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Deconstructing the American Dream

By Norman Poltenson


I want to thank President Barack Obama for delivering his third “State of the Union” address, in which the 44th president of the United States laid out clearly his vision of the American Dream.

The president embraces 100 years of “progressivism,” which rejects a free-market society. Today, we call progressivism “liberalism,” not to be confused with classic 19th-century liberalism. Liberalism considers capitalism inherently evil, requiring a strong, central government to rein in its “excesses.” Thus, the federal government needs to actively regulate the economy by assigning technocrats who know what is best both for the collective society and for individuals. Those technocrats who are truly knowledgeable know better than the marketplace where capital should be invested and which industries must be supported.

Government, not the individual, must also be the protector against anything unfortunate in our lives, advocates of liberalism believe. To institute freedom from want, society needs universal child care and health care, higher education for all, welfare benefits for the less fortunate, labor protection, agencies to manipulate the boom-and-bust cycles, and pensions for the elderly.

President Obama wraps his dream of America in a cloak of fairness. He casts himself in the populist role as the defender of the middle class, which is being squeezed by the rapaciousness of the 1 percent who are super rich. To the current sitting president, free enterprise has eroded the basic American promise of opportunity. In the words of the president, the defining issue is to “… restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”

From whence floweth fairness? From the federal government, of course. The president, in his speech, cited the “Buffett Rule” as a prime example of fairness. No one deemed rich by the president should pay a lower rate of federal-income tax than Warren Buffett’s secretary.

Kudos to the president for explaining his vision of America for all to understand.

Mitch Daniels, governor of Indiana, rebutted the president’s vision with a strong defense of free enterprise and capitalism. Daniels chided the president for assuming the state of the economy was strong and getting stronger while the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high and our spending and indebtedness are on a trajectory to take down the economy and the safety nets created by government. He also debunked the notion that government could create a middle class of government workers based on borrowed money.

Unlike the president, the governor called for a passionate, pro-growth approach that generates private-sector jobs. Unlike President Obama, Gov. Daniels praised business rather than bashed it and called for a simpler tax code with fewer loopholes and lower rates and an end to the piling on of expensive, new regulations. Unlike the president, he sought a unity of effort rather than a division pitting one segment of society against another.

The differences in the two visions couldn’t have been clearer. Too bad Messrs. Romney and Gingrich couldn’t build on Daniel’s rebuttal; unfortunately, they were too busy punching each other rhetorically in the groin. Gov. Romney did finally, under duress, release his 2010 federal-tax return and his projected 2011 return. News flash: The governor is rich.

What a perfect opportunity to defend a life of hard work and taking risks creating and turning around businesses — the ultimate American dream. What a perfect opportunity to attack the current tax code as convoluted and anti-growth, explaining that capital-gains taxes are added to the corporate tax, generating an effective rate of 44.75 percent before adding on state, local, and any estate taxes. Too bad the opportunity was lost as the former governor of Massachusetts continued to focus on hammering the former Speaker of the House. And to Mr. Gingrich’s eternal discredit, too bad he suggested that Romney’s wealth was somehow ill-gotten rather than focusing on the vision of a “city on the hill.”

I have experienced free enterprise from the perspective of an entrepreneur. Next year is my 50th year running a business in our region, and this past year marked 25 years of interviewing thousands of business owners, managers, entrepreneurs, and wannabes as the publisher of The Business Journal. I have witnessed how an individual with a dream takes risks by applying his/her God-given talents in the hope of experiencing success. The best arbiter of success is the marketplace, where individuals freely decide what constitutes the pursuit of happiness. The ladder of opportunity has, despite the president’s assertions, drawn the diminishing middle class into the ranks of the rich. In the past 30 years, the percentage of households making more than $105,000 in inflation-adjusted income has more than doubled from 11 percent to 24 percent.

Unlike President Obama, I find those running a business to be society’s heroes, deserving of praise, not opprobrium. They not only create wealth for all in our society, but they also give back generously to enhance our communities. What is most surprising is that they accomplish this under a growing burden of taxation, regulation, and a playing field where the goals posts are always in motion. Contrary to liberalism’s assumptions, capitalism is not dehumanizing. Personally, I find it to be uplifting.

De Tocqueville told us that democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom; it attaches all possible values to each person. Progressivism, 21st-century liberalism, collectivism, statism — whatever you call it — makes each of us an agent, a number in a society where others tell us what is best. Both concepts claim to seek equality in liberty: capitalism promotes freedom from coercion, liberalism relies on coercion and restraint.

To me, the president’s State of the Union address deconstructs the American Dream that has made the United States an exceptional nation and the beacon to the world. It’s critical to point out that he is tearing down the ladder of opportunity by promoting a society in which risk is not rewarded. We have a clear choice to make about what kind of society we want.

I cast my vote for capitalism and a society in which the individual has the maximum freedom to make a choice. I vote for a strong, pro-growth agenda where the marketplace, not government, picks winners and losers. I vote for a simple and predictable tax system and government benefits that are means-tested. I vote to create more successful business people to join the 1 percent castigated as the super-rich. I believe in a restrained government, not one on the path to fiscal obesity.

It’s time to reconstruct the dream. It’s time to cast your vote.

Norman Poltenson is publisher of The Central New York Business Journal. Contact him at

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