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October 16, 2012
Your Land Is My Land
Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" has always been a favorite of the left, and lately I've heard it reprised more and more often in leftwing circles. It was the subject of a National Public Radio story in July 2000. It was featured on the soundtrack of the anti-agribusiness documentary Food, Inc. in 2008. And, notably, it was performed by Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger at the Obama inaugural celebration in January 2009.
The Boss is now touring with Obama himself in hopes of getting him re-elected. It's not clear whether he intends to perform "This Land is Your Land" and, if so, whose land he is referring to. Probably all those small business owners whose taxes Obama is raising on January 1. With the death tax scheduled to return to 55% on estates above $1 million, they'll be handing over their farms to government because they can't afford to pay the taxes.
Composed in 1940 (as a response to "God Bless America," (which Guthrie detested) but not widely released until 1956, "This Land Is Your Land" has warmed the hearts of generations of radicals. As Guthrie saw it, the entire country -- from California to Long Island -- "belongs" to everyone equally. All of its natural resources -- its fertile farms, its factories, its natural resources, its private residences - belong to all. None who travel the highway of life are to be deterred by the "wall" of Private Property. It's just a matter confiscating property belonging to others and redistributing it to others.
For all its perky feel, Guthrie's little song contains an angry and defiant message -- one that was toned down in earlier recordings but restored by Seeger and Springsteen for Obama's inaugural. Despite the No Trespassing signs intended to exclude him, Guthrie intends to take possession of "his" land"; no one can prevent him. Once he and the hungry masses have stolen - er, obtained title via redistribution - to what is rightfully theirs, they will no longer line up for relief: they will possess the rich fields and the gold and can do with them what they like. They can even erect No Trespassing signs to keep the former owners out.
This, of course, is the longstanding goal of the left -- the expropriation of property from the rich and its redistribution to the poor, all of it forcibly carried out by a self-anointed political elite. It is a policy endorsed by our current President and by Marxists and communists everywhere. Guthrie, who was a communist fellow-traveler, merely recycled the worst clichés of the left. The same thing could be said for Obama, who recently declared Cesar Chavez's home a National Monument. Chavez, who was trained by Saul Alinsky, was a close associate of Communist Party member Bert Corona, who worked directly under communist labor leader Harry Bridges. Chavez was a long-time associate of the Democratic Socialists of America, was tracked as a subversive for seven years by the FBI, and surrounded himself with Communist Party members. No wonder Obama idolizes him.
Chavez was certainly a believer in "your land is my land," enough so that he was willing to shut down a substantial portion of the U.S. food supply to gain his ends. For his part, Guthrie's views were in perfect accord with those expressed in the Daily Worker and by radical friends such as Will Geer and Pete Seeger.
Having lived through the Soviet show trials of the late thirties and the Molotov-Ribbentrop treaty, in which the Soviet Union aligned itself with Nazi Germany, Guthrie should have known better. For his part, Obama has no excuse. The viciousness of communism has been thoroughly documented and is even admitted by those, like Eric Hobsbawm, who otherwise defend the communist state. Why can't our current President admit it?
Perhaps because he, like Woody Guthrie before him, is motivated by the desire to punish the rich more than by anything else. As Obama admitted to Charles Gibson in a 2008 presidential debate, he would raise taxes on the rich even if by doing so government accrued less revenue. Why would you do that? asked Gibson. "For purposes of fairness," Obama replied. As Charles Krauthammer noted, "That is a most revealing window into our president's political core."
That political core has been on display during this year's campaign but, if reports are true, Obama plans to double down during the final weeks. His recent ads have continued attacking his opponent's record at Bain Capital and painting him as a heartless capitalist. Woody would approve. In addition to "This Land Is Your Land," Guthrie wrote such vitriolic attack songs as "All You Fascists," "Ease My Revolutionary Mind," "Mean Talking Blues" (a truly nasty attack on those who fail to unionize), "The Unwelcome Guest" (who steals from the rich and redistributes to the poor), and a host of others.
At times it is difficult to distinguish between Guthrie's crude rhetoric of class warfare and that of President Obama. It makes one wonder just what Obama was doing during those lost years of his youth other than "actively" (as he admits) experimenting with drugs. Maybe he spent his time dusting off his mom's old Guthrie recordings or Bob Dylan's and Pete Seeger's versions of them. Maybe he was a Peter, Paul, and Mary aficionado. Maybe he was into Odetta and Tom Paxton. Maybe he just never grew up.
The best way to confiscate your land and make it my land, if you're a modern-day Marxist, is via taxation. Under current law, marginal tax rates are set to rise from 15% to 43.4% on January 1. Combined with state and local taxes as high as 15%, almost two thirds of what investors earn will be seized by government. And what remains is taxed again via sales tax, gift tax, property tax, inheritance tax, and the rest. It is then redistributed to millions of Americans who have chosen not to work, save, and invest. After January 1, your dividend is my dividend.
Capital investment is the most important -- the necessary but not sufficient -- basis of economic growth. And the importance of capital investment brings us back to confiscatory tax and regulation policies. In a society where, increasingly, "your land is my land," the owners of capital will deploy capital overseas rather than invest it domestically. Obama's huge new taxes will result in economic stagnation for decades to come.
Guthrie's song, in other words, is not just a cheery relic of the sixties, when it was popularized. Like all collectivist art, in the final analysis it turns out to be misguided and cruel. Collectivism is not the path to a happy future in which liberated workers march around singing folk songs. It is the path to grinding poverty and, sooner or later, to the gulag or the firing squad.
Jeffrey Folks is author of many books and articles on American culture.
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