It’s always more popular to promise the moon and leave the bill for after the next election or the election after that. That’s been true since our founding. George Washington grappled with this problem. He said, “Towards the payment of debts, there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; [and] no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant.” He understood that dealing with the debt is -- these are his words -- “always a choice of difficulties.” But he also knew that public servants weren’t elected to do what was easy; they weren’t elected to do what was politically advantageous. It’s our responsibility to put country before party. It’s our responsibility to do what’s right for the future.First of all, Washington wasn't talking about income taxes which needed the 16th Amendment for the federal government to have that power. He was referring to the Whiskey Tax and other excise taxes that were imposed.
But Obama left out that some key parts of that passage. It just so happens that my US history students are reading the Farewell Address for tomorrow's class so I was just rereading the Address when I heard about Obama's misappropriation of some Founding Father cred for his own proposal. Here is the full passage:
As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it, avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertion in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should co-operate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind that towards the payment of debts there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment, inseparable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue, which the public exigencies may at any time dictate. (emphasis added)Hmmm. It would be sweet indeed if Obama were as willing to discharge debts so we weren't "ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear?
Think of the functions of government back in the 18th century. Even the most ardent Federalist couldn't have dreamed of a federal government taking on all that it does today. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, who wrote much of the Farewell Address (has any presidential address ever had such a pedigree in its ghost writers?), might not have agreed on much by 1796, but I don't think either of them could have pictured a federal government that spent so much money to pay for what were essentially state employees as we just did in the 2009 stimulus. Hamilton certainly wouldn't have approved of the demonization that Obama has been conducting of businessmen. They wouldn't have envisioned the huge growth in federal regulations that are used to retard economic development.
When Washington is speaking of national debt in that paragraph, he is specifically talking about debts incurred in national defense. Remember that he came into office having to deal with the debts from the Revolution. It was to pay off those debts that he agreed to Hamilton's excise taxes and tariff duties. Those were the major source of revenue for the new government in addition to the sale of federal land. And when there were taxes, they were the same for everyone.
If you read through the entire Address, and it is well worth reading and rereading, you will see that the constant theme throughout was the need to preserve our national unity. Washington address the growing sectionalism that he was sensing even in 1796. He chides the nation for the spirit of factionalism that had emerged with the birth of our first party system. There is absolutely no way that Washington would have approved of trying to divide people by class as Obama does more and more these days.
And Obama's cynical appeal to rise above party is just so much hogwash. His entire proposal is simply a campaign document. His deceptions about the rich not paying as much as the middle class in taxes has been exposed as bogus by fact-checkers at AP, ABC, and the WSJ. Here's the Associated Press:
President Barack Obama says he wants to make sure millionaires are taxed at higher rates than their secretaries. The data say they already are....On average, the wealthiest people in America pay a lot more taxes than the middle class or the poor, according to private and government data. They pay at a higher rate, and as a group, they contribute a much larger share of the overall taxes collected by the federal government.It's not that hard to find this stuff out. The IRS has the data on its website. Perhaps someone in the Obama administration might have access to that data. Someone like, I don't know, maybe the Secretary of the Treasury. Ya think?
The 10 percent of households with the highest incomes pay more than half of all federal taxes. They pay more than 70 percent of federal income taxes, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Remember, Obama isn't concerned about raising more revenue. For him, it's all about "fairness."He revealed what he truly wanted to do back in that 2008 ABC debate. He was making that rich guys paying less in taxes than their secretaries back then. He's always been about dividing people by their incomes.
And listen to that answer from 2008 when he says that he believes in "pay as you go." Ha!
I tell my students that they should remember the Farewell Address whenever they have to write essays about sectionalism, political partisanship, or foreign affairs. They can always draw a connection between Washington's advice and what Americans actually did. It became such a joke in class, that they even made T Shirts with WWGWD? on it - "What would George Washington do?"
President Obama should go back to the text and his history books before he misappropriates the advice in the Farewell Address. Washington wanted the country to stay unified; he wouldn't have sought to divide the country by class or party as Obama does. And he wouldn't have piled up more debts for our posterity.
Alas, historical ignorance being what it is in this country, perhaps Obama will get away with his historical malfeasance. What a shame.