On Thursday’s panel discussion on MSNBC’s NOW, reporters and columnists from esteemed publications like the Chicago Sun-Times and the New York Times tackled a recently released video of President Barack Obama in 1998 advocating for programs that would augment the government’s redistributive powers. The panel noted that Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has pounced on the video, but they were nearly universally perplexed as to why anyone would view Obama’s comments about redistribution in a negative light. After all, they said, government’s most successful programs redistribute wealth in some degree. Some panel guests concluded by urging the president and his supporters to engage in a debate over the beneficence of an activist government. Conservatives who know that the debate over the proper role of government is one they most often win would likely agree.
The recently uncovered tape of Obama addressing students at Loyola University in 1998 has caused a stir. In the tape, Obama expressed his admiration for redistributive government programs and advocated for free-market delivery systems to ensure the spread of similar programs:
I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody’s got a shot. How do we pool resources at the same time as we decentralize delivery systems in ways that foster competition, can work in the marketplace, and can foster innovation at the local level and can be tailored to particular communities.
Guest host Ari Melber defined redistributive government as any centralized mechanism for taking in funds and then reallocating them in ways that planners view as the most constructive for the economy or that achieves the maximum social benefit. Therefore, he says, nearly every government activity could be defined as redistributive.
“This redistribution word, which is a word that I’m sure is intended to be befuddle people because it’s not a word that real people use,” said Chicago Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet. “By using this word — I think it’s a bit coded, first of all. But why don’t we call it ‘Robin Hood-ism?’”
“I think that Romney goes into this argument at his own peril because you’re not necessarily saying, ‘redistribute – bad,” Sweet continued.
“I’m confused,” said New York Times reporter Nicholas Confessore. “I assume they have some focus group data than tells them this word is a hot button for some voters that they want to reach. But the fact is that this concept is baked into American government.” Confessore went on to say that America’s progressive tax rates are an example of redistribution.
“Lynn said the word is a ‘bit coded,’ and I think it’s a lot coded,” said New York Times reporter Hugo Lindgren. “It’s meant to, sort of, confuse people and create this complicated concept that government is doing something sort of devious that you didn’t think they were doing, or that is going to, kind of, double cross you.”
What faith in the intelligence of the governed this panel demonstrates. The only reason why a voter would perceive the term, let alone the action, of redistribution in a negative light is because they are babes in the woods – utterly baffled by the meaning of words and the historic track record of confiscatory government.
Melber went on to cite New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait who described Obama’s advocacy for market-based delivery systems of progressive government programs as “moderate.” Spare me. This is an example of a tired, contradictory trope that liberals tell themselves when they think no one is looking: American’s like government, just so long as it is hidden in plain sight.
But if one fallacy was not enough for the panel, MSNBC contributor Richard Wolffe trots out the straw man to end all straw men. After saying that even a purely flat tax rate was as redistributive as a progressive tax, Wolffe claimed, “If you don’t believe in redistribution, then you don’t believe in any public services at all.”
Perhaps the panelists should spend less time in the echo chamber and more time digesting polls. The most recent Gallup survey which showed that a majority of respondents – 54 percent, in fact – said that government is trying to do too much. Just 39 percent said that government should do more to solve the nation’s problems. Another clear majority, 51 percent, said that government has too much power. 8 percent said that they did not have enough power.
There are not many debates Republicans win with any consistency, but the scale and scope of government overreach is not one of them. The GOP has never shied away from that debate and they have the rugged individualist American DNA on their side. This MSNBC panel should invest some time talking to actual Republicans – it might inform the debate.
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