June 5, 2007
Who's Alone, Senator Clinton?
Conservatives have responded with outrage at Hillary Clinton's denunciation of American society (under Republicans) as one where you are "on-your-own" in a speech last week.
And well they might, for she tells a narrative about an America they never heard of.
Senator Clinton reminded her listeners at Manchester School for Technology about the United States of a century ago before progressives began their reforms. She told them it was a land of corporate monopolies, corrupt government, women without votes, workers without rights, "a country filled with haves and have nots -- and not enough people in between."
In what way, we might ask, was this different from 1800, or 800, or 800 BCE? It was different in a curious way, a way that Senator Clinton from her Olympian height, apparently can't discern.
The so-called haves of 1900, lest we forget, were men like John D. Rockefeller, son of a traveling salesman, Andrew Carnegie, son of an impoverished weaver, and James J. Hill, a poor farm boy from Canada.
Starting out in utter obscurity as clerks and telegraph boys they founded and built huge enterprises to deliver cheap oil, cheap steel, and transcontinental railroads to the American people. After they were done the Senator Clintons of the day came along and said that their astonishing achievements weren't good enough. Even though Rockefeller had cut the price of illuminating oil by 90 percent they didn't like the way that Standard Oil was capitalized. Even though the railroads allowed farmers for the first time in history to sell their grain across the world they complained that the freight charges weren't fair.
A century later we have just experienced another unprecedented business and technological revolution that has rained unlooked for benefits on the American people. Based on historical experience you would expect the Senator Clinton of our day to complain that the rain of benefits resulting from the information revolution and the complete reengineering of American business just wasn't good enough.
And you would be right. She complains of "CEOs who've seen their pay go from 24 times the typical worker's in 1965, to 262 times the typical worker in 2005."
Which CEO did you have in mind, Senator? Bill Gates? Michael Dell? Or the one-time friend of politicians of both parties, the well-connected Ken Lay of Enron? Tell you what, Senator. Here's a nickel that says that the average CEO is paying more than 262 times the typical worker's income tax bill.
After all this extraordinary business revolution what does Hillary Clinton think? She thinks that ordinary people are invisible to President Bush.
"If you're a worker who can't organize for fair wages and safe working conditions, you're invisible."If you're one of the over 45 million Americans who don't have health insurance, you're invisible, too."If your company has shipped your job overseas and you don't know how to pay your bills, well, you're invisible."If you drive up to the gas station and have to pay $3.20 or $3.30 a gallon to fill up your tank, you're invisible as well."
You could, of course, get a job. There are only 368,000 people in the whole nation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its May Employment Situation Summary, who say they want a job but do not believe that there is one out there for them. That is one quarter of one percent out of a civilian labor force of 152,762,000 people.
Senator Clinton seems to think that the 145,943,000 people with jobs are, under the Bush Administration, "on your own." And she wants to change that to a "we're all in it together" society.
Actually, she has a point. As a candidate for the leadership of the Democratic Party she is keenly aware that her party is the party of "on your own" America.
The Democratic Party, the exit polls tell us, is the home of single, secular people. They are people who are on their own physically, as they may have a commitment problem where people of the opposite sex are concerned. They are, as the book by Robert D. Putnam says, Bowling Alone. And they are on their own spiritually, not belonging to any community of faith. Not surprisingly they want government to fill the gaps in their lives and make up for the lack of a safety net that a family or a church community provides. In short, they want other people to pay for their safety net. As a good Democratic politician, Senator Clinton understands and encourages this.
The Republican Party, the exit polls tell us, is the home of religious, married people with children. They belong to families and churches, living their lives as "we're all in it together" people. In addition, of course, those Republicans who are Christians believe in a God that loves them and want them to love Him right back. How together is that? And religious people, Arthur C. Brooks tells us in Who Really Cares?, are more generous. They give more than secular people. When you give more, you get more, the philosophers tell us.
Conservatives should not feel too outraged by Senator Clinton's narrative. It gives us an opportunity to present ours. And why not?
Our narrative is better. It offers a hand up, not a hand out.
Ever since the beginning of the modern era the offer of democratic capitalism has been the same. It extends a hand up to the oppressed peoples of the world living in servitude on the land. It makes an improbable offer. Cast off your dependence and your servitude to your local lord and offer yourself in service to the whole of mankind in the market economy.
In the age of the welfare state, global capitalism makes another improbable offer. Cast off the humiliating patronage and clientage offered by the barons of the liberal plantation and offer yourself in service to the whole of mankind in the global economy.
The first step is the hardest, as the progressive Senator Clinton well knows.