Late Night Lip Service
Anytime Bill O'Reilly is a guest on David Letterman's show, viewers are guaranteed to witness an entertaining exchange. Thursday night was no exception. As usual, Letterman's tone was irritable and adversarial as he quickly shot through a cue carded list of political topics with O'Reilly. They revisited previous disputes with Letterman once again assigning blame for the poor state of our country back to the Bush administration. In fact, so much time was spent on it that I don't believe Obama's name came up once during the entire interview which lasted two segments.
For me, the most notable exchange of the night centered around the issue of health care and providing for the poor. Letterman repeatedly pressed the standard liberal talking point that not raising taxes to support the needy was selfish and immoral. He chided the attitude of the rich, preaching, "We don't want to help people who need help because we don't want it coming from our paycheck."
O'Reilly challenged Letterman on the difference between those who genuinely "need" assistance and those who choose to live a lifestyle that isn't worthy of government assistance. O'Reilly cited a recent Department of Health and Human Services statistic that 9% of Americans have a substance abuse problem, and asked Letterman if he thought taxpayer money should be used to support those people. When Letterman doubted the statistic, O'Reilly asked Letterman to place a wager on its accuracy with the loser donating one week's paycheck to charity.
The audience applauded the idea.
This was Letterman's moment of truth. A minute earlier, he had self-righteously berated those who did not want money from their paycheck redistributed to the less fortunate. One might think that the comedian would have jumped at the chance to put his money where his mouth is on national television. You know, lead by example. Regardless of who was right, a generous donation would have gone to the needy. Instead, he turned uncharacteristically squeamish and was unsure of how to respond.
Now I'm no body language expert, but it was clear to me that Letterman couldn't have cared less who was right regarding the statistic. It appeared to me that it was the premise of directing a week's paycheck to charity that knocked him off his game. After composing himself, Letterman made a quick joke and changed the subject.
Now I'm sure that David Letterman probably donates a good amount of money to specific charities each year. Yet, when put on the spot to direct additional money to "the needy", he soundly rejected the notion. A week's paycheck for David Letterman would have been far less money than the 5% annual tax hike that he supports and speaks of as if it's chump change. But the answer was no.
This often seems to be the case with many wealthy people on the left... They loudly beat President Obama's drum of higher taxes and income redistribution, but when given the opportunity to practice what they preach, they crawl under a rock.
We've seen it with Warren Buffett who received a lot of attention a few months ago when he called for higher taxes on the wealthy as part of their patriotic duty to the country. Yet, as many news outlets have since reported, his Berkshire Hathaway firm still owes the federal government $1 billion in back taxes dating back nearly a decade.
We've seen it with current and considered Obama administration cabinet members like Tim Geithner, Jeffrey Immelt, Kathleen Sebelius, and Tom Daschle who have a history of escaping the payment of federal taxes.
We see it from prominent politicians like Senator John Kerry who avoided paying over $500 thousand in Massachusetts taxes by stationing his $7 million luxury yacht in the neighboring state of Rhode Island, and Congressman Charlie Rangel who failed to report taxes on his rental property in the Dominican Republic.
All of these people call for more of the rich's income to be taken and redistributed, yet they reject the plan when it comes to themselves.
Many critics of the "tax the rich" movement have pointed out that people like Letterman and Buffett can choose to pay more in taxes if they like. What amazes me is that, to my knowledge, none of these people have actually answered that challenge. You'd think that if they felt so strongly about the issue, they'd rise to the opportunity to lead by example. They could even call a press conference to draw attention to the moment and inspire others to follow their lead, much like Warren Buffett did when he pledged a significant amount of his wealth to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
But no one has done it.
Is it because they're stingy? Some are, but Warren Buffett certainly isn't. More likely, people like Buffett and Letterman don't want to give up control of how their hard-earned money is spent. Letterman wasn't prepared to spontaneously pledge his money to charity. Buffett hasn't handed over additional money to the government to spend it as they wish. Yet, both of them demand that others be forced to do what they won't do voluntarily.
To me, THAT seems selfish.