Saturday, March 7, 2020

Our Primary National Values

Biden and Sanders have been debating matters like Social Security. Can we afford it? Biden acts indignant that Bernie would suggest he's a threat to Social Security, yet Biden's record is plain, as well-summarized by Ryan Grim at The Intercept in this tweet:

The Truthiness About Biden

Nor does Biden explain how and why his opinion has changed. In a worrisome pattern he seems to share with Trump, he simply denies he ever had an opinion that is clearly documented.

Stephen Colbert called this “truthiness”—an assertion of “facts” that come not from books or the head, but from the gut.

“Alternative facts,” Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, calls such affronts to reality.

Biden would have us see Bernie's views as extreme, radical, dangerous to consider. He offers himself as the safe choice. The message from the centrists is that Bernie's notions will bankrupt us. The truth is, many of us are going bankrupt just fine on our own. We need the government to pull the reins on corporate greed, but Biden can't even admit this is where the problem lies.

It's clear that the recent tax cuts for billionaires are part of an organized “starve the beast” strategy by the GOP. Such a strategy works in two steps: first take all the money out of the system into rich people's pockets, then declare that the government is short of money and that social programs must be cut. They've done step one. Now we're back in the same situation as happened the last time Biden championed cuts.

Has something changed? Because it looks to me like Biden has positioned himself as the realist, the compromiser, the one willing to pull a Susan Collins, hemming and hawing for the cameras so it looks like an oh-so-difficult choice, but ultimately “surprising” us by deciding that we need to be fiscally responsible and endure our middle-class medicine rather than ask too much of billionaires.

Because that's the picture he seems to be painting when he accuses Bernie, directly or through his advocates, of being too extreme, too radical, too untrustworthy, too … socialist.

Biden wants us to trust him, but trust him how? Why? The only one he seems to point fingers at is Bernie. And why? Because Bernie is willing to point fingers at who he thinks is the actual source of the problem.

Bernie is willing to say what is obviously true, that we don't need billionaires.

Assigning Value

Biden wants Bernie to be seen as obviously extreme. But is he?

We just had a candidate in the race that had half a billion dollars of literal pocket change. He will probably be as rich or richer at the end of the year as he was at the beginning of the race.

Moreover, Elizabeth Warren in a few simple sentences so destroyed this man's character that all that wealth could not overcome it, ending his run—clear proof that wealth does not measure virtue. Even given the strong tendency people seem to have to follow successful others, which is what seems to have gotten Trump elected, there are limits. As Sarah Kendzior so aptly says:

“When wealth is passed off as merit, bad luck is seen as bad character. This is how ideologues justify punishing the sick and the poor. But poverty is neither a crime nor a character flaw. Stigmatise those who let people die, not those who struggle to live.”

   —Sarah Kendzior, in a 2013 essay Poverty is not a character flaw

All to say I don't think there is clearer proof that somewhere in our nation there is enough wealth to enable people to age with dignity: enabling them to be useful advisors and contributors to our society for more years, unlocking a lot of wealth and happiness. They can advise friends, family, and the community in personal and business matters. They can take care of grandkids. They can just not be a burden to younger people who are struggling themselves and might have to take time off for work.

Or we can say that it's more important, as a nation, to have a few Michael Bloombergs. My saying “a few” isn't casual. We cannot all be Michael Bloombergs. Of necessity, mega-wealth accumulates only in the hands of a few. The math only works that way. We're all taught we might one day be rich without bounds, but we should be taught that at some point increased wealth comes at the expense of others, and generally in a way that is disproportionate with actual value contributed to society. Whatever Bloomberg's positive contribution, he has not contributed that much more than other people.

Even if you think all his actions good, and that's up for debate, a lot of those actions are things any person with that money would have done, and are rightly attributed to the money, not the people. And many have done great goods for no reward. So while money is a crude metric of some amount of good people have done, we need to learn that it is not a precise measure and that we are not valueless nor these people with tons of money gods.

And that is what's being debated. Not just "social security" as words, but the values behind it. Our country generates wealth. We have allowed that wealth to flow to a few people, disproportionately. Our government is not a business. It is a group of our us that get together charged with administering a fair set of rules that allow everyone to succeed. The set of rules we have are out of balance, like a clothes dryer with the balance off. The term "wealth redistribution" is tossed around as if it's a bad thing, but it's like with the dryer, it will eventually stop if something is not done to get things back into harmony.

Social security is fair and humane, but it is also an assertion that in our quest to incentivize things as a rush for money, we have limits on how much one person may take from another. There is incentive enough in seeking millions, even many millions. There is little one can do with billions but buy governments or otherwise subvert the democratic will of the public.

That's what we're debating. Tax the rich to bring things back into harmony, or yield public control of resources on a bogus theory that over time we've realized we the public are nothing and only Bloomberg and his ilk have any entitlement to wealth for their amazing contributions.

Push is coming to shove. Billionaires are an active threat to the middle class. The GOP is actively teeing up exactly that conflict, daring Democrats to take that on. Bernie is up to it. That Biden paints Bernie as extreme suggests he's not.

Biden just isn't up to challenging billionaires' entitlement to the disproportionate wealth they have amassed. But without doing so, we'll run short of funds. At that point, we should fully well expect him to make the same choices he denies having made in the past.

So you perhaps understand why I've said I do not celebrate this “anyone but Trump” thing as a victory. I wanted Warren, but at this point, go Bernie!

Author's Notes:

If you got value from this post, please “Share” it.

The essay which became this post started as a post by me earlier today at reddit.

I also very much recommend Sarah Kendzior's book The View from Flyover Country.

No comments: