Jewish World Review Sept. 28, 2011 29 Elul, 5771
Millionaire Asks for Higher Taxes
By Roger Simon
A man wearing glasses and seated in the back row of the audience on a folding chair stood and spoke into a microphone. He appeared to be in his 40s.
"I don't have job; I am unemployed by choice," the man said, explaining that he had helped start a company, had become quite successful and then retired. "Would you please raise my taxes?"
I waited for the boos to start. I waited for shoes to be hurled his way. I waited for somebody to call for his extradition to Texas, where he could be quickly put to death.
Instead, the room erupted into applause.
But why? The town hall was being held in Silicon Valley, in the community of Mountain View, Calif., where Google, Symantec and Intuit are headquartered and where the median family income was $105,079 in 2007.
But there is a funny thing about money: Those who have a lot of it still don't want to give it up. Nobody wants to pay higher taxes.
Or so we have been led to believe. But the man with the glasses and the people applauding him didn't think increasing taxes on the rich was such a bad idea.
"I'd like very much to have a country that continues to invest in things like Pell grants (allowing kids to go to college), infrastructure and job-training programs that made it possible for me to get to where I am," the man said. "And it kills me to see Congress want to continue the tax cuts. Stay strong."
Stay strong? The man wants the president to stay strong? Doesn't the man read the polls?
The president is so weak that he is leading Texas Gov. Rick Perry by only 5 percentage points in the latest CNN poll, and nobody is sure Perry could even find the Oval Office, let alone be employed in it.
And the reason, we are told, is that people hate taxes, and Barack Obama wants to raise taxes on millionaires.
The Republicans believe we can grow the economy by cutting taxes, which will free people to spend money. We must also slash spending while maintaining Social Security, Medicare, the military, etc.
Obama has a different plan: Get rid of those programs that don't work but raise taxes a small amount on the wealthiest Americans, people like him, who can afford it. (Obama became a millionaire by virtue of his books.)
After the man with the glasses was done with his question, Obama smiled a small smile and asked him about himself. Obama did this with virtually every questioner, if only to ask where they lived. (Some questions were conveyed electronically by LinkedIn, which sponsored the town hall, and they came from all parts of the nation.)
"What was that start-up?" Obama asked the man about the company that allowed him to retire so young.
"It's a search engine," the man said in a slightly embarrassed voice. (According to Mark Knoller of CBS News, the man was Doug Edwards, former director of consumer marketing and brand management for Google.)
"Worked out pretty well, huh?" the president asked, and the audience laughed.
"So often the tax debate is framed as class warfare," Obama continued, explaining that if, as the man was suggesting, we spread the wealth around a little, everybody would benefit.
"I went to school on scholarship," Obama said. "Michelle, her dad was an (operating) engineer in a water reclamation district. He never owned his own home, but he paid his bills. He had multiple sclerosis but never missed a day of work, never went to college, but sent Michelle to college. We benefit from somebody, somewhere making investments in us. I do not care who you are. That's true of all of us. I appreciate the fact you realize we're all in this together."
There were other questions, and they came mostly from people who had worked hard all their lives, had been laid off, and now in their 50s and 60s were struggling to find a job to pay their bills.
Another man stood. For 22 years, he had worked in information technology, and now he was laid off, thrown on the scrap heap and struggling to find a new job.
"What would be your statement of encouragement for those out of work today?" the man asked.
On the face of it, it seemed a naive question. But all the man wanted, all the man and those millions like him wanted, were just a few words from their president that things would work out, that things would be OK in the end.
And Obama realized that.
"You're going to be successful," the president said firmly to the man. "It's not your fault. It's the fault of the economy. The encouraging thing for you is that when the economy gets back on track, you will be successful."
The audience was silent. Obama was offering just the barest scrap of hope. Because that is all he could offer.
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© 2009, Creators Syndicate