Today, Barack Obama gave a speech outlining his proposal to cut the deficit by trillions of dollars, and he made it quite clear that the raw numbers of the situation require tax increases for the wealthiest Americans. Then, to assuage any fears of the unthinkable, he added, “This is not class warfare; it’s math.” Mr. Obama forgot to mention that “class warfare” and “math” are not mutually exclusive and that, in fact, the former is quite easily deducible from the latter. Let us look into the matter a little more closely.
In the great arena of American politics, we find our two venerable contenders: the Liberal and the Conservative. Both, in their own way, want the same thing: to preserve America and the “American way of life” as they currently exist in their essential elements. They differ only on the means to achieve the goal, but they also agree on one crucial point: At all costs, they must avoid the specter of class warfare. As we will see, though, both characters find themselves stuck in irreconcilable contradictions. With no tenable position, both the Liberal and the Conservative must necessarily give way to that which they fear the most.
The Liberal appeals simultaneously to Reason and to Morality, without recognizing that these two sit in an irreconcilable antagonism with one another. The Liberal kindly asks the Millionaire to give up a few thousand dollars to feed into the Social Security system. This is the appeal to Morality: After all, throwing a bone to the poor elderly widow or the disabled Construction Worker is the right thing to do, isn’t it? The Millionaire, however, has no motive to appease the Liberal: He has a fat 401(k) and a hefty stock portfolio saved up for retirement, and he sure as hell has never worked in construction! Here Reason enters the picture. The Millionaire has no reason to put money into a system that he’ll never need, and we have to admit—to the chagrin of the Liberal—that he is perfectly rational in his conviction. The Liberal sits and hopes—or prays—for the impossible, a reconciliation of Morality with Reason, or, if he is a little more clever, for the triumph of Morality over Reason in their unavoidable battle. To the Liberal, we say, with a snide grin, “Good luck with that!” You don’t need the philosophers just to know that Reason supersedes Morality, and that the frog will always win in a fight with the tadpole. Just look around you; it’s quite obvious!
The Conservative, for his part, is much more calm and collected than the Liberal. He may preach the language of Morality all day long, but he knows, in the back of his mind, that his Reason will always be his trump card. His Morality, of course, is also impeccable: Why should one person have to pay more than someone else just because he has been more successful? If you work hard, you should get to keep what you make! Sly as he is, though, the Conservative conveniently neglects to mention that those with the most very infrequently worked hard for it, as it becomes quite apparent when we look around us that, in fact, those who work the hardest tend to have the least. Just ask the Construction Worker, our favorite advocate of Reason! The Millionaire, however, loves the Conservative, on the simple basis that Conservative Morality accords perfectly with Millionaire Reason: “Keep what you make” on Wall Street! This is the Conservative’s secret trick: Unlike the Liberal, he has found a way to unite Morality and Reason. The problem, though, is that, while the Morality of Wall Street may equate with Reason for the Millionaire, the Construction Worker, who has no stock portfolio, recognizes nothing rational at all in Wall Street (and, in fact, he is quite correct in this judgment, as anyone who follows the Dow Jones should know). The man who visits the stock exchange to repair the toilet has a quite different set of interests than the man who visits the stock exchange to exchange stocks, but the Conservative overlooks this basic fact. Most crucially, the Conservative and his Millionaire patron both choose to ignore the basic connection between unemployment and crime. If they get mugged while walking down Wall Street, well, that’s what happens when you lay off all your construction workers! The Conservative neglected to mention that the old adage “You gotta eat!” applies to everyone.
The Liberal has his head in the air, and he wants the impossible. The Conservative keeps his feet on the ground, but he undermines society as a whole by assuming that “Wall Street” and “real life” are the same thing.
This is not a moral argument! This is cold, hard logic! This, Mr. Obama, is Math, and it’s also Class Warfare, at the same time. Just add up the numbers! By our calculations, both the Liberal and the Conservative have gone obsolete, but, for now, they’ll continue in their doomed attempt to divide by zero. Once their futile effort is finally abandoned, then America will be forced to wake up to its lowest common denominator, which is, of course, Class Warfare.
(The flower is more beautiful than the seed, even for someone with allergies.)