Fair Is So Unfair

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President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address maintained that a “return to the American values of fair play and shared responsibility will help us protect our people and our economy.” A theme of the speech focused upon rectifying injustice in the economy. The president mentioned some variant of “fair” eight times throughout the speech. The word was ubiquitous; its definition, elusive. Fair can be so unfair like that.

Obama wants an America where everyone gets “a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. What’s at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. We have to reclaim them.” But how do “we” reclaim “fair” when everyone seems to have a conflicting opinion on just what it is?

“Be fair,” like “be reasonable,” is another way of saying “Do what I want you to do.” It’s a command that sounds like a plea.

Occupy Wall Street complains that it’s unfair that the richest one percent enjoys eleven percent of U.S. income (and an even greater share of wealth). The National Taxpayers Union complains that the richest one percent pays thirty-seven percent of federal taxes (and an even greater share of total taxes). Fairness for the former would mean decreasing that income share by increasing taxes. Fairness for the latter would mean increasing that income share by decreasing taxes. Everyone agrees on fairness but disagrees on its meaning.

Manufacturers may find “fair” trade fair, but consumers don’t. The Fairness Doctrine appeals to liberals but not conservatives. An employee, but not the employer, may endorse a “fair” wage. The wealthy paying their “fair” share in taxes sounds fair to the recipients of government largesse but not to the funders of it. Fairness is often self-interest masquerading as the common good.

Fairness is one of those words that says more about the speaker than about what is spoken. Conflating one’s interested perspective for the disinterested arbiter of the proper balance is actually quite unfair. Never does partiality play impartiality better than when dressed up as fairness. Those petitioning others to be fair generally don’t take into consideration the interests of the others but want others to bow to their interests. It bespeaks an inability to walk in another’s shoes. At the same time, the invoker of “fairness” imagines himself above the fray. It is a word suited for a parent but not a president.

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  • Ano

    I was very pleased to see an article on this subject matter. After the latest State of the Union Address, I went on the hunt to see what others thought of the speech. Interesting enough, I found an overview of the President's speech spoken in Japanese in that regards. Since I speak Japanese, I was able to understand the conversation which I listened to on more than one coverage site, live in Japan. Bottom line, Obama's use of the word "FAIR" was seen by all as a tool used by the USSR to control the people. You see the word FAIR can be applied by the individual using it to his or her own application. The USSR and other communist countries use this technique to convince the masses to accept the direction the government wants to move them. It is pure propaganda and one of it's most powerful tools. With the vast majority of Americans totally clueless as to the use and application of propaganda, it eventually becomes a way of thinking, or more to the point, a way of not thinking. Critical thinking along with knowledge is the only cure of the power of propaganda. America has been to dumbed down and critical thinking is all but extinct.

    • intrcptr2

      Ano, thank you for this response, very good stuff.

      At the very end you hit the nub, possibly without quite realizing it.

      "Critical thinking along with knowledge"

      I am finishing up on a teaching certificiate here if PA. The great majority of the educational and pedagogical texts demand that teachers teach "higher order thinking" or "critical thinking skills". What is most curious, especially after spending years as a substitute, is that this educational reasoning extends down into the primary grades; 2nd graders are to be taught thinking skills (I still boggle over 1st graders being given expository writing assignments). I am convinced as much as ever that knowledge must precede critical thinking. But learning "stuff" is considered backward, stultifying, and counterproductive, especially in our new global economy.

      What is missing is the recognition that without knowledge, one will have nothing to think about, or any real way of testing one's own thoughts against reality (Perhaps this is Obama's main intellectual failing). Or really, worse now, all that a student can do is apply higher order skills to the vacuous opinions of teachers and textbook authors (For the last ten years or so, think Howard Zinn).
      The old propaganda, repeating the same lie over and over, is obsolete. The new method, stumbled upon, I think, is to train students as street corner philosophers while simultaneously starving their minds of facts and knowledge, puffing up their hearts in moral certitude.
      The witches' brew boiled over onto Wall Street this autumn.

      Let us hope the light of summer will expose this disease for what it is.

  • mrbean

    Blacks will when a black convict who murdered a white woman and her baby in a carjacking is scheduled for execution on a certain day, stage mass protests outside the prison and say it is unfair. Do not take into account the victims' families, most or all are white, anyway. These protests should be attended by Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Danny Glover, the NAACP, the Black Panthers, Louis Farrahkan and the Nation of Islam, and the Liberal Media. Degenerate and violent behavior is accepted in this peaceful protest. Claim that the convict is a victim of the white justice system. Attacking whites during the protest is fair because they have to learn to understand your rage.

  • Candy

    Let us not forget too that on the recent anniversary of roe vs. wade, the president used the propaganda of "fairness" to legitimize the termination of life. In this case, he identified women's ability to abort with creating a fairness between girls and boys, saying “[we must] continue our efforts to ensure that our daughters have the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams.”

  • jmz

    we need to quit saying the free market is "fair" its not…it was not designed to be fair. What it IS designed to do is ensure that the best and brightest survive while the lesser fall. its the economic version of natural law. We argue apples and oranges when we talk about fairness to progressives. People are not equal, never have been. If I snapped my fingers and made everybody financially and socially equal, very soon the gaps would appear because people are not the same regardless of reason. This is where the progs vison fails and their lie is exposed. because in order to keep everyone equal, you must stop success as you cannot have some succeed over others. the 'weak' begin to demand more stuff from the strong to be equal, and soon after the strong realize that there is no reason to succeed because there is nothing in it. All the time the small ruling class who the progs gave thge ability to define 'fair' demand more and more power to keep the balance until they have full control over the populous. in the end the rulers no longer need the consent of the people and are able to rule by force. we need to do a better job explaining and telling whats going on

    • Amy Shulkusky

      Harrison Bergeron SPRINGS TO MIND…

  • WilliamJamesWard

    When the dishonest use the word fair it is a ploy to misdirect the attention of
    their intended victim and to lower their defenses. Rhetoric of the scam artist
    and snake oil salesman leaves one confused which is one step away from
    the scammers goal, create the perfect rube and as many as possible. In the
    past authorities went after such scoundrels but now the authorities are the
    scoundrels. It is such a lesson in the importance of who you give your vote
    to. Barry says "I am being fair, truthful, honest and able to give you what you
    need and want……………..in the end you will be bent over a prayer rug by
    your new master…………………………………………………..William