On June 29, President Obama gave the aviation industry a great gift. It may not appear to be a beautifully wrapped present with a bright, tidy bow on top. But it is.
Some of us will recognize this opportunity for what it is. Others will not. That’s human nature. Some of us focus on the words, while others focus on the speaker. We all have different motivations, which tend to color our perceptions. I will stick to the words alone. Because it is what was said that matters, not who said it.
The President said: “The tax cuts I’m proposing we get rid of are tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires; tax breaks for oil companies and hedge fund managers and corporate jet owners.”
This sentence intrigues me because it compares an industry with a job title, with an entity that may be either a corporation, a partnership, or an individual. It would not be fair to call this sentence an apples to oranges comparison. It is more closely aligned to a comparison of a truck, a driver, and the company that owns one and employs the other. It’s nonsense. But it’s carefully crafted nonsense. And that’s a problem for the aviation community, not to mention the country as a whole.
There is only one common link in this chain – envy. No, that’s not entirely true. Anger comes into play, too. That one sentence, for all the press its sentiment has garnered, has no place in a serious discussion on the topic of taxes, since it bunches the entirety of the tax code into a single disparaging remark that is intended to sound comprehensive, but is in fact, pointlessly vague.
The President went on to say, “And if we choose to keep those tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, if we choose to keep a tax break for corporate jet owners, if we choose to keep tax breaks for oil and gas companies that are making hundreds of billions of dollars, then that means we’ve got to cut some kids off from getting a college scholarship.”
With the second mention of corporate jet owners in a press conference, we see that the first mention was neither casual or a poor choice of words. The speech writer has made it a point to lump ownership of an object in with what is being portrayed as an obscene level of wealth. More importantly, the attempt is being made to personalize the characterization. The implication is that the wealth is undeserved, that it is amassed to the detriment of others. Again, the oil companies are used as a ploy to raise ire, then their earnings (prior to any costs being deducted) are used to establish that the reader (or viewer or listener) is not the object of the speaker’s intent. Finally the point is made that if such astounding wealth is allowed in one segment of the economy, another segment suffers as a direct result — and that suffering lasts a lifetime.
This speech is excellent. It’s compelling, it’s emotional, it’s carefully worded and artfully crafted to convey a message of need – the need to punish those who are deemed successful, so that the listener, who is encouraged to see themselves as the victim, can have a fair shot at a better life.
Apparently, that better life has a ceiling to it. Those who cross over that boundary will find themselves in the danger zone, where the less wealthy are encouraged to envy and fear and take from them.
Yes, this is an excellent speech. It’s not particularly insightful, but it serves its purpose. It sets the stage for a fight, not a debate. It is intended to rally the troops and get them motivated.
For those of us who make our living in aviation, we should take this salvo seriously. Regardless of whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, an Independent or a third party member, the dye is cast. We are the enemy, and we had better get serious about fighting the message, not the man. The president is merely repeating a position held, and espoused, by many in Washington. But they don’t truly believe it. They know it’s nonsense, but it’s nonsense that brings in votes. And that’s the problem we have to deal with if we want to survive as the leaders in aircraft technology that we have been for almost the entirety of aviation’s lifespan.
Let me be clear on this point: I am not a wealthy man. I have no plans or expectations that I will ever be a wealthy man. But I am a pilot, and an aviation professional, and an American – which makes most of the world’s population think of me as an obscenely wealthy parasite who survives by draining the potential of those around me for my own benefit.
That is the sad but very real reputation we suffer from. So we have to choose now. Do we lie down and give up the business we love, or do we stand up, speak out, and fight back? There is no third option.
I will stand tall and say that American aviation products represent some of the finest and most respected technological achievements in the world. And they got that reputation because a cast of tens of thousands has taken it upon themselves to push technology to its limit, then find a new limit beyond that one. Whether we manufacture or maintain the airframe, the engines, the fuel pumps, the props, the upholstery, the avionics, or even the paint that protects the aircraft, we make some of the most thoroughly safety tested, durable, and reliable equipment ever to see the light of day.
The issue is not about corporate jet owners, or oil companies, or even billionaires. The issue is us. Would we rather be home, unemployed, soothing our souls with the knowledge that we played a role in bringing a few billionaires down a notch? Or would we rather take pride in our work, do our best to inspire our children, or neighbors, and our friends — and hope that perhaps through diligence and a bit of luck, we might make a real contribution to the world through our work?
For me, I will be happy to maintain my life as a writer, a CFI, a general aviation pilot, a politician, and a dad. I will never be rich — and I’m just fine with that. But I will never be comfortable advocating that some of us confiscate the wealth of another, just because we want to make sure they don’t have more than we’re comfortable with. I sincerely wish the President and those who think like him felt the same way. Because as an American I have always taught my children that they can be anything they want to be — if they work for it. I’d hate to have to add the tag line “unless you earn too much money doing it.”
Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He is also a founding partner and regular contributor to FlightMonkeys.com. You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.