Keith Ellison Redefines 'American'

Recently, as guest host on "Your World with Neil Cavuto, " Stuart Varney interviewed Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison on the appropriateness of "soak the rich" tax policies. Particularly, Varney was particularly interested in whether or not the congressman felt that it was fair for professional golfer Phil Mickelson to keep only 37% of what he earns, the remaining 63% going toward State of California and federal income taxes.

In response to Varney's query, Ellison responded:

I think it's fair to ask Phil Mickelson for a little bit more money to make sure that we can continue to invest in infrastructure in this country... to make sure that people who have the basics.... As a patriotic American, I'm sure Phil Mickelson would agree.

There are at least a few reasons why Ellison's response here is problematic.

For starters, and Rush Limbaugh has touched on this, Ellison employs the term "fairness" in the way that so many liberals are wont to; that is, he employs it so as to mean the very opposite of its actual definition. To fairly treat people is to treat them evenhandedly. Under Ellison's comprehension of the concept, the law would have to be inconsistently applied because the government would be required to regard supposedly equal individuals or entire classes of citizens in a different manner than it regards others. What Ellison favors is not fairness in taxation, but arbitrariness.

The most egregious portion of Ellison's response reveals itself when he insultingly assumes that people will not recognize what is really meant by the government "asking" for a little bit more money (this happens to be something of which Barack Obama is also guilty). Oh! Is that all the government is doing around April 15th of every year? Asking? Okay. Well, then, what happens if Mickelson refuses? What if he says "no" to the government's request for income taxes? The answer should be obvious.

Ellison, here, conflates the way in which private and public revenue is acquired. Perhaps economist Murray Rothbard could assuage Ellison's confusion by shedding some light on the subject:

While other individuals or institutions obtain their income by production of goods and services and by the peaceful and voluntary sale of these goods and services to others, the State obtains its revenue by the use of compulsion; that is, by the use and the threat of the jailhouse and the bayonet. (Anatomy of the State pp. 11-12)

Next, also like the president, Ellison evokes the term "invest" to describe what takes place when governments spend tax dollars. Well, this implies that Mickelson (and folks like him) can expect some sort of reasonable return on his money (which may or may not be the case). But this is only incidental. The principal point is that Varney was not discussing how governments invest tax dollars, he was discussing how they divest them from their citizens. In an apparent appeal to emotion, Ellison attempted to redirect the conversation away from how the government treats a citizen like Mickelson and toward how it provides the basics to the less fortunate, funds to medical researchers, and tuition to college students, etc. But this response of Ellison's was nothing more than a string of irrelevancies. Varney's was a question of revenue collection, not allocation.

In order to add some zest to his finale, Ellison concludes that if Mickelson (or any American?) does not agree with him, then he simply has no love for his country. So with this understanding, in order to properly revere America, one must (1) agree to change the meaning of words for transient and political reasons; (2) maintain that to ask another person for a thing is as moral or as polite as simply taking it from him; and (3) focus only on the goals toward which tax revenues are allocated, and not on the system of wealth discrimination by which they are collected (while, by the way, refraining from dwelling on whether or not there exist better or more efficient means by which these goals might be attained). All of this, according to Ellison, ought to be a source of great pride; something synonymous with "American."

And perhaps, sadly, this is what "American" has come to mean. The concept is not as clearly or as objectively definable as is, say, "fairness," and recent history has shown a narrowing of the gulf separating the nature of American government from that of the modern European social democracies.

But there nonetheless exist those, ever faithful to this nation's founding, who believe that to be a patriotic American entails something unique: esteem toward the ideal of individualism, respect for the institution of private property and limited, constitutional government. If it is true that Ellison is guilty of attempting to co-opt this concept, as he (and liberals at large) have so successfully accomplished with "fairness" -- alter and tailor its meaning to suit his worldview -- it seems appropriate to inquire of him what exactly it is about the traditional comprehension of "American" that he finds so unsatisfactory.

Is it the word or the thing that frightens him?

Sean Parr is an enemy of constraint. He can be contacted at

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