Conservatives never tire of telling you that modern liberalism is the expression of envy. Liberals, they say, like making better-off people worse-off even if it doesn’t make worse-off people any better off.
There's no denying that envy is an unwholesome passion, but I’ve always thought that this is a bum rap. Liberalism, as I understand it, is fundamentally about devising social structures that enable worse-off people to be as well-off as possible. If doing that enhances the prospects of people farther up the economic ladder, all the better. Clear-thinking liberals aren’t puritans when it comes to sex or economics. However eager they are to redistribute social benefits and burdens, they take no satisfaction in punishing the rich.
But take a look at this internet spot about extending the Bush tax cuts from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee:
Exactly what solemn promise is Obama being urged not to betray? Notice that there’s not a word about bringing down the deficit, or doing anything else to make disadvantaged Americans better-off. You might get the idea that the betrayal in question is depriving liberals of the intrinsic satisfactions of sticking it to the rich.