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October 27, 2008

84% Don't Have A Clue? (Kat-Mo)

Volokh Conspiracy, David Bernstein talks about Obama's "re distributive changes" theories and has this little section of interest.

It's true that most Americans, when asked by pollsters, think that it's emphatically not the government's job to redistribute wealth. But are people so stupid as to not recognize that when politicians talk about a "right to health care," or "equalizing educational opportunities," or "making the rich pay a fair share of taxes," or "ensuring that all Americans have the means to go to college," and so forth and so on, that they are advocating the redistribution of wealth? Is it okay for a politician to talk about the redistribution of wealth only so long as you don't actually use phrases such as "redistribution" or "spreading the wealth," in which case he suddenly becomes "socialist"? If so, then American political discourse, which I never thought to be especially elevated, is in even a worse state than I thought.

Why, yes, the American Public is strangely schizophrenic on this topic and many others. Why else can you talk to any average American and have them complain about an inefficient and wasteful government just to have them turn around and (by the polls anyway) support a candidate who boldly proclaims his intentions to expand government and government spending?

Secondly, ever talk to average people about their pay checks and have them complaining about how much taxes are taken out? Yet, again, we apparently have an incredible number of people who are willing to support a candidate who is promising to let Bush's tax cuts expire (a tax cut that was across the board for all economic classes) that will essentially raise taxes on everyone while giving back "tax credits" that not everyone will be able to take advantage of (or will know to do so without having someone else do their taxes) and when the tax cuts actually do expire will be an aggregate net loss, raise the taxes on small businesses and on investments, etc, etc, etc.

Let's be realistic. Most Americans see the government as "the government", as if it was some monolithic, self-propelled machine. They see the people that they elect as "steering" the machine, but largely unable to control it. Except the president. Whoever is president is considered "at the helm" so, if the machine goes off course or does something funky, it's not about courts or congress, it's the machine and the helmsman.

The "machine" of government is totally separate from the people. It must be, because, if the people actually felt like they had a say in running it, surely it wouldn't be so inefficient and costly. Just ask any American. They could tell you at least one government department they could recommend changes to. Like the DMV or the IRS.

Why else can people be extremely angry about the bailout and yet see the Democrat congress as the people that pulled our financial stones out of the fire when it was the Democrats in congress who helped set it up for the fall? It wasn't these people, it was "the government."

On that same note, while they recognize that the government has "taken their money" to give to the "Wall Street Fat Cats", they either believe that the money being given to themselves is money the government created or they believe they have paid in so much money personally that the government "owes" them. Or, just as badly, they believe that government "legal plunder" is being given out to everyone else so they might as well get "their share".

On the other hand, actually calling it what it is, redistribution, does have certain connotations of Communism and Socialism, which the people (particularly the older variety that experienced any part of the nasty part of the Cold War) still comprehend is "bad". So, even if what is happening with protectionist tariffs, the destruction of free trade agreements, tax welfare, minimum wages and all the other "benefits" of socialism, they just can't bring themselves to say it.

Which is also why the people complain endlessly about crooked politicians, earmarks and lobbyists and still elect the same group of thieves. Largely because they don't consider their own elected politicians as members of the "thieves den", but champions protecting the constituents interests by getting their fair share or some part of their own money back. Everybody else's politicians are thieves.

So, is the American political discourse worse than Bernstein thought? Well, I don't want to point this out, but where, exactly, has Bernstein been all these decades? We are talking about the creators of the "Great Society" with Medicare, Medicaid and Welfare who went on to demonize and defeat the Soviet Union and Communism while decrying socialist leanings of Europe.

But, let's be honest. The issue here isn't just that there is some redistributionist tendencies in the government, but that people do have a certain line they don't want to cross. The one they think will tip the US from being a Democratic Republic to a Socialist Democracy. They don't think we've crossed that line already or, more likely, keep moving the goals further out as the nation becomes more wealthy and they think that "the government" can afford more and more "benefits" without actually turning "socialist".

So, the truth is, yes, the American political discourse is worse than Bernstein thought, but that's just because he gave it too much credence in the first place.

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posted by xgenghisx at 10:51 PM

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