Saturday, December 11, 2010

Snappy Answers To Stupid Questions (with apologies to Al Jaffee!)

Okay. So. If you read my last post you have some understanding of the debate. Here is, in part, Joe's response to my ideas about fairness and wealth:

"Unhealthy societies cost money as well. Back two centuries ago, during the days of slavery, slave owners had a fairly healthy expense of keeping their slaves fed, clothed and housed. They managed to do it in such a way that the slaves had nowhere to go. Does this sound at all like anything that we're doing today with social programs?"

Well the short answer is no. But the GTL ain't about the short answer. Here's my reply:

Joe, I would find your comparison between slavery and a social safety net odious too, if it weren't so funny. Thanks for the laugh and for reducing your own credibility. That's mighty generous of you! Can you bake me a pie too? Boston creme, please. With lots of creme and chocolate frosting. LOTS of chocolate frosting!

Once again, I am talking about millions of people's lives, not what ought to be, in principle, in a theoretical society. I am a social worker and I understand, directly and firsthand in a way you do not - that is to say through direct knowledge and experience - that there IS a sliver of society that falls into an entrenched pattern of dependency, as you correctly identify. Slaves, if you will. Fine. And they sure are ugly to look at, and not just on TV where you see them. It's been my discipline's mission, and my life's work, to ennoble humanity and end that pattern, but not by throwing a drowning man an anvil and lecturing him on my superior swimming ability.

Here's where you and I differ: Because of these inter-generational failures, the obvious outliers of an imperfect system, a paltry fraction of a percent, you would throw out the whole safety net itself. If your stance is not ideologically-driven, why don't you also say we should throw out capitalism because of the free-markets' own sliver of bad actors, like Bernie Madoff, disgraced by his own greed and with the lifeless corpse of his son, dead this morning from suicide, at his feet?

Asking "should a rich man's dollar be taxed twice (or three times, four, etc)?" is a statement about principles. In practice, while the decision to place a higher tax burden on the rich might make them hot under the collar, it does nothing to their standard of living, though it raises EVERYBODY else's. When the rich were taxed at 90% it was still a fabulous ride, a hell of a lot better than being middle or lower class, and the rivers of champagne and fois gras flowed like water. There were Bentleys and blonde dames and fancy restaurants and vast bank accounts and world-wide jet-setting.

There was also infrastructure and good public schools for the rest of us. There was progress in realizing the nation's mission statement (see: Preamble, United States Constitution). That progress has now been reversed. And the tea baggers, the angry admirers of the Glenn Becks and Rush Limbaughs and Bible Spice Mama Grizzlies, are doing their dirty work for them. The only actual billionaires demanding attention without hiding behind PACs and front groups with names like "Free American Taxpaying Freedom-Lovers for Freedom" are begging the rest of us to take some of their wealth back, for the good of society.

You can't believe in fair play and equality without acknowledging that they are not possible without a level playing field. It's the corruption of that level playing field that the rich intentionally obscure with semiotic sleight of hand when arguing policy. They tilt the playing field themselves and then spend a lot of money to trick the players into sending the referees home.

Unless everyone starts at the same starting line, we should not be talking about the finish line; bootstraps and welfare moms and lazy beggars and so forth. The laziest man on Earth is the one who inherits vast wealth. Everyone knows that. Or more importantly, the rich man knows that, and wants us not to.

I'm tired of people using their government-protected rights to free speech to say government sucks. My government does not suck.

I have treated thousands of mentally ill people. Thousands. And most are not at the bottom of society at all, they're people with insurance cards, like you and me. The ones without insurance - in other words, those with incomes too low to afford it, but not low enough to be saved by the safety net - don't show up. They drink or coke themselves to death in quiet desperation in suburban tract homes that look as intact from the outside as the day they were built, while their owners' lives and our society have hollowed out from inside.

It might've been you Joe, who commented in Miguel's space, "what is it about Liberals and suffering?" If not, I apologize. If so, let's be clear: standing by doing nothing while others suffer is not a sign of high moral character. Worse, continually enhancing the wealth and power of the already wealthy and powerful while AT THE SAME TIME standing by doing nothing while others suffer is just... well... fucked.

Fucked, I say. How ya like my bathos?

Now how about that Boston creme pie?

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