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)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A crippling fear of a long word — “redistribution”

On the front page of Sunday’s New York Times, John Harwood presented a lurid picture of what scares the best liberal marketers since the New Deal. Obama’s White House is afraid that voters will learn now what history will surely note: Obamacare is a big deal because it actually does redistribute health benefits and costs among Americans.

Liberals and social democrats may or may not be better parents, lovers, and poets than conservatives. On this continent, however, they’re certainly more sensitive about the words they decide to use in politics.

Universal health insurance, as Harwood points out, will redistribute purchasing power from those with substantial pre-tax incomes, robust health, no family responsibilities, and no blemishes on their health records to other Americans with modest or no taxable income, with risky health profiles, and with kids to worry about. Also, it levels insurance premiums for men and women, at the expense of men who never get pregnant. It waters down the exorbitant privilege that seniors have enjoyed as automatic recipients of "socialized" medicine.

Obamacare is defensible on grounds of fairness, and politically. As with social insurance and unemployment insurance, it will probably elect future politicians committed to making it work and will defeat statewide and national politicians who’d wish it away. If Obamacare survives the next couple of years and becomes another feature of the status quo, it could be a winner for liberals. But getting there means change — and change requires “redistribution.”

However, Democrat power broker William M. Daley has laid down the law:

“Redistribution is a loaded word that conjures up all sorts of unfairness in people’s minds,” said William M. Daley, who was Mr. Obama’s chief of staff at the time. Republicans wield it “as a hammer” against Democrats, he said, adding, “It’s a word that, in the political world, you just don’t use.”

Norman Mailer (in his book Miami and the Siege of Chicago, I think) sneered that a liberal would rather “jack off at a beautiful thought than have a dubious fuck with a mean woman.”

Little did he know.

Liberals love the idea that politics can change things for the better. They even admit publicly that they believe in public power. They just can’t seem to spit out the mean words that accurately describe what all productive governments do: redistribute resources, alter market rules, and provide new benefits to some individuals — but not to everyone, equally, at the same time.

Harwood ends his piece with a cringingly fatuous defense of Obamacare by its author, Barack Obama:

“Understand this is not a redistribution argument,” the President told his audience then. “This is not about taking from rich people to give to poor people. This is about us together making investments in our country so everybody’s got a fair shot.”

Actually, social justice and the amelioration of pain are only incidentally good investments. They’re more affordable in affluent societies. They’re done, however, for reasons of conscience and fellowship and are financed by levying taxes and charges, whether by brand-name liberals or conservatives.

Not being truthful about what government does weakens the credibility of reformers on any number of fine causes. Calling for a "price" on carbon, insisting that we need universal public daycare, enriching public pensions, and even fiddling with taxes all involve championing some individuals and not others.

Governments can’t do anything worthwhile without creating winners and losers.

The most philistine Republican will at least utter in public the big words he or she uses in private. He or she will take advice from expensive wordsmiths, but won’t hide words they especially like: private enterprise, profit, capitalism, states-rights, and liberty, for instance.  

Barack Obama better secure a decent record of liberal accomplishment, if only to excuse his consistent unwillingness to restore liberal-friendly words in American politics.

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