By Mike Matteo
When I was a kid I used to watch the television show Bonanza every Sunday evening on NBC. As many of you remember, the protagonist of the show was a wealthy ranch owner, Ben Cartwright. He and his sons, (Adam, Hoss and Little Joe) went out of their way to take the high and moral road regardless of how much pain and suffering it cost them. They would always come to the defense of the poor and downtrodden, not because of any government mandate, but because it was the right thing to do. The show ran from 1959 to 1973.
Five years later the show Dallas aired and ran from 1978 to 1991. The antagonist of the show was J.R. Ewing, also a rich man, who, unlike Ben Cartwright, went out of his way to exercise power and control over anyone who stood in his way. J.R. was a conniving, evil oil man whose only concern was maintaining power and control through the use of his wealth. J.R.’s loyalty was to himself and he would employ any means to win regardless of the consequences to others, including his own family members.
Both programs were immensely popular and achieved number one rating status multiple times. Both programs were about strong, wealthy patriarchs who typified the eras when they were produced. I find it ironic that within the 5 year time span between the end of Bonanza’s run and the beginning of Dallas’s run the view of wealthy people took a 180 degree turn.
The 1950’s was a time period in American history when the average person worried about being labeled as a communist by right wing fanatics who saw red more often than they saw right. The 60’s was even more turbulent and involved political assassinations, the war in Vietnam, as well as, struggles to attain equal and civil rights, and despite all of this turbulence children were raised to believe (and did believe) in the American dream of hard work leading to wealth. “Cash” wasn’t considered to be a 4-letter word and becoming rich was a goal not a social liability.
The 1970’s furthered the struggles for civil and equal rights, however, Watergate made America cynical. It was also when programs from the Johnson administrations “Great Society” took hold and instead of people looking in the mirror and asking themselves, “What can I do to become successful and get as far away from poverty as possible?” They looked out the window in the direction of government bureaucrats and said, “Run my life for me, please?” The phrase, “It takes a village” (made popular during the Clinton administration) furthered the notion that individualism was a bad thing and the communal way was the only way (a stark contrast to the previous 200 years of American history).
The contrasts between these decades, exemplified by the view of the wealthy on Bonanza versus the wealthy on Dallas are a microcosm of the war on success that has been perpetuated throughout the Obama administration. The image of J.R. Ewing, not Ben Cartwright, is what those who want an expanded role for government want the masses to see when they think of wealth and success. Wealth and success are vilified with rhetoric filled speeches from left leaning politicians who have a strong desire to confiscate money from the wealthy in their quest to play Robin Hood, but their ulterior motive is simply to use these dollars to purchase votes from the downtrodden.
Recently, I got into a discussion with an acquaintance who parroted the phrase, “The rich don’t pay their fair share” and attempted to throw Romney’s tax rate as evidence to support his argument. I gave him the following illustration: 2 people, 1 earns 100K and the other $1 million. If they both pay 10%, the millionaire pays 90K and the other person pays 10K. The millionaire is paying 80K more in taxes for the same use of the roads, defense from the military etc. Even if the tax rate of the person making 100K was doubled, the millionaire would still be paying 70K more, even though the person making less would pay twice the tax rate. However, from an emotional standpoint, all those who want to penalize the “rich” are hearing is that the person making less is at double the tax rate of the millionaire.
Wealth used to be something that people aspired to in America; it was something that was supposed to be the end result of the American dream. Most Americans, from my parents’ generation, believed that the opportunity to become Ben Cartwright was attainable. As times changed, many people (for a variety of reasons) stopped believing in the American dream and were encouraged by politicians to resent wealth, and anyone who was successful either inherited it or obtained it deceitfully, like J.R. Ewing. They have been led to believe that if the rich won’t give it up willingly, then it was the role of the government to take it away from them via the “progressive” tax code. This mindset is the antithesis of progress and as un-American as rotten apple pie..
Mike Matteo is a resident of Tampa, Florida where he was a public and private high school teacher and taught classes in economics, history, psychology and philosophy. He owned a successful business for 19 years and is now a professional freelance screenwriter, playwright and teacher. Mike is a published author and a produced playwright and screenwriter.