04 February 2015

Jeb Bush and the 'artifical weight' on the poor

The takeaway from Jeb Bush's speech in Detroit was that the former Florida governor was differentiating himself from other Republicans who are perceived to have contempt for the poor. The key phrase, according to the positive spin, was this one:

Tens of millions of Americans no longer see a clear path to rise above their challenges. Something is holding them back. Not a lack of ambition. Not a lack of hope. Not because they are lazy or see themselves as victims. Something else. Something is an artificial weight on their shoulders. 

Admittedly, this could only be meant as a rebuke to Republicans, since Democrats almost by definition don't blame poverty on laziness or a so-called victim mentality. If you take the long view, it's a rebuke to the entire Republican tradition going back to Abraham Lincoln. It was Old Abe's own view that those who failed to advance in a "free labor" economy most likely had themselves to blame, since he was at pains to refute the view shared by slaveholders and many working-class Democrats of his time that industrial capitalism inevitably and systematically reduced much of the population to hopeless proletariat status. Jeb probably doesn't know this and it shouldn't be held against him so long as he's scoring points on his contemporaries for their self-defeating poor-baiting.

What, then, is the artificial weight Jeb speaks of? From what I've seen of his speech, this weight falls upon the poor in two loads. One load is excessive government regulation, which he blamed for needlessly shutting down hundreds of small businesses in Detroit alone during a period when that city needed every job that could be created. In many cases, Jeb argued, these closures weren't about the businessmen meeting standards but about paying fees for licenses and so forth. From the Republican standpoint this is the state at its predatory worst. The second load of artificial weight is the state at its compassionate worst. Liberal social policies trap the poor in a "spider web" of dependency, Jeb said, often discouraging the cultivation of traits that would make people more productive. For this, Jeb deserves to lose some of the praise he earned for the earlier quote, since "dependence" is often just a euphemism for laziness to many Republican ears. The difference with Jeb is that he blames dependence on government policy, not on some inherent laziness that attracts people to dependence, as too many Republicans seem to believe.

Jeb loses whatever remaining credit he may have earned by attributing all the artificial weight to government. There's little difference between him and other Republicans on this point. The GOP as a whole sees things differently from the rest of us. Just as some see a glass as half-full when others see it half-empty, Jeb perceives an artificial weight of intrusive government pressing on the poor when the poor themselves more likely notice not a weight but an absence or emptiness. They want to know where the jobs are, and many understand that the jobs were taken away, and employees sacrificed, in the name of competitiveness, or simply to show a profit for one year. When Republicans acknowledge job loss, they still blame government, arguing that regulations and taxes make it too expensive and uncompetitive to employ as many people as the private sector used to -- or they blame organized labor for making it too expensive and uncompetitive, etc. If you ask a Republican whether it's more important that all Americans work or that the American economy be competitive, they may try to argue that the more competitive we are, the more of us will work, but they'll more likely say, as Jeb did, that "Competition is messy. But it's essential." Essential to whom? is what someone should ask him. Can it be essential to the nation if it means millions lose jobs over time? If Jeb really believes in his "Right to Rise" slogan, shouldn't the right to a job at least sometimes trump the imperatives of competitiveness? He's absolutely right that competition is messy, since you can see the results of global competition for the cheapest labor and the cheapest goods all around you. Might it not be true that competition more than regulation is the artificial weight holding down Americans trying to rise? Dare Jeb admit that competition means that many will never rise, with government having nothing to do with it? He says he's going to address the "critical issue" of the artificial weight in the weeks to come. Let's hope he doesn't go unchallenged.


Anonymous said...

"Profit or Pride?"

That's the question I'd like to publicly answer every politician. Is it more important that a very few people make a very large profit, at the expense of American pride or is the true national interest in a government that gives it's citizens a just reason to be proud - of themselves and of their nation.

Any politician that answers "pride" should be monitored closely to make sure he/she is living up to that.

Any politician who answers "profit" should be immediately tossed out of office, tarred and feathered, then run out of town on a rail.

Samuel Wilson said...

I'm sure it won't surprise you if some politicians call this a false choice based on "zero-sum" assumptions. Only the envious, they'll say, would fail to take pride as Americans in the success of fellow citizens as measured by unprecedented profit. So here's a third option for you: any politician who says it's a false choice may be assumed to answer "profit."

Anonymous said...

In order for those few people to profit, how many Americans have they forced to go without employment or take a job with a lower pay rate, thus lowering their quality of life? This is what I mean by "American pride". When you are forced to work for far less than you are worth, your pride takes a big hit. People like Mitt Romney have destroyed American pride and they are proud of having done so.