Less of the former might help relieve the latter.


Mitt Romney delivered what was more or less his stock stump speech to the NAACP last week, famously drawing boos when he promised to repeal ObamaCare. Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi professes to regret that the GOP presidential candidate did not offer a more thoughtful disquisition tailored to the audience:

Without accepting blame or admitting guilt, [Romney] could have talked about the increasingly strident tone of the national debate over racially charged issues, and wondered aloud if politicians on both sides perhaps needed to find a new way to talk about these things without fearmongering, stereotyping, or trading accusations. He could have met the racial-tension issue head on, in other words, just by saying out loud the simple truth that white and nonwhite Americans, and Democrats and Republicans both, need to find more civilized ways to talk about their political concerns.

Like all left-wing calls for more civility in politics, this one was insincere. It was unusual only in that its insincerity was especially blatant. Before he got to his pious criticism of Romney for insufficient high-mindedness, Taibbi described the candidate as “not merely unlikable, and not merely a fatuous, unoriginal hack of a politician, but also a genuinely repugnant human being, a grasping corporate hypocrite with so little feel for how to get along with people that he has to dream up elaborate schemes just to try to pander to the mob.” How’s that for fear mongering, stereotyping and trading accusations?

Well, that’s Matt Taibbi for you. Some commentators have a vicious streak; he is a vicious streak. Pretty much his entire shtick consists of overwrought denunciations of those he dislikes. Brilliant on the subject of Thomas Friedman, he is otherwise a predictable bore.

Yet his commentary on Romney’s NAACP speech is unintentionally revealing. What really got to Taibbi wasn’t the speech itself, but something Romney said to “a mostly white audience in Montana the next night,” which Taibbi quotes as follows:

I gave [the NAACP] the same speech I am giving you. . . . When I mentioned I am going to get rid of ObamaCare they weren’t happy, I didn’t get the same response. That’s O.K, I want people to know what I stand for and if I don’t stand for what they want, go vote for someone else, that’s just fine. . . .

But I hope people understand this, your friends who like ObamaCare, you remind them of this, if they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy–more free stuff.

As blogress Ann Althouse notes, Taibbi went “all racial” and omitted what Romney said next, which was a “simple exposition of economic truth”:

But don’t forget nothing is really free. It has to be paid for by people in the private sector creating goods and services, and if people want jobs more than they want free stuff from government, then they are going to have to get government to be smaller. And if they don’t want to repeal ObamaCare they are going to have to give me some other stuff they are thinking about cutting, but my list takes ObamaCare off first and I have a lot of other things I am thinking of cutting.

To put it more concisely: “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” As the New York Times’s William Safire noted in a 1993 column, this insight, and the unwieldy abbreviation “tanstaafl,” was popularized by the libertarian science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein in “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress” (1966) and used, without the double negative, as the title of a 1975 book by the libertarian economist Milton Friedman.

In 2009 Fred Shapiro of Freakonomics.com reported that the phrase had appeared in a 1938 article in the El Paso Herald-Post, titled “Economics in Eight Words”:

This is a fable in which a king asks his advisers to summarize economics in a “short and simple text.” They respond with 87 volumes of 600 pages each, drawing the king’s wrath and accompanying executions. Further demands and more executions force ever-briefer summations, until, finally, the last economist, “a man of profound wisdom,” speaks:

“Sire, in eight words I will reveal to you all the wisdom that I have distilled through all these years from all the writings of all the economists who once practiced their science in your kingdom. Here is my text: ‘There ain’t no such thing as free lunch.’ “

Seventy-four years later, Matt Taibbi has discovered an invidious racial subtext in this economic truism. Of course, finding implausible racial subtexts has been a favorite pastime of the left since Barack Obama rose to prominence. In the past four years we have learned that all manner of innocuous words, from “skinny” to “professor“–even “European“!–are also racial slurs.

Taibbi’s claim that Romney failed to “have met the racial-tension issue head on” has it precisely backward. As Taibbi acknowledges, what Romney told a mostly black audience was substantively identical to what he tells other audiences. The audience members let him know what they thought, not only by booing the parts they didn’t like but by applauding the parts they did. “Some stood up to do it,” notes John Cassidy of The New Yorker.

Romney and the audience members disagreed openly on some points and seem to have felt perfectly comfortable doing so. It sounds like a healthy exercise in democracy. Where’s the tension Taibbi is so worried about?

Taibbi would have had Romney instead issue a call for less stridency, for “more civilized ways to talk.” Not only does Taibbi not hold himself to any such standard, but surely he would regard it as racially invidious–and not without reason–if Romney had lectured the NAACP that their manner of expression is insufficiently “civilized.”


Associated PressRomney’s NAACP audience

What Taibbi is really calling for is more political correctness. He wants conservatives to conceal their views for fear of being seen as racist–to act as if they are guilty. But that would reinforce, not reduce, racial tension. If white conservatives in the presence of black people act as if their worldview is a shameful secret, of course black people will think conservatism is racist. Which, of course, would suit lefties like Taibbi just fine.

This column has argued that the Obama presidency poses a deep political andpsychological challenge to the Democratic left, which relies on the perception that racism remains prevalent in America, and that the GOP is racist, both to motivate black voters and to maintain its own self-identity as morally superior. That explains the desperate need to stereotype Obama critics, and conservatives more generally, as racist. Of all of the examples of this phenomenon, Taibbi’s may well be the most recent.

‘You Didn’t Build That’ 
Barack Obama really does seem like an Ayn Rand villain at times. The Washington Times’s Kerry Picket notes an especially glaring example, from a speech the president gave in Roanoke, Va., Friday:

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me–because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t–look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. 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. (Applause.)

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business–you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

Several points beg to be made here. First, as Picket points out, it takes chutzpah for the man who boasts of having personally killed Osama bin Laden to tell businessmen, “You didn’t build that.”

Second, the government did not create the Internet “so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.” It developed the Internet’s predecessor, the Arpanet, as part of what everybody agrees is the legitimate function of national defense–the one area of government Obama is anxious to cut.

Finally, Obama didn’t even come up with this noxious idea himself. He ripped it off fromElizabeth Warren. First the white man steals her ancestors’ land–well, 31/32nds of her ancestors steal the other 1/32nd’s land, anyway–and now this.