A Redistribution of Opportunity

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign fundraising event in Atlanta
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign fundraising event in Atlanta, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The GOP effort to deflect attention from their deeply damaged candidate by digging up a 14-year-old comment by then-state senator Obama, won't fly. When Obama dared to use the word redistribution, the GOP alleges, it meant that the president is a socialist seeking to take from the rich and give to the poor, a kind of direct Robin Hood approach to economic justice and fair play.

What the then-senator was talking about, of course, is a redistribution of opportunity through programs designed to help those without means to succeed in life. The principle is plain enough. If you want to build a level playing field you have to move some high ground into the ditches. In this case the high ground is the tax base and the ditches represent real barriers that prevent people from reaching the playing field, much less having a chance to play.

When a culture seriously engages in a redistribution of opportunity, it selects those areas of support that help the ambitious and determined to become successful. Programs like child care, student loans, job training, community centers, and, most important, health care, are such examples.

In the current campaign, the Romney forces, what is left of them, are trying to raise the level of anger among those opposed to the health care mandate, which they see as a socialist enterprise. It is true that the mandate is the most direct example of redistribution because it requires all Americans to acquire health insurance or else pay a tax for refusing to do so. This, they say, is redistribution of wealth.

What these angry people won't accept is that viable health insurance is the single most important feature of a level playing field that a society can provide. It guarantees that sickness or accident will not be a deterrent to a person's efforts to join the middle class and to become a contributing member of American society.

A redistribution of opportunity is not taking money from the rich to give to the poor. It is the mechanism by which an advanced culture (which we seek to be) recognizes its responsibility to its citizens and says to them, OK, here's opportunity, take it and let's see if you can fulfill your dreams through effort and discipline. It's up to you. Oh, and don't complain and say nobody ever gave you a chance.

The fact is, we can't say that now to at least a third of the country, maybe more.