When President Barack Obama released his $3.8 trillion budget on Monday he reiterated a familiar theme that has become the centerpiece of his re-election strategy. “We built this budget around the idea that our country has always done best when everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share and everyone plays by the same rules,” he said. With all due respect to the president, everyone “playing by the same rules” is completely at odds with the prevailing ethos of the Democratic Party.
To begin, perhaps the president could explain how “playing by the same rules” translates into granting waivers from the healthcare bill. More than 1200 entities were granted the privilege of playing by a completely different set of rules. Furthermore, the bill grants enormous power to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius to continue making up policy as she goes along. As for the bill itself, it is a compendium of rule “variations,” highlighted by two Democratic senators, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, being granted special favors in return for their votes.
While he’s at it perhaps the president could explain how Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano could defy Congress last August when she announced that she will stop deporting illegal aliens who meet the DREAM Act criteria, despite Congress’s refusal to pass that law. Failure to enforce illegal immigration statutes per se is the epitome of playing by two sets of rules, yet this president is willing to up the ante and grant special status to a subset of law-breakers he deems worthy. This might also explain why his Justice Department has sued several states, such as Arizona, Utah, Alabama and South Carolina, for attempting to enforce immigration statutes virtually identical to federal immigration law, even as states that completely defy immigration law with “sanctuary city” policies apparently remain free to do as they please.
In the arena of taxes, playing by the same rules reaches the level of farce. While Mr. Obama is busy haranguing the rich for not paying their fair share, reality is quite different. In 2009 (latest data available), the real “1 percent” of Americans paid 36.7 percent of all federal individual income taxes–but earned only 16.9 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI). In addition, the top 10 percent paid 70 percent of all income taxes, while 47 percent of Americans paid no income taxes at all. One can debate the merits, or lack thereof, of a progressive tax system. But the fact that there is a different set of rules for different Americans is beyond dispute.
Such rule-bending is verging on absurdity. Six House Democrats want to set up a “Reasonable Profits Board” that would impose a tax as high as 100 percent on the sale of oil and gas, on all “surplus” earnings exceeding “a reasonable profit.” Yet profits are not profit margins. From 2006-2010 the nation’s five largest oils companies’ profit margins averaged 6.65 percent. For perspective sake, profit margins for media companies from 2006-2009 were 23 percent. One is left to imagine if such media profits are considered “reasonable” by Democrats. Perhaps they might train their gaze on an Obama administration whose track record of rule-bending with respect to the subsidization of “green” energy companies is a sordid tale of favoritism coupled with dismal results: as of September 2011, 80 percent of the $20.5 billion in loans doled out by the Department of Energy went to the president’s top donors. Donors who apparently play by a different set of rules than most Americans.
Yet all of the above pales in comparison to Democrats’ obsession with race- and gender-based policies. College admission quotas, minority and gender set-asides in government contracts, and lowering test scores or physical requirements to ensure greater minority or female participation can be called many things, but meritorious not one of them. Again, one can argue about the need for race and gender preferences, but there is no question two different sets of rules apply. Rules that have engendered both confusion and anger. College admission quotas at the University of Michigan law school were approved by the Supreme Court in 2003, even as they disallowed them for U of M’s undergraduate admissions. Six years later, the same court ruled in favor of 20 Connecticut firefighters who sued after a promotion exam was scrapped because no black employees scored well enough to advance.
Furthermore protecting a non-level playing field can yield Orwellian results. When the voters of California decided to end affirmative action in state programs in 1996, the law was temporarily blocked by U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson, who argued that eliminating race- and gender-based preferences would disproportionally affect those who benefited from them–thus violating the equal protection clause of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment. In other words, having everyone play by the same rules would be an undue burden on those used to special treatment.
Speaking of Orwellian, such instincts are exactly what animates this administration and its supporters with respect to their latest assault on freedom of religion. To be blunt, the president has it exactly backwards. It is not religious institutions that wish to be held to a different set of rules, but those who would kick the First Amendment to the curb–the one that establishes the exact same religious standard for everyone–in order to accommodate the abortion-on-demand constituency. Thus, when Democrats and the president speak about finding an “accommodation” to address religious peoples’ concerns, they are being both arrogant and disingenuous: no member of the government has the option of deciding whether or not accommodate clauses contained in the Constitution. They are bound by it–all of it.
Despite all their high-minded pronouncements to the contrary, Democratic agenda has long been defined by different people playing by different sets of rules. From game-rigging health-care waivers and crony-capitalist “green energy” boondoggles, to class-warfare tax policies and different sets of standards based on one’s race and/or gender, America has at least one political party dedicated to the idea that a meritocratic society can only be achieved, ironically as it sounds, by lots of Americans playing by different sets of rules. Their aim? Yet another distortion: equality of opportunity must yield to equality of results, regardless of talent, ambition or effort.
Even more ironically, for Democrats, anything less than an equal outcome is de facto evidence that someone is playing by a different set of rules, and must be brought to heel by any means necessary–even if it means bending the rules in the process.
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