Thursday, July 19, 2012

You Didn't Tell the Truth About That


The thing that is going to depress me the most when President Obama hands over the keys of the White House to Mitt Romney in January isn’t that the American voters chose one set of government policies over others, it will be because they chose to believe in lies rather than truth. Lies backed up with millions of dollars worth of media exposure, to be sure, but lies nonetheless.

It will also prove just how bad Democrats are a politics, explaining their positions and policies to others, and how misplaced their priorities are. Because let’s face it, if Democrats, Liberals, and Progressives are unable to turn demonstrable facts that support their positions and policies (or to expose the demonstrable falsehoods used by the other side) into votes or material support, then there isn’t any reason to continue participating in political governance of this nation.

Right now, Republicans could run a dead cat for the office of President of the United States of America, and have a floor of at least 40% of the vote.

Democrats, on the other hand, can run the most likeable candidate in recent memory, who has been the most demonstrably effective President of my lifetime in facing a set of the most complex challenges - including an opposition party in control of the Supreme Court, a majority of the states, and the House of Representatives that is no longer interested in participating in the actual business of governing – and lose.

I’ll say it even more clearly: if Barack Obama was a member of the Republican Party with the record he currently has, we wouldn’t even know the name of the other party’s nominee. And that’s if they had a good nominee. This year, the Republicans are running Mitt Romney for the office, and there are a lot of Republicans who would have rather nominated a dead cat. If the parties were reversed, and Mitt was the Democrat, political scientists and pundits wouldn’t talk about a “landslide” in November 2012, they’d be talking about “running up the score.” Instead, right now this election is a coin flip.

Why is this happening? I’ve been saying for years the biggest problem is that Democrats refuse to cultivate a base like the Republicans. The GOP paid their dues over the last two generations and set the ground work. They pulled the most fanatic base voters into their coalition, so they’d always have volunteers to show up for their causes. They focused on capturing the suburban vote in local elections, so they could make their base the place where most Americans lived and aspired to live – and lived in a constant state of social alienation, fearful bunker mentality, and receptiveness to advertising. This ensured they would always control the conversation. They focused on state elections, so they’d always control the mechanisms that mapped the Congressional districts, assigned the Electoral Votes, set election rules, kept voting roll records, and counted the votes.  

But the second biggest problem is that Democrats, Liberals, and Progressives just don’t know how to tell the truth or expose the lie. Right now, the biggest one you’ll hear about is the “You Didn’t Build That” lie. That is the quote you will hear that came out of an Obama speech about the American system. It is an expression of how that system should work, and how most people should know this system works, and how – based on the long and messy history of the United States of America – how that system, when it works, makes America the most dynamic economy in the world. The speech sets up a choice between our current economic woes and the system not working, and the system starting to work again and our nation getting out of this funk. Here’s the idea:

You pay taxes. All those taxes, pooled together, that’s a whole lot of money. With that money, the government provides essential services and can invest in big projects that provide a material benefit to the free enterprise economy that the free enterprise economy is either unable or unwilling to provide for itself. Such services and projects create and expand opportunity to participate in the marketplace far beyond just those few individuals with generational capital. That expansion of opportunity provided the foundations of almost every small business and an establishment and flourishing of a dynamic middle class unprecedented in world history.  

What types of services and projects are we talking about? First and foremost, we’re talking about the US military, which defends the nation from international actors who would attempt to invade and take the fruits of everyone’s labor as spoils of war. Next up, we’re talking about infrastructure like roads, bridges, railroads, airports, levees, harbor dredging, postal service, power grids, radio towers, the satellite network, and the internet – all projects which create and expand access to markets. Then you’ve got the regulatory systems, law enforcement, fire protection, and environmental protections that keep internal actors from stealing the fruits of your labor, denying you your basic rights without due process of law, or poisoning your water, food, and air. You’ve got disaster response and mitigation so you and the fruits of your labor aren’t washed away, or if they are you’ve got subsidized insurance that helps cover the losses and rebuilds the communities and marketplaces in which you participate. You’ve got public education so no matter what economic status you are born into you have some sort of access to basic knowledge acquisition that may help you improve your opportunities to participate in the marketplace. You add to that some sort of social safety net for those who have not benefited from the marketplace, not only out of moral obligation to those less fortunate than us, but because providing some sort of relief to the less fortunate is far less disruptive to the market than the alternative.

That right there? That’s the deal. Every nation or community that has engaged in some form of the above system to expand opportunities and markets has experienced wealth generation greater than the tax investment they made.

Our particular version, our particular American system, has done very well for many of us. Membership has its privileges. If you start a business in this nation – from a taco truck in New Orleans to Bain Capital in Boston - and experience success, a good part of that is because you assumed some risk, worked hard, had a few lucky breaks, and earned your reward. No one should take that away from you. But you were also able to do all of that because of this systematic foundation that was already set up for you. It is a very expensive foundation, built on trillion of tax dollars and trillions of hours of work from previous generations of Americans. That system still has expenses, and now that you have your success, you’ve got to chip in your fair share to maintain it.

But if you started your own successful business, you didn’t build that system. You just take advantage of it. This is not difficult stuff to grasp. Part of your success is due to the fact that you started your business in the United States of America. Waving your flag on the 4th of July is pretty and all, but participation requires more than that. Membership has its privileges, to be sure, but membership also comes with dues.

It ain’t a perfect system. It has excesses, winners and losers and those it takes advantage of. Politics should be about how to manage that system effectively. Unfortunately, some politics want to deny such a system exists. That’s why the President’s statement “you didn’t build that” is going to be taken so far out of context that it might as well be in the next Busta Rhymes music video. That’s the lie.

Because Republicans want to deny such a system exists. They want business owners to think they somehow hacked their shops out of the wilderness and gained success by the sweat of their brow alone. They want to pretend this system of opportunity expansion and market access doesn’t have to be paid for, especially by those who benefit the most from it. According to them, the people who see this system for what it is are anti-American traitors who follow communism, socialism, and sharia. The problem is, there are so many people in this country who want to believe that up-from-the-bootstraps fantasy, this isn’t a difficult sell. There are simply so many people who think this system either should not exist, that it is too expensive, or that it somehow holds them back rather than provides them with opportunity.

Of course, I’m wondering how they (the businesses) will find customers if they (the customers) don’t have roads to drive on to get to their (the business owners') places of business.

And so Republicans will lie and run ads again and again with Obama saying “you didn’t build that,” because the President of the United States told the truth about how America works, about how making it work costs money, and because there are enough people who can’t handle that truth who will show up on election day in November.

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