BET founder Bob Johnson, who was never been known for his political stances, gets especially outspoken when President Obama is the topic. During a recent appearance on Fox News Sunday, Johnson joined FedEx CEO Fred Smith in criticizing the president for asking the rich to pay their fair share.
“I think the president has to recalibrate his message,” Johnson said. “You don’t get people to like you by attacking them or demeaning their success. I grew up in a family of 10 kids, first one to go to college, and I’ve earned my success. I’ve earned my right to fly private if I choose to do so. And by attacking me, is not going to convince me that I should take a bigger hit because I happen to be wealthy.”
The problem is that the wealthy aren’t taking a bigger hit. Actually, they aren’t taking much of a hit at all. According to the editorial, “Taxes, the Deficit and the Economy,” that ran in the New York Times September 22, the current tax system “allows 22,000 households earning more than $1 million to pay less than 15 percent of their income in federal income and payroll taxes — less than half of what a middle-class family pays.”
So while Johnson may have earned his “right to fly private,” shouldn’t he also pay for it? What is so horrible about rich people paying their appropriate share, especially when the country as a whole is in dire straits and the unemployment rate among African-Americans in particular is close to 20 percent? Do the rich, especially someone like Johnson who hails from humble beginnings, have amnesia? What happened to the mantra “to whom much is given, much is required” or the concept of giving back? Surely, Johnson had some assistance (and dare we say some of it from government programs) to succeed in his educational and, later, business endeavors.
Just a few weeks ago, for an article that posted on September 2, Johnson told Politico writer Tim Mak, “We can’t exist in two societies, wherein one population is able to be successful and the other one is unsuccessful — that’s the prescription for social unrest.”
He also said “This is not necessarily President Obama’s fault — but right now, this is his watch. He has to address this issue.”
Yet somehow President Obama addressing the issue should exempt the richest among us from paying their fair share? Which is it Bob Johnson and who are you?
In 2008, Johnson, a fervent Hillary Rodham Clinton supporter, also put his foot in his mouth. Defending Mrs. Clinton’s comment that “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act, Johnson implied that Hillary and Bill Clinton were more committed to the African-American community than Barack Obama as well as alluded to Obama’s admission to drug use as a youth in his 1995 book, Dreams of My Father. He did not note that Mrs. Clinton once supported Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, who, as an Arizona senator voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
”…. As an African-American, I am frankly insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues since Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood — and I won’t say what he was doing, but he said it in the book – when they have been involved,” he said.
He also supported the late Geraldine Ferraro who told California’s Daily Breeze, “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position” as well as “He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.”
When Johnson, who now is a majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, actively ran BET, he was heavily criticized for favoring cheap and sensational programming that generated huge revenue over quality programming that could uplift his viewers.
Johnson also eschewed complete black business ownership.
In the 1995 Black Enterprise article “Must Black firms stay in Black hands?” Johnson answered no. He and Ebony founder John H. Johnson bumped heads over this since the elder Johnson believed in 100 percent black ownership and, in his lifetime, vowed that ‘Our company is not for sale, and we can think of no circumstances under which we would sell it.’
What’s even more disconcerting about Bob Johnson’s position regarding what he perceives as Obama’s attack on the wealthy is that he is being supported by the black conservative group Project 21. In a press release titled “Black Activists Support Former BET CEO’s Comments Against Obama Class Warfare,” Project 21 spokeswoman Shelby Emmett shared that “The president would be well-advised to listen to successful men such as Robert Johnson.”
Who doesn’t agree with Johnson’s use of the Ethel Merman quote “I’ve tried poor and I’ve tried rich and I like rich better?” If he knows rich is better, shouldn’t he be working with President Obama to create more opportunity for others to be successful? How can Johnson consciously criticize the president for asking the more fortunate among us to pay the full price of the ticket?
There used to be a concept in this country, especially among black people, that the rich had a responsibility to pay their way and that of a few others. We have never realized the fair and equitable society that we, as a nation, have set as our ultimate goal but when did we stop trying?
Blame it on the lavish 1980s and decadent 1990s when “greed is good” became an acceptable way of life. Very few people begrudge the fruits of a person’s labor. It’s okay to be successful, rich even, but it’s not okay to throw it in a person’s face. And it’s especially not okay to want to pay less than one’s full share for the privilege.
Bob Johnson hasn’t felt the pulse of black America in a long time and his latest comments illustrate this. President Obama is not above criticism but those of us who work hard to make a living but are not wealthy should all be above Johnson’s condescension.