Leveling the playing field
There’s a new movie out about Abraham Lincoln. I don’t know if I’ll go…is it the one with vampires?
Do you know what President Lincoln said in a speech once? Our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. He gave voice to those immortal words at a cemetery in Gettysburg.
I think what Lincoln meant was that each black, brown, and white child, when they come kicking and screaming from the womb, should face the same challenges and be eligible for the same rewards as any other blessed American baby. They should all have the same chance to succeed.
I believe that. Those who start a race should finish according to their ability and ambition—not end up tied just because “that would be fair.” America is all about letting the motivated succeed. But what if the starting line isn’t the same for everyone; if someone has a head start? How do we, as Americans, feel about that?
I ask because I’m pretty sure that we aren’t born with equal hardship or equal opportunity. Some people lack physical attributes which the rest of us take for granted—but that’s the Lord’s decision, not ours. And some of us are born dimwitted for which we can only curse our Maker.
But I ask you: what of the inequality of property which is given to some but not to others? Is not the starting line different for the rich than the poor?
When Abraham Lincoln spoke of all men being created equal, he was contrasting freedom and slavery. Well if we believe that no man should be born a slave, we must also believe that none should be born a master.
Was Lincoln not also referring to our break from the tyranny of title—of the Kings and Dukes and Princes of English peerage? Title and power were passed down from the father; the son having done nothing to deserve it. And just by matter of his sire, any man could become our master—an idea anathema to the Founders of America; to Abraham Lincoln; and to me.
You probably don’t care much for it either.
So we have a system for limiting familial advantage. Now a wise and good parent will set aside opportunity for his children and I do that too, but there must be a limit to the lead I can give to my son who has yet to prove his worth or ability. That’s why I support the estate tax.
Estate tax is the system by which we curb hereditary power. It’s how we can keep an unproven child from being born a master of other men. Should I leave my progeny a sum to allow him an easier beginning? Yes, of course, but it mustn’t be enough that he is born a king. America doesn’t play that.
We should keep the race close, if only at the beginning. If we even remotely agree that this country is founded on the principle of equality at birth, we must support a more robust estate tax and inheritance limits.
The new peerage of wealth is no different than the one we left in the moldy castles of Europe. We have a responsibility to our descendants to imagine an America 200 years hence. We have a responsibility to the first Americans who fought and died escaping the yoke of hereditary privilege to stand up to any who think that individual power should depend on who your parents are.
If you believe in an America where we are all created equal, an America where one succeeds by his own talent, ambition and drive, then support a policy that requires each of us to earn his right to rule over other men.