And Just How Do You Define 'Fair'?
President Obama said during the Democratic Party primary debates that preceded the 2008 election that he would raise capital gains rates -- not because it would increase revenue, but because it was "fair." During his recent State of the Union speech, he used the word "fair" over and over again to justify his desire for more and more government control over outcomes.
"Fair" is one of those warm, fuzzy words that allows the listener to define it to his own personal taste -- and the definition changes from one specific case to another.
In Little League baseball, the kids are segregated by age to improve the level of competition. Not one person whom I can think of would consider that "unfair," yet it is segregation -- a word which in any other context would lead to riots. But is it fair? Is the fact that some youngsters are larger, more experienced, and perhaps more athletic somehow unfair? Must they be isolated from competition with younger, smaller, less able children? Is that fair?
At the same time that the government accepts adjusting things in Little League to make things a little fairer by grouping children by age, they fail to recognize (or are willingly blind to the fact) that a ten-year-old can have more talent and ability than the kids who are grouped in the 12- to 14-year-old category. Conversely, there are older kids who are no more able to play well than those in the 8- to 10-year-old group. Grouping by age is OK, it seems, but recognizing talent, or skill, or determination, or the impact of a supportive parent who will play catch for hours on end to help their child improve whatever innate skills they have, is something that the government is blind to.
The president's constant harping on "fairness" is evidence that he's never played Little League ball. He can recognize an unfair situation in a heartbeat, but he can't accept the fact that there are differences in the outcomes of life that are not the result of discrimination, a Republican conspiracy, or some other "unfair" factor.
This president, who doesn't wear rose-colored glasses, but instead wears glasses colored by ideology, cannot accept that (a) all men are not created equal when it comes to ability and effort, and (b) early personal choices often determine the opportunities for financial reward later in life.
The first idea, that all men are not created equal in all respects, is so self-evident that it shouldn't even need discussion, and it wouldn't if the phrase was not contained in the Declaration of Independence and hadn't been purposely misinterpreted for over 200 years. The equality of men is not a description of ability or skill or talent or intelligence or level of determination or even the luck of being in the right place at the right time. The equality that Jefferson wrote of so eloquently is the equality of status and opportunity, unencumbered by birth or wealth or social position.
Almost everyone who has ever played a round of golf knows that he is not the "equal" to Tiger Woods. But it's not just the innate ability of Tiger Woods that sets him apart. The fact that he will practice day after day, rain or shine, hot or cold, year after year shows a level of determination that separates him from many others who are equally gifted athletically, but who are not nearly as determined.
These things matter much more than the president is willing to admit. He may not even be able to recognize that they exist.
To the president, "fairness" is not a description of the range of opportunities available to each of us, but rather the range of results that occur. The president fails to see that even though we spend billions each year on education, without supportive parents and students who have the determination to work at learning, the results will be less than for those students who have those two factors at work for them.
Can the government direct parents to care about their kids? Can the government pass a law requiring kids to pay attention, do their homework, and strive to be better each semester? Yes, actually the government can do these things...right after it teaches a snake to tap-dance.
Even if a student does all the "right" things, there is no guarantee that he will achieve financial success, or even moderate financial security. If students pick majors in college for which there is no demand, how many will be categorized as "underemployed"?
I will be the first to say that achieving a doctoral degree is an accomplishment of which students can feel real pride. If that Ph.D. is in paleo-botany, well, very rarely does a major firm need that particular skill set. So you have a Ph.D. driving a cab, or asking, "Do you want fries with that?," and Obama sees discrimination and pervasive unfairness in our society.
This coming November, perhaps we can see if we can find a president who recognizes that "fairness" applies only to opportunity, not to results. Will Obama figure that out? Maybe. Right after he finishes teaching snakes to tap-dance.
Jim Yardley is a retired financial controller for manufacturing companies, a Vietnam veteran, and an independent voter. Jim blogs at jimyardley.wordpress.com, or he can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.