Sunday, October 19, 2008

Left, Right, Middle and Joe The Plumber

The other day I was invited out to drinks by Kevin and I ended up meeting some new faces as well as reconnecting with some old faces.

You know how it goes at these things: meeting new folks + beer = a dorm room style discussion of politics.  People ended up talking like they were in college, except for the fact that everyone engaged in the conversation had actual money that they made (and lost), so it was a bit more personal and vivid.

I ended up between an earnest ultra-lefty and a concerned economic libertarian.  Through the conversations, well lubricated with beer, it occurred to me that our discussion distilled the problem with the left-wing of the Democratic party.

I disagreed with both of these guys, for I'm a pragmatist occupying the soft middle politically.  It's a difficult position to hold, because you are out-flanked, and you can't rely on stock ideology as a crutch.  But it's a reasonable position to me, as life is all about shades of grey.

While I disagreed with both guys, the lefty just sounded flat out crazy - it is hard to be taken seriously when one complains about big business and demonize it all.  The percentage of Americans who want to tend to their own subsistence garden, wear burlap and live in a yurt is, shockingly (!!), small.  Very small.  You people are crazy.

The economic libertarian was of the school of absolute freedom of contract, minimal-to-no government regulations, etc.  I was enjoying the beer too much to mount much of a convincing rebuttal, but overall I can see how folks are more easily seduced by this extreme of the political spectrum.

Who doesn't want complete freedom?  It's like asking a kid whether the school should get rid of its stern principal - of course!  Recess all the time.  How cool is that?

But in the end, most so-called libertarians do not really believe in complete freedom of contract.  If they did, then they cannot ideologically object to child labor, indentured servitude, organ harvesting, among other things.  It is neat and tidy to assume and expect that the free market will, over time, resolve everything in the most efficient means possible, which is the libertarian position.  Such ideology denies the humanity in all of us - a humanity that contains faults and inefficiencies that are culturally ingrained and will not disappear over time unless there is a concerted push back against such inefficient culture.

Overall though, the far-right libertarian position is easier to accept than the far left position, because it does not sound nutso.  The pinnacle of the far right is a successful business person unencumbered by government regulations.  The pinnacle of the left is a person who is self sufficient, unencumbered by the corporation.  The choice is between being pampered and being an ascetic.  An easy choice to make.

It all goes back to Joe The Plumber - putting aside whether he's a licensed plumber, whether he's a Mccain plant, etc. etc. - his story illustrates the left's problem.  The ultra-lefty websites have had a field day mocking the idea of the guy.  One line of mockery has to do with his complaints about the Obama tax plan.

In short, the proposed Obama plan would increase taxes only to those who make over $250k.  Joe The Plumber admittedly does not make over $250k, but he expressed concerns that Obama would tax him more.

Places like DailyKos rips Joe The Plumber for this - how can you complain about taxes 'that you will not pay, and will likely never have to pay' is the line of inquiry.

What the left does not account for is the nature and ethos of America.  We are a country of strivers - we are a country of the "PreRich."   Joe is not rich today, but he plans to be rich someday.  He doesn't vote his current economic interests, he votes his aspirational economic interests.

Just like the average person thinks that they are better looking than average, the average American thinks that, someday, and soon, they will be richer than average. And so they vote this way.

Is it a bad thing that Americans are a society of PreRich?  No, because that's just one expression of our cultural optimism.  Meet other folks and you'll quickly learn that Americans are very a optimistic sort.  Perhaps socio-economic movement is as stolid in the States as it is in the UK, but the average Briton is less optimistic than the average American about their future prospects.

I've met a few folks from the UK who've expressed to me that they're in Vietnam to, in part, escape the socio-economic situation back home.  Every single American I've met here have said that being in Vietnam was about adventure and future possibilities.  Not about escaping America.    

The left will always lose in America because they do not cater to the PreRich optimism of our culture.  IMO, Bill, Hilary, and yes, Barack, are more of the pragmatic centrists type than the Kossacks want.  This is why the strident left railed against Hilary.  And I suspect that they'll turn on Barack Obama once he's in office (assuming he'll proceed on and win).   Or, if we're lucky, they'll grow up a little.  

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