Thank goodness for a 1998 videotape of a Barack Obama who was so impolitic (read: thoughtful)
as to use the taboo word redistribution.
It triggers antisocial-ist spasms on the right.
But if you listen more carefully to this old Obama speech, you'll hear him then, as he does now, also extolling the values of the free market. You'll hear him boosting competition, and supporting a healthy marketplace.
What is this, some kind of crazy mixed message?? No, mixed economy. A.k.a, the economic system we use in the US today.
Here's a longer excerpt than the one making the rounds on the right. Classic Barack.
"I think the trick is figuring out, how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution; because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure that everybody's got a shot. How do we pool resources at the same time as we decentralize delivery systems in ways that both foster competition, can work in the marketplace, and can foster innovation at the local level and can be tailored to particular communities."
More than the one word... But that's okay! Let's discuss redistribution. We should!
Because every time we change the tax code, we're engaging in it. Every time we shape trade agreements and levy user fees, we're deciding who gets what. When we impose fines, or print money, or repair a stretch of train rail, we are making judgements about how best to distribute the wealth of this country.
And we need to talk about it like grownups. So everyone please, just calm down and talk.
Here's the thing. In broad strokes, it's working pretty well. Neither side on this issue is about to take over. We don't live in anything like a socialist country, and we don't have a laissez-faire economy.
Can we acknowledge that, and move on to talking about levels of government intervention and investment? Can we respectfully examine whether a specific program or regulation is effective or wasteful? Maybe we could do a less emotional cost/benefit analysis of a proposal for revenue, or one for cutting expenses. We could have a rational conversation about whether a major facet of democracy, say providing an education to the populace, is better administrated on a large scale - as we do with Defense - because of its scope;
or on the local level - like libraries, or zoning, in order to be more responsive to community concerns.
Democrats and Republicans need relationship counseling. The first thing we would probably be told is to develop some ground rules. And if I had to start us off with just one, it would be this:
Agree that there is no correlation between character flaws and income level. This is just my own theory, and yes, I have the seen studies to the contrary, in both directions. I think the very exercise of trying to quantify it is flawed.
If you presented me with research that found more people at one income level guilty of bad behavior than at another, I would immediately ask, "what intrinsic problems for people at that income level might be leading to your results, and how on earth do you control for that?!"
- For example, if a low-income person is observed demonstrating focus on short-term goals, and displaying a lack of confidence in upward-mobility, wouldn't that be based on learned realities? Are they realistic? What might change them?
(Obviously, I'm making these examples up for argument's sake! I'm using the stereotypes for shorthand.)
- If a wealthy person appears oblivious or indifferent to the toll taken by the long-term daily grind on poor people, isn't it the cumulative effect of endless obstacles that is impossible to grasp without direct experience?
- If a middle-income person shows a tendency to provincialism, couldn't that be due to the competitive aspects of achievement, and the tenuousness of social status and material comfort at that income level?
On top of all this, observable attitudes and behaviors that appear to reflect someone's income experience could be more a function of personality, or family history.
And more flamboyant attitudes and behaviors are incorrectly seen as representative.
And context gets ignored.
So the woman on welfare who gets up at 5 am to go to work stocking shelves is invisible, as is the heiress that puts on sweats to go cook meals at the Rescue Mission.
What if we could stipulate that class does not dictate moral superiority - at any level.
And when we find ourselves thinking it does, we take ownership of our prejudices and bend over backwards to overcome them.
Then we can decide how to distribute the pie without slinging apple-filling at each other.