At NRO today, Yuval Levin takes yet another liberal to task for conflating taxes with earnings, for confusing what belongs to government with what belongs to individuals. Indeed, one of the most disturbing trends among lefties these days is the assumption that virtually everything — money, property, civil rights — start with government and are the government’s to dole out or withhold as the government sees fit. The Washington Times did a good editorial on this last month:
When President Obama outlines his tax-increase plan on Wednesday, it’ll be based on the liberal assumption that all money belongs to the government, with Americans retaining only what bureaucrats allow. That’s the dangerous argument Supreme CourtJustice Elena Kagan, an Obama appointee, made last week in a case on education funding…. Justice Kagan, joined by three other liberal justices, dissented, arguing there is no functional difference between a tax credit and a government appropriation. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, shot this down. “[Justice Kagan‘s] position assumes that income should be treated as if it were government property even if it has not come into the tax collector’s hands,” he wrote. “That premise finds no basis in standing jurisprudence. Private bank accounts cannot be equated with the Arizona State Treasury.”
Now comes Levin to note almost the exact same sin by Slate’s Simon Lazarus:
In other words, Lazarus argues that a tax credit that could be used toward the purchase of health insurance (even a refundable credit that would provide money for health coverage for people who don’t pay taxes) is the same thing as a penalty for failing to purchase health insurance. This is an even more contorted argument than the one now being made in federal court in defense of the individual mandate (that the mandate is just a tax).
As the WashTimes noted, this attitude is pervasive on the left, especially in the lefty legal circles from which Justice Kagan (and Justice Sotomayor) came — and it extends to God-given rights, too:
Justice Kagan pushed similar fallacies for years. In a 1992 essay for the Supreme Court Review, she argued that a “nonsubsidy” by a government is legally indistinguishable from a “penalty.” In that article, she was discussing the funding of abortion referral services. “In choosing a stance from which to view government action,” Justice Kagan wrote, “we instinctively consider how the world looked prior to the action.” Thus, “If the starting point assumes funding for all family-planning services, including abortion referral, then the government decision is a penalty.”
Note where her “starting point” is. Justice Kagan always starts with government power and prerogatives. It was in that same 1992 paper that she described First Amendment free-speech rights as something “dol[ed] out” as “a favor” by government.
The WashTimes then offered this important corrective:
[C]ontrary to the worldview of Justice Kagan and her sponsor in the Oval Office, government is a creation of individual citizens and derives its powers from the people rather than doling out privileges to them.
Again and again, the Obama administration and its fellow travelers will argue not only that government knows best, but that it enjoys the power to impose the fruits of that “knowledge” on the rest of us. Obamites think government has the right to compel us to engage in a particular form of commerce (health insurance), whether we want to or not. It thinks the government can determine better than the voters themselves who qualifies as a community’s “candidates of choice” (hint: If it is a black community, only Democrats qualify, regardless of what the black citizens themselves say). Obamites likewise think government can compel senior citizens to accept Medicare benefits they don’t even want.
And so on.
This attitude, in all its forms, is anathema to ordered liberty. Simon Lazarus may have intended to be making a fairly technical (albeit highly politically charged) point about health-care proposals, but it is his underlying assumptions that are so execrable. Yuval Levin is right to call him out.