Better yet, notice how the new, improved version of the Obama manifesto has set its sights higher than his earlier, crassly expressed concern for mere "wealth." This time, they are coming for your "prosperity." (That the word "property" is neatly hidden within "prosperity" is just one of progressivism's cute little inside jokes -- like this year's emphasis on the word "forward," which the brains of this outfit know all too well has a long communist pedigree.)
Wealth is merely your goods, your stuff. That may have been enough to satisfy the gluttony of your garden-variety Democrat of yesteryear, but today's hardcore neo-Marxists need more. They are not primarily interested in buying votes by playing on people's stupid sentimentality. They want America's soul. Prosperity is akin to happiness, and it runs deeper than mere wealth. It encompasses your general well-being, your satisfaction with life, your feeling that your endeavors are, or have been, worthwhile and successful.
In short, to prosper may include the gaining of wealth, but it suggests a much broader form of success: an overcoming of the natural obstacles, trials, and hardships that life places before us all. Such an overcoming is necessarily always partial, just as it is sometimes, sadly, fleeting. As humans are mortal, flawed, and fragile beings, prosperity cannot be guaranteed, and it cannot be permanent.
Prosperity, to the extent that is within our control, is largely a matter of personal responsibility. If it comes, it comes primarily as the product of individual will and effort. In no meaningful sense can it be handed to us. It is pursued, as the American founders understood and emphasized. A rights-based society of free individuals is the most humane and dignified society, because it is the society that most respects the risks and difficulties inherent in the pursuit of prosperity, and seeks to protect all men against coercive violations of that pursuit -- i.e., to give every individual a fighting chance at the goal we all strive towards.
Obama's call for "shared prosperity" must be parsed in light of these considerations. And since he and his speechwriters have apparently decided that the 2012 election can be won by clarifying and reinforcing the very message that almost lost it for them four years ago -- which reveals to what extent the left is playing for all the marbles this time -- perhaps we should grant their strategic premise, and help them along, by fleshing out the meaning of their "new vision" even further.
"Sharing" your prosperity includes, of course, "sharing" your wealth. It also entails "sharing" all the years that you spent working towards whatever wealth you have achieved, so that others can work less. Furthermore, it means "sharing" all the stressful nights and nervous days you spent trying to learn the skills that helped you to prosper, so that others won't have to put themselves through the same rigors.
It means "sharing" the new home you worked to earn for your family, so that others can have a home without working so hard for it. It means "sharing" the nest egg you sacrificed to accumulate for your children, so that less responsible parents may continue to be irresponsible. It means "sharing" the retirement you were planning, so that those who choose not to do work they deem unworthy of their talents may have the benefit of a few more years of your income to support their sloth. It means "sharing" a portion of the wedding you were saving up to provide for your daughter, so that wayward young men may continue to impregnate random drug-addicted mothers without fear that their sundry offspring will ever require their support. It means "sharing" the home addition you wanted to build to accommodate your elderly parents, so that others may remain guiltlessly derelict in their duty to theirs.
To summarize, "sharing" your prosperity means "sharing" your life, your work, your mind, your goals, your aspirations, the pain you endured in overcoming your false steps and agonizing failures, and, of course, your practical success, with anyone and everyone the government deems worthy of a pound of your flesh.
You may have noticed by now that throughout this article I have always enclosed the word "share" and its derivatives within quotation marks. The reason, of course, is that in the phrase "shared prosperity," as Obama is using it, there is, in truth, no sharing involved.
Sharing is an action one undertakes intentionally. "I'll share my candy with you." "Let's share the driving." Forced "sharing" isn't sharing at all, because it lacks the moral element of choice. It also lacks the rational element of discretion, which is necessary in the case of genuine sharing in order to decide with whom one wishes to share, and why.
Forced "sharing" is coercion plain and simple. Government-enforced "sharing" is coercion at the point of a gun: "your prosperity or your life."
Go back over the list of implications of "shared prosperity" that I offered a few paragraphs back. This time, each time you see the word "sharing," try substituting "relinquishing at the point of a gun." Now you can see exactly what Obama's "new vision" for America really means. It means that you will no longer own yourself. You will no longer have first claim -- or any meaningful claim, for that matter -- on your goods, your time, the product of your sweat and thought, or the future you planned for yourself and your nearest and dearest.
And rather than thinking what an outrage this entails against you and your natural rights, turn the focus around for a moment. Could you demand that this be done to others, so that you could benefit from their coerced "sharing"? If not, then ask yourself why not. And then ask yourself what kind of people the left is hoping to appeal to, not only during this year's election in America, but always, everywhere.
This is the question any still-human supporter of a leftist party needs to have clarified for him. He must be compelled to see in a clear light just what he is supporting, and to ask himself whether, seen in this light, it is supportable. Leftism is not, and never has been, about "sharing," or "compassion," or any of the other moral euphemisms progressives use to hoodwink the intellectually and morally lazy. It is, and always has been, about that gun pointed at the prosperous -- and, ultimately, at everyone, since in the end, unfettered leftism eliminates prosperity pretty quickly, leaving only the extremely unprosperous to fend for themselves.
This is the great lie of "shared prosperity." While "share" means coercion, "prosperity" means misery. Prosperity, like its parent concept, happiness, must be pursued. To pursue something requires a sense of rational predictability, of control over the future, of ownership over the continuum of time and effort that is required to achieve anything.
But this is what government-enforced "sharing" -- the rejection of private property -- undercuts. Thus, it undercuts the prosperity it needs to support its own authority with the "entitled" beneficiaries. This is how leftist authoritarianism implodes. Let's hope the world is spared the terrifying prospect of watching the most prosperous nation on Earth learn this lesson the hard way.
That would be a very hard way, indeed, and digging civilization out of the rubble would take generations.
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