As often happens, he who speaks an uncomfortable truth gets pummeled. A couple of statements made by Mitt Romney during fund raising events have been leaked to the press and the Obama campaign has jumped on them like fresh meat. In May, Mr Romney noted that we are reaching a dangerous threshold of people not paying any federal income tax. Then the other day, he mentioned that the Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, in reality, a non-starter because the Palestinians aren’t interested in peaceful coexistence.
Taking them in reverse order, let’s examine the Palestinian record. Twice – once under President Carter and once under President Clinton – Palestinian leadership was offered 90% of what they say they want in exchange for statehood and foreswearing violence as a substitute for foreign policy. Twice they demurred. They were given a golden opportunity to demonstrate to the world that they were ready for statehood when Israel agreed to cede Gaza to Palestinian administration. Instead, they turned it into an armed ghetto, from which they commit war crimes almost daily as they indiscriminately shell Israeli villages, settlements and farms with unguided rockets. Neither Hamas nor Fatah has admitted to be willing to live peaceably alongside a Jewish state. The Arab community at large is less than enthusiastic about Palestinian statehood, preferring Palestine as a cause to Palestine with a flag.
The international community’s modus operendi is to insist that Israel give evermore concessions to the Palestinians in order to get an agreement, while remaining silent on Palestinian transgressions. The latest example surfaced when President Obama floated the idea that a good starting point would be for Israel to withdraw to the pre-1967 War borders – which is another way of saying to its 1948 borders. This, of course, ignores the fact that those territories were retained after the 1967 War because they had been used to stage simultaneous attacks from Egypt, Jordan and Syria. These areas are the spoils of war, and by maintaining Israeli administration, are denied to her enemies as future staging grounds for yet another war. Israel is indefensible with Syrian control of Golan and Palestinian control over the West Bank (Gaza is already under Palestinian control, and is openly hostile to Israel).
As to non-taxpayers, the situation is what Benjamin Franklin was warning us about when he noted that when people find that they can vote themselves money, that would mark the beginning of the end of the republic. Widening the base of non-taxpayers is a good way to start that process.
People who don’t pay taxes have no vested interest in tax policy. When the number of voters who don’t pay taxes outnumber those who do, those who do suddenly have no say in tax policy. Mr Romney merely mentioned that 47% of potential taxpayers don’t pay. Some – the elderly, active duty service members, those below the poverty level – legitimately so; most – through loopholes, deductions, exemptions and so forth – not so much. We find ourselves in a situation where one political party is trying to broaden the base of non-taxpayers and the other is trying to broaden the base of taxpayers; the former leads to a dysfunctional government while the latter is biased toward a more responsive one.
The important point here is that when most voters don’t have skin in the game, the focus of government is redirected toward maintaining an entitlement society rather than responsible national conduct. Government becomes narcissistic. Identity politics – dividing the people among “deserving” groups – becomes preeminent and federal government ceases behaving as a national actor. Mr Romney’s statement highlights that we are 3.1 percentage points away from being there. Whether or not Democrats are doing this intentionally (I can’t believe they’re unaware of the political ramifications of having over half the country beholden to them) isn’t the point. The problem arises when a population, through whatever means, has more takers than makers. A society becomes unsustainably dysfunctional when an increasing majority is subsidized by decreasing minority.
Both of these phenomena – Palestinian disinterest in a peace process and the infantilization of the American polity – are facts that our leaders and journalists don’t want to acknowledge, let alone address. Mr Romney has merely taken that first step of acknowledging their existence.