"After every Republican loss -- whatever the proximate cause -- it is worth recalling the words of Whittaker Chambers: "If the Republican Party cannot get some grip of the actual world we live in and from it generalize and actively promote a program that means something to masses of people -- why somebody else will. . .”
Michael Gerson, The Washington Post
The current Republican Party seems to embrace four myths–at least at the playground level that constitutes most campaigning. When I look at my experience, and what I know of history, each myth starts with a kernel of truth.
1. Business always acts for the greater good.
Please understand: I am not someone who grudgingly accepts business as a necessary evil. I LOVE business. If I were independently wealthy, I might sit in on conference calls just for fun. My wife has remarked that the prospect of addressing marketing challenges “changes your brain chemistry. You get all happy.” Business is amazingly good at generating innovation and prosperity.
But business seeks its own profit, not any broader notion of goodness; it often overvalues short term gain, undervalues long term prosperity, and ignores any good it cannot monetize; it favors a mediocre idea backed with money and muscle to a good idea without those props; it often acts on half-assed information, weird personal agendas, and charismatic trends; and it assumes an educated workforce and an efficient infrastructure.
2. Government is always bad.
I understand the conservative disdain for government. I have ventured into Johnston Hall, triplicate form in trembling hand, and been greeted with that special mix of simmering apathy and contemptuous incompetence that is the University of Minnesota Graduate School.
But against that experience, I weigh these facts:
When my father was disabled, I received social security. When the private school I was in failed, I was able to attend a public school. When my widowed mother couldn’t afford college for me, I was first awarded grants and loans to a private college and then I was able to attend a quality public law school. Social security played an important part in my mother’s retirement. Because of a Minnesota law, my wife and I, a company of two, can get health insurance. There are a number of things —from state parks to safe products to nuclear umbrellas, from an affordable mortgage to protected bank accounts—that I simply take for granted. One of my best clients was a government agency. One of the absolute best customer experiences any can ever have is at the Roseville License Bureau. Without government, I would not enjoy the happiness and prosperity I enjoy now.
3. Taxes are theft. The progressive income tax is socialism.
The Republicans have made the ridiculous charge that Obama’s proposed upper bracket rates of 39% are socialist (and that the McCain plan’s corresponding 36% rates are not.) While I oppose the high marginal tax rates such as we experienced in the late 70s, I agree with Oliver Wendell Holmes that “Taxes are the price we pay for living in a civilized society.”
Further, all but the greediest of us understand the reason for a progressive tax.
Adam Smith, the first theorist of capitalism and, evidently, the father of the double negative: “It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.”
Small government poster boy Thomas Jefferson favored tariffs on imported goods, because they placed a disproportionate burden on the rich. McCain mentor Teddy Roosevelt introduced the progressive income tax. Republican President Dwight Eisenhower levied top bracket rates of–gasp–90%. Governor Palin taxes the rich oil companies who do business in her state and then literally redistributes the money to average Alaskans. John McCain has publicly defended higher taxes for the rich and voted against the initial Bush cuts.
If you are ever fortunate enough to make $250,000, and your first instinct is to whine, you suffer from a spiritual sickness far beyond the reach of politics.
4. Volunteerism is sufficient.
Some genuinely charitable friends of mine disdain government assistance because it is inauthentic and inefficient. They have a point. The most meaningful charity is that voluntarily extended from one person to another. The most profound transformations take place in a private space that no government can reach.
That said, in my experience, voluntary charity failed when it mattered. The people of Rollingstone tried to run a private school and they could not do it. If the public school
district had not stepped in, there would be no school. Period.
If we rely on private initiative to educate our children and take care of our unlucky, it will not happen.
There are, of course, counter liberal myths: that business is always bad, that government is always good, and that the only purpose of the evil rich is to write checks in a vain attempt to assuage their guilt. If you don’t like being governed by people who embrace these myths, please just move the hell out of San Francisco.