Much has been made of Mitt Romney’s controversial remark that Barack Obama’s success in clinching a second term was rooted in his “gifts” to core constituencies. A number of prominent Republican leaders have castigated the former governor for his comments. At the Republican Governors Association conference on Thursday, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad told Politico, “I don’t think it’s helpful. I guess my feeling is that we need to turn the page, and we need to focus on the future and not make excuses for the past.”
Similarly disapproving reactions came from Governors Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who said:
I don’t think it’s a matter of people looking at the election and saying, ‘I’m going to vote because of gifts.’ I think they looked at it and said which one of these candidates would they prefer because of leadership considerations and also can understand their needs the best.
Journalists from both sides of the political spectrum have also weighed in, with most sharing the view that Romney was out of line. Whether there is any validity to the counterargument, made somewhat convincingly by Keith Koffler at White House Dossier, one column that deserves special scrutiny is the collected liberal musings of Charles Postel, who teaches history at San Francisco State University.
Writing at Reuters, Postel isn’t content merely to pile on with teeth gnashing over Romney’s ostensible grinchiness. He wades into uncharted waters, claiming that if any presidential candidate was guilty of luring voters with the promise of “gifts,” it wasn’t Obama:
The Romney campaign promised $5 trillion in tax cuts and a pile of regulatory and other favors to the wealthiest Americans. Over the past three decades such conservative ‘gifts’ have helped the top 1 percent of earners—the likes of Romney and his donors—to nearly triple their incomes and double their share of the national income.
Postel is being disingenuous at the very least when he claims that Romney was offering $5 trillion in tax cuts. The link he cites is to an August “study” by the Tax Policy Center, which has since recanted its own findings.
But sloppy scholarship isn’t what makes Professor Postel’s observations interesting. It is the peculiar notion that a tax cut is somehow a gift—on a par with government entitlements, such as promising women free contraception or Hispanics a shortcut to citizenship.
Postel makes the same mistake as the president. Both seem to believe that what an individual earns belongs to the government, which can then choose in its infinite magnanimity to return a portion. It is a wrong-headed view and one that is inimical to a capitalist society like our own. One major problem that arises from this assumption is that those who earn under our system and pay the bulk of the taxes are under no obligation to continue the cycle. They can always take their business—and their capital—overseas, as some companies have already done.
This seems not to have occurred to Postel, who instead reminds readers of an era in history where the deck was stacked against minorities. He notes that while the New Deal, as a case in point, “lifted millions of white Americans into the middle class, African-Americans and other minorities were systematically excluded.” Such examples of what he refers to, with patent silliness, as “white affirmative action,” are relics of the past. They have no basis in a dialog on what’s best for the country unless future decisions embrace grievance-mongering.
But settling the score is 90% of Obama’s economic policy. Seemingly heedless of this reality and its implications, Postel concludes with a victory lap. “A majority of voters,” he jubilantly writes, “cast their ballots for a candidate who has taken steps—if small ones—to extend essential government services to marginalized constituencies without regard to race, nationality, sex or sexual orientation.”
Without regard either for where the government’s largesse is going to come from if the administration continues to bite the hand that feeds it.