Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Monday, July 23, 2012

“Reluctant capitalist”: Barack Obama could do worse

On the frantic margins of American politics, in their news invention rooms and their multi-service advertising agencies, the word reluctant is poison. 

It says people must wait, admits that choices are still being weighed, and suggests that America may not rest perfectly on only one side of an issue. It hobbles our primitive survival instincts; it tells our guardians to take their time. 

In analyzing Barack Obama’s rather banal convictions about the interdependence of private enterprise and public goods, conservative Bill O’Reilly, of the “O’Reilly Factor,” took his best shot at defining Obama’s presidency:

“If you listen to the anti-Obama forces on talk radio and cable TV, you will hear over and over again that the President is a socialist or a communist.

"‘Talking Points’ has never bought that. It is far too simplistic. Instead, the President is a reluctant capitalist, a man who believes our economic system is stacked against the poor and working class and always has been. Like many liberal people, the President believes American capitalism is often predatory, rewarding the wealthy and exploiting the workers.”

That’s fair enough, coming from the most influential conservative non-partisan on television. Sure, it’s a bit grudging. After all, according to Forbes Magazine, over a third of the world’s billionaires still call America home. Yet, given what Obama has been standing for since coming to the Senate in 2006, he might as well wear his reluctant reputation:

-       He won the Democrat nomination and the 2008 election by being reluctant about war making, about unilateralism, and about universal single-payer healthcare insurance;
-       He suggested the Republican’s happy warriors were naive about the Iraq War and that New Deal Democrats were naive about nationalizing banks;
-       He still says the Republicans are reckless about tax cuts, deregulation, and a smaller federal government.

In honestly acknowledging his reservations about the happy-talk gospel of his free-enterprise Republican opponents, candidate Obama can, however, dramatize the radical nature of their alternative.

Do Americans dare believe that capitalism unleashed—the unhindered pursuit of profit margins necessary to impress long-term investors and day-traders—will expand health services, cure cancer, improve access to world-class post-secondary education and the trades, and gainfully employ all Americans eager to work?

Since the capitalists didn’t invent racism and stereotyping, and since they breathe the same air as everyone else, can we then assume they will freely clean up the damage and remediate the social and environmental landscape without the EPA and other federal interventions?

It’s said that business morale is lousy and is holding the economy back.

Is the President’s reluctance to turn the economy holus-bolus over to business the problem? Will another fawning president put things right?

In the '80s, Ronald Reagan was able to be simple. He could say that government was “the problem, not the solution” even when his government was on a spending spree—and the banks were actually busy banking.

Today, the federal government can’t sneak around addressing serious problems without a lot more money.

So, problem-solver and tax-cutter Mitt Romney can only sell faith: an unblinking reluctance to see that capitalism also has a dark side and doesn’t wake up every morning ready to shoulder alone America’s renewal.

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