I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
Really? The president is always struck by people who take credit for their own successes? Obviously, every successful outcome in life -- and every failed one -- arises from a combination of internal and external factors. But the president’s tone when he said this, amused by the very idea of people taking credit for their achievements, was off-putting.
Frum mostly talks about why this statement irks rich people, but I believe it resonates badly with people at all income levels. Lots of people -- most, I hope -- are proud of something they’ve achieved in their lives and feel like that achievement owes much to their own hard work and talents. You don’t have to make over $250,000 a year to be annoyed when the president mocks people for taking credit for their achievements.
And it’s an especially jarring statement because of what it’s used to justify -- higher taxes, with the implication being that they are called for because people do not deserve their own pre-tax wealth. People are rightly unnerved by an argument that amounts to “we can tax you because you didn’t deserve this anyway.” Faced with such an argument, defending your own contribution to your success isn’t just a point of pride -- it’s an argument you must make to defend the principle that you are entitled to your own private property.