Two Americas?

One of the favorite refrains of the class-warfare left has long been to lament what it perceives as a division in America between economic haves and have-nots. From the standpoint of egalitarian, socialistic philosophy, the fact that some Americans prosper more than others is prima facie evidence of injustice. It is considered unfair that some Americans are allegedly left behind while yuppies and others get richer.

It seems never to have occurred to the egalitarians to analyze WHY individual Americans’ income differs. Those who work hard at acquiring skills valued in the marketplace, and who then work hard to succeed in the workplace, generally have their efforts rewarded by moving up the economic ladder. Those economically successful Americans take advantage of living in this land of opportunity to advance themselves. They do nothing to keep other Americans from availing themselves of our country’s myriad opportunities for advancement, or to push them off the ladder of economic progress.

As my Pop used to say, when somebody expressed an interest in attaining a goal or striving for accomplishment, “There aren’t any hooks in your behind. What’s stopping you?” The only “hooks” I know of that have actively impeded the economic self-betterment of millions of Americans has been the gigantic welfare state that has paid people to become wards of the state. Handouts sapped their initiative and resourcefulness, but the blame for that falls on government and not on private businesses and workers who are allegedly guilty of unfairness because they have prospered.

Today, with alarming economic deterioration surrounding us, I see a danger that the real economic division into “two Americas” will be between those who have a government-guaranteed source of income and those who do not. Private companies—even the once high-and-mighty like Lehman Brothers and General Motors—may fail, resulting in lost jobs and reduced retirement income. By contrast, government jobs and retirement benefits are secure. Government workers and morticians may have the only recession-proof jobs, enjoying a job security in a sinking economy that eludes the rest of us. Americans sense this. That explains the March 9 story about a school district being overwhelmed by receiving 700 applications for a $15-per-hour custodian job. People may not get excited about doing janitorial work, but a secure job in today’s economy clearly fires people up.

Negotiations for teachers’ contracts are likely to get pretty testy if teachers’ unions make aggressive demands in communities where many taxpayers have lost their jobs. The divide between taxpayers and tax-consumers, which heretofore has been confined to obscure economics texts, may burst into public prominence as the economic downturn deepens. A lot of Americans in the private sector are going to feel increasingly put upon by government and government workers.

There is a more ominous division emerging beyond merely job security. We are increasingly being divided into “the rulers” and “the ruled.” One of the crowing glories of the American experiment has been the principle that we are all equal before the law. In recent years, government workers—both elected and unelected—too often have created the impression that they are a privileged class, not obliged to abide by the same rules as the rest of us.

The most recent manifestation of that double standard was the embarrassing parade of would-be Obama appointees whose nominations crashed and burned when it came to light that they had evaded paying their taxes. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Carol Browner, President Obama’s designated White House energy and climate coordinator, or “climate control czar,” desires privacy so strongly that she obliterates all records of her actions. It is ironic that this powerful figure in government is free to operate in secrecy, yet this same administration favors legislation that would strip private-sector workers of the time-honored right to vote for or against a union on a secret ballot. Come to think of it, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis favors abolishing the secret ballot for private-sector workers, but objected strenuously when she herself had to participate in an unsecret ballot to select the head of the Hispanic congressional caucus.

In recent years, zealous bureaucrats have also displayed a double standard. The Environmental Protection Agency is the poster child for this tendency. It fined a private mining company several hundred thousand dollars because a few dozen birds perished from accidents on its property, while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was given a pass to kill several hundred birds to see where water currents would take their carcasses. EPA routinely fines companies for failure to submit mountains of paperwork on time, yet EPA itself repeatedly misses congressional and judicial deadlines for its own paperwork. EPA has sought jail terms for private citizens discharging harmless apple juice in rivers while permitting the Army Corps of Engineers to dump pollutants into the Potomac River. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi decries Americans’ use of carbon-based fuels, but demands that taxpayers provide her and her large family with military jets to shuttle around the country.

America is increasingly being divided into opposing camps—the governed and the governors. The stakes here are enormous. We either get the government-as-elite genie back into the bottle, or America as we know it—“the land of the free,” “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all,” this great constitutional republic where all are equal under the law—will become nothing more than a memory.