Romney and Obama: Separately But Equally Elitist?
Peter Lawler is Dana Professor of Government and former chair of the department of Government and International Studies at Berry College. He serves as executive editor of the journal Perspectives on Political Science, and has been chair of the politics and literature section of the American Political Science Association. He also served on the editorial board of the new bilingual critical edition of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and serves on the editorial boards of several journals. He has written or edited fifteen books and over 200 articles and chapters in a wide variety of venues. He was the 2007 winner of the Weaver Prize in Scholarly Letters.\r\n\r\nLawler served on President Bush's Council on Bioethics from 2004 – 09. His most recent book, Modern and American Dignity, is available from ISI Books.\r\n\r\nFollow him on Twitter @peteralawler.
So Romney is taking a big and deserved hit for his stupid and arrogant remark that 47% of Americans won't vote for him because they don't pay income taxes and, because of government hand-outs, lack personal responsibility.
Last campaign, Obama took a not-as-big-as-he-deserved hit for his stupid and arrogant remark that lots of ordinary rural Americans won't vote for him because they're in the desperate thrall of their guns and their religion.
In both cases, the candidates were, they thought secretly, catering to the disgusting prejudices of their big givers.
The Republican rich guy often thinks that American is on "the road to serfdom" of burgeoning dependency. And that the progressive logic of the welfare state is close to giving the Democrats a permanent majority in favor of big and bigger government paternalism.
The more bookish of those Republicans cite as their theorist the great Alexis de Tocqueville. Tocqueville at one point wrote that he feared that democracy would culminate in a "soft despotism" of schoolmarmish and endlessly meddlesome administrators who would take control of all the details of ordinary people's lives. People would be allowed to surrender all control over and so all responsibility for their personal futures. Tocqueville, in his bleakest moment, even worried that they might lapse into a kind of subhumanity.
I could bore you with my opinion that Tocqueville didn't intend those worries to be a serious prediction about the American future.
Or, I could just let you know that we now know enough to know that the road to serfdom never gets to serfdom. Our minimalist welfare state—and all the safety nets on which we come to rely—are obviously imploding. The life of the ordinary working stiff is in some ways more vulnerable and contingent than ever.
Many studies, such as Charles Murray's insightfully conservative Coming Apart, show that more and more ordinary Americans still have "traditional values" and work hard to live with personal and familial responsibility but simply lack the wherewithal to live the way they, with good reason, think they should. Welfare-state dependency is surely one reason—but hardly the only or even the main reason—for their plight.
In any cases, lots of ordinary Americans who don't pay income tax are voting for Romney. They are because they still share the American ideals of equality of opportunity and economic freedom as the keys to personal improvement.
Ordinary Americans even have reasons for voting their moral beliefs. They tend to be more pro-life than not, and they can explain why the choice of abortion is different in gravity and kind from just another medical procedure. So they're repulsed by the elitist Democratic extremism that makes the right to abortion so absolute that it now needs to be freedom even from the admonition that abortion be rare.
Why don't ordinary people with lots of kids—people who in general often tend to be conservative—pay taxes? Well, it was the family-friendly tax cut of President George W. Bush! The theory of that part of Bush's tax cut, it seems to me, is that some Americans contribute to our sustainable future mainly with money, others mainly with kids. You'd think a Mormon candidate would notice and be for THAT.
The rich Democratic elitists (beginning with Hollywood stars and such) complain, in their paternalistic way, that so many ordinary Americans won't vote their economic self-interest—which is for a bigger welfare state. You would think Romney would notice and be endlessly grateful that they don't.
If I had more time, I would go on and talk about the consistently libertarian rich American, the one who agrees with the elitism of both Obama and Romney. He's the guy who thinks that ordinary people are personally irresponsible—and so need to be nudged by various government policies (including those prohibiting huge sodas)—and are all screwed up by their repressive religious fantasies that no liberated person could find credible these days.
You might wonder why we let those people vote at all.
Or you might read the parts of Tocqueville that show how the spirit of religion is indispensable for sustaining the spirit of liberty in our country.
New research links urban planning and political polarization.
- Canadian researchers find that excessive reliance on cars changes political views.
- Decades of car-centric urban planning normalized unsustainable lifestyles.
- People who prefer personal comfort elect politicians who represent such views.
Progressive America would be half as big, but twice as populated as its conservative twin.
- Why can't we have a human-sized cat tree?
- What would happen if you got a spoonful of a neutron star?
- Why do we insist on dividing our wonderfully complex selves into boring little boxes
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