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Laurence J. Kotlikoff Headshot

When Billionaires Say Stupid, Dangerous Things

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Money can't buy you love. Nor can it buy you maturity or common sense. The latest example is on display on Thursday's front page of the Wall Street Journal in which billionaire Harold Simmons, who is donating millions to Republican super PACs, is quoted as calling President Obama a "socialist" and stating that, "Obama is the most dangerous American alive .. because he would eliminate free enterprise in this country."

Can 80-years-old Mr. Simmons be this far gone? I'm not a big fan of the President's policies. Indeed, I'm running for the nomination of Americans Elect to be in a position to (a) defeat the President and the Republican nominee in the general election and (b) put policies in place that the middle of the country wants and that the country desperately needs. But calling the President a "socialist" is simply crazy and outrageous.

The major domestic policy achievement of this administration is healthcare reform. I'm not a fan of the Affordable Care Act. I'm advocating the Purple Healthcare Plan (see www.kotlikoff2012.org and www.thepurplehealthcareplan.org). But the essence of the Affordable Care Act -- making an insurance market for those without insurance, doing so in a way that keeps insurance companies from cherry picking, achieving participation by virtually all eligible parties, and paying out large subsidies to those who are poor to cover their premium costs -- is not much different from Medicare Part D, the prescription drug insurance benefit and government-regulated insurance market set up by President Bush in 2003.

President Bush's plan came with a $16 trillion unfunded liability. It, like so much postwar policy, was a catastrophic success -- doing great good and great harm at once. The good was done to the elderly, who receive an enormous freebee -- prescription medication heavily subsidized by Uncle Sam. The bad was that the bills were left entirely for our kids to face.

But regardless of the pluses and minuses of Medicare Part D, Mr. Simmons did not publicly call President Bush a socialist or suggest that he was trying to kill free enterprise. In saying this, I realize that there are many other policies of this Administration that Mr. Simmons doesn't like. But there is nothing in this Administration's record that would justify such an accusation. And calling Mr. Obama "the most dangerous American alive" is an especially reckless statement given the number of far-right extremists in this country who might decide it was their patriotic duty to deal with this "threat."

Doesn't Mr. Simmons have any common sense? Doesn't he realize that his wealth does not entitle him to endanger our President and our country. Doesn't he realize that all the money in the world doesn't buy respect and that his stupid, dangerous statement just lost him my respect as well as that of tens of millions of Americans?

We've heard increasingly vituperative and extreme character assassination of the President by the Republican candidates. It makes me sick, and I think most Americans sick. We are all Americans and we need to treat each other with respect.

Maybe Mr. Simmons is echoing what he's heard in the debates and the campaign trail. Regardless, my message to Mr. Simmons is very simple -- "Your rhetoric is a real danger and affront to the country. It is fundamentally unpatriotic. If you are a real man, and not just a rich man, you will publicly apologize to the President."

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