Thursday, October 6, 2011

Elizabeth Warren and what conservatives just don't get about the "Social Contract" with America.

In a recent Washington Post article, George F. Will takes the current popular conservative view on the recent statement by Mass. Senate hopeful Elizabeth Warren to illustrate his opinion that Mrs. Warren and all liberals like her are "twisting the social contract" and promoting some anti-individualist, neo-communist agenda.  This isn't a new position, conservatives have always maintained that liberals are communists and socialists and Godless secularists and they hate success and wealth and people who have more than they do and their every move is a calculated step towards bringing about a Marxist dystopia where no one has an identity, exceptionalism is discouraged and Big Brother is your messiah. 

It's a remarkable case of two people looking at the same picture and seeing two entirely different things.  Rachel Maddow recently made a great analogy about it on her show.  She described the difference between the conservative and liberal reactions to Mrs. Warren's speech as one of those optical illusion pictures that either looks like a young girl or an old woman.  I liken it more to a cloud, everyone sees a completely different shape when they look at it - some see a rabbit, others see a tow truck and still others see an evil, Godless liberal, trying to stick her hands in their pockets and steal all their hard-earned money.  At any rate, I was inspired to make today's post by an email exchange with my favorite evil conservative corporate farmer and all-around awesome guy who I genuinely respect and love giving a hard time to, Mark Borba.  I was kind of proud of my rebuttal to the article, my "food for thought" as it were, so rather than try to use my brain for two smart compositions in one day, I'm going to recycle that one, fill in the gaps and serve it up like breakfast hash made from last night's leftovers.  Get the ketchup!

First, the clip of Mrs. Warren's statement in question, for those who haven't seen it or had it emailed to them either by their liberal or conservative aunt or uncle, either with pride or disgust, either to show how great Mrs. Warren is or what a scumbag socialist she's shown herself to be...

The "controversial" comment begins at about the :50 mark.

Mr. Will completely missed Mrs. Warren's point in making her statement.  He attempts - like all conservatives are currently - to spin Mrs. Warren's words into proof of the insidious liberal agenda of anti-individualism and arbitrary co-opting of success and personal accomplishment.  However, Mrs. Warren's own words are pretty clear:

"You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God bless, keep a big hunk of it."  This is the part that conservatives simply ignore about Mrs. Warren's speech.  She, like most liberals, isn't saying that a person isn't entitled to work hard, be successful, make money and enjoy the fruits of those labors - quite the opposite, in fact, she's saying God bless you if you do and congratulations on your success.  The only qualifier she makes is that part of the underlying social contract is that, in order to insure the same opportunities for success are available to future generations that were available to yours, it is the responsibility of successful people to "pay it forward" and re-invest in the next generation of entrepreneurs, business leaders and "big idea" people.

Without such re-investment, much of the modern luxuries we enjoy now wouldn't exist.  Most of the businesses that have grown into successful corporations wouldn't exist.  Without that commitment of personal wealth and resources to future generations, our country would have stagnated and become obsolete 100 years ago.  There are two things that have contributed most directly to technological, industrial and educational growth in this country - one is robust investment from the government, which brought us things like the internet and public education and the other is private sector investment, which has brought us everything from the iPhone to Facebook.

It's ironic to think that today, a day after the world lost Steve Jobs, there is a whole group of people who think that Mr. Jobs should have just hung on to all of his wealth and not used a single penny of it to benefit society in general if he didn't feel like it.  They would love nothing more than to see a world where Steve Jobs could sit in his mansion, counting his hundreds of millions of dollars in personal wealth and not be obligated to pay a cent in taxes or fees and just watch as America falls behind the world in technology, education and productivity.  "Don't tell me I have to invest in helping that next pair of kids start a great idea in their garage that might become a $2.5 billion company within 10 years, that's socialism!"  It's like that J.G. Wentworth commercial "It's my money and I want it now!

I say this because Republicans oppose Obama's job's act, which gives tax breaks to companies that hire new employees and rewards investment and taking risk with similar tax breaks.  Republicans love to talk about how "market forces" will work everything out and how investors will invest when the reward justifies the risk... well, here's a president who's saying "If you invest, if you hire, if you grow your business and help yourself become more successful, we will reward you with tax breaks and incentives" and they're stonewalling it.  It's not compulsory investment, it's not mandated business expenditure, it's not forced hiring - it's a reward for taking a risk, with the ultimate decision to take that risk or not still being left entirely up to the private businessman.  Don't want the tax breaks?  Don't hire anyone, don't invest, don't expand.  However, if you do those things, you will be rewarded.  It worked pretty well in the 50's and 60's, the idea of lowering the tax burden on the wealthy as a reward for keeping their money in the economy - resulted in the largest and strongest middle-class in American history.  For crying out loud, most of the ideas in Obama's proposal are Republican ideas!  It only shows that Republicans are so obsessed with their anti-Obama agenda that they will even flip-flop on their own long-held ideals just to oppose him.

So then, the party that has always clung to the mantra of private sector reinvestment as the only logical means for American progress hears Elizabeth Warren calling on that very same private sector to reinvest as a logical means for American progress and now, because a Democrat says it, it's socialism and anti-individualism and everything that's bad about Democrats and their twisted vision for America.  When I heard Mrs. Warren make that speech, I thought she had it absolutely right on - those who are successful today got there in large part because of the work of the entire country in making America the land of opportunity.  Whether you went to public school, ship goods to market on public roads, utilize the services of public-funded police and fire dept. to protect your property or hire workers who went to public school, drive to work on public roads and so on - the work of the entire country over generations helped create the environment in this country that made your success possible.

You can't go to Bangladesh and start a small business and become a success.  You can't go to China and do that.  Only in America can anyone with a good idea become successful and wealthy on the strength of that idea and the hard work and determination to follow through.  Only in America can the son of a Kenyan immigrant and an American woman grow up from relatively humble beginnings to be president.  It's not "socialism" to ask that those who have been blessed with success in this country look out for the next generation of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and Herman Cains...  That's called patriotism - making the greater good of the country a priority and acknowledging that you are only where you are today because you live in the greatest country on Earth and it's up to all who are able to help make sure America continues to be that great for generations to come.

This is where the "seeing two different things in the same picture" comes into play.  Conservatives hear Mrs. Warren's speech and they hear the rallying cry for socialism and communism and Marxism and every other "ism" they can throw at her and everyone who agrees with her.  Liberals hear Mrs. Warren's speech and they hear a woman spelling out in plain English exactly what it is about America that makes us the greatest country on Earth - patriotism, collective pride in our country, a sense of personal responsibility for the continued strength and success of our union and the willingness of every man and woman to step up and do what they can to continue to make our country great.

Nobody is saying you can't be rich.  Nobody is saying you can't be successful.  Nobody is saying you should be punished for working hard and making your fortune in life.  Nobody is trying to take your wealth and success away from you.  Nobody wants to see rich people become poor people.  These statements could be repeated over and over every day from now until Jesus comes to Earth, taps me on the shoulder and says "It's ok, Dave, I'll take it from here" but they still wouldn't sink in to the brains of the modern conservative.

The modern conservative thinks asking millionaires to pay 4% more in taxes is the equivalent of Marxist wealth redistribution.  That taking an extra $40 out of every $1,000 they make is the exact same thing as everyone throwing all their wealth into one big pile and each person in the country being doled out an even ration from that pile.  There's no getting through to these people, they simply cannot see in the gray spectrum.  Their eyes and brains only process black or white.  Either you let them keep every single penny they make or you want to take everything they have away from them and give it to crack addicts and bums.

What Mrs. Warren and others like her understand that modern conservatives don't is that the very success those conservatives enjoy is due entirely to the opportunity that living in America provided them.  Herman Cain couldn't have become a CEO living in Africa.  You can't just go to any other country as a poor man from a working-class family and build a company and a fortune.  Steve Jobs couldn't have started Apple Computers in his garage if that garage was in Bosnia.  America provides opportunity, it gives those with ideas and ambitions and determination the freedom to pursue those dreams.  However, it doesn't do it for free.  There is a cost that is borne by every man and woman in this country to make that opportunity possible.

Every teacher who educates a future CEO or that CEO's future employees, every police officer who keeps the area your business is in safe and secure, every construction worker who builds roads and bridges to help you get your goods to market, every researcher who develops new technology, like the internet, to help you sell your products, every hard-working American who uses those same publicly-funded assets to get to their own jobs and earn money to buy your products... everything that keeps the wheels turning and keeps the country running strong is built upon the foundation of our democratic republic.

"E pluribus unum" - from many, one.  It's on our money.  It means that there are many people in America, but we are all one nation.  America's future is all of our futures, America's success is all of our successes, America's needs are all of our responsibilities.  Those who have had the most success in America owe her the greatest debt of gratitude for providing the opportunity to achieve that success.  Nobody should have to tell these people this, it should just be understood

Ever since you were a little kid, what did your mother tell you to do whenever someone did something nice for you?  "Say thank you!"  Well, America did something nice for you, it allowed you to become successful and wealthy and accomplished, so be polite and say "thank you."  Pay it forward, do something nice for the next guy struggling to get his big idea off the ground.  Do something nice for the police officers who keep your property safe, the teachers who are educating your future employees, the road workers who make sure your trucks can get from the factory to the warehouse to the stores.  Do something for the future, so we can continue to be the great nation we've always been.  Do it because it's the patriotic thing to do.  Do it because it's the least you can do to give back to the country that has given you so much.

Conservatives might look at that cloud and see an evil, socialist gremlin that's after their very life's blood, but I see America.  I see a great nation, built on a foundation of unity, cooperation, hard-work, perseverance and opportunity.  I see a door that opens from the inside and the only way for people to get through it is for someone who's already inside to hold it open for them.  I signed that "underlying social contract" the minute I pledged my allegiance to the United States of America.  When it is my time to uphold my end of that bargain, I will gladly and proudly do so because I love my country, I love being an American and I want to be a part of carrying on the American Dream and the blessings of liberty for myself and my posterity.

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