What does it mean to be a citizen of the United States?

The Obama administration seems to have views of what citizenship means that aren't quite what the Founders had in mind, according to Lawrence Lindsey, former Federal Reserve board member and George W. Bush adviser.

I’ll give you the 411 up front: this view of citizenship goes hand in hand with making it the government’s right to extract more money from the citizenry. But you already guessed that, I bet.

Lindsey starts out with the philosophical premise:

Last week Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said that the "most fortunate Americans" should pay more in taxes for the "privilege of being an American." One can debate different ways of balancing the budget.

But Mr. Geithner's argument highlights an unfortunate and very destructive instinct that seems to permeate the Obama administration about the respective roles of citizens and their government. His position has three problems: one philosophical, one empirical, and one logical.

Philosophically, the concept that being an American is a "privilege" upends the whole basis on which America was founded. Privileges are things granted to one individual by another, higher-ranking, individual. For example, in my house my children's use of the family car is a privilege. One presumes Mr. Geithner believes that the "privilege" of being an American is granted by the presumably higher-ranking, governing powers that be.

This is an age-old view that our Founding Fathers rejected.

The Founders regarded rights as having been endowed by a Creator, not by the government. They did not see the rights of the government as above the rights of the individual citizen—on the contrary, the citizenry ceded certain rights to government in return for government by the consent of the citizens.

The ways in which the Obama administration shows a different understanding of the rights of citizens versus those of the government are legion. Front and center is the HHS mandate that requires religions to pay for services that are immoral in the light of their own teachings:

Religious freedom is presumably a "privilege" that can be revoked for some transient and novel public-policy reason.

The Obama Justice Department felt the same about religious institutions being able to give preference in hiring to those who shared their faith, and was unanimously overturned by the Supreme Court last month in the Hosanna-Tabor case.

But there are other examples: the National Labor Relations Board’s explicit understanding that a company doesn’t have the right to set up a new plant where its executives want to. Obamacare is an example of government appropriating the right from citizens to make life or death decisions about their own medical care.

But, of course, with the Obama administration everything eventually comes down to one question: how to squeeze more money from the citizenry to fund the president’s massive expansion of government. If you set up the idea that the richest citizens owe the government for the “privilege” of being a citizen, then not only is citizenship debased but the sky is the limit in terms of taxation.

The rich are “asked,” as the president likes to put it, to pay more because they are deriving more from the “privilege” of being governed. Lindsey writes:

Once we give up our moral compass of government deriving its powers from the people, we must also give up any empirical compass of how much we must surrender to government. When you begin the argument that being a citizen is a "privilege" for which one should pay ever more, you very quickly find yourself on Friedrich Hayek's "Road to Serfdom."

Also very worth reading, Michael Barone  has a column today in which he explores what is behind the president’s thirst for higher taxation. Barone recalls the interview with ABC’s Charlie Gibson in which then-candidate Obama said he would want to raise taxes on the rich even if such a policy brought in less revenue:

Ponder that answer for a moment. A candidate for president — president now — said he wants to take more money from people who earned it even though doing so would produce less money for the government.

The philosophy that has to be behind that answer is also behind the Obama administration budgets that have proposed capping the charitable deduction for high earners. The clearly intended result would be a massive transfer of money from the voluntary sector of society into government.