This post from Mark Mardell has to one of his most misguided and biased efforts yet. In an attempt to get his readers thinking that quasi-Socialism is in fact a very American ideal, he plays coy, pretending that he’s only asking a question, as if he’s merely opening debate on the topic and doesn’t have a position. It’s quite obvious that he does, although as we’ll see, his understanding of it is rather bizarre. His ultimate goal, of course, it to prove that Mitt Romney is wrong.
Is redistribution a foreign idea to the US?
Mitt Romney, in the wake of his “47%” comments, told Fox News that government redistribution of wealth is an “entirely foreign concept” to Americans.
He repeated the point today: “I know there are some who believe that if you simply take from some and give to others then we’ll all be better off. It’s known as redistribution. It’s never been a characteristic of America.”
I am not sure whether Mr Romney means that such ideas come from abroad or just that redistribution is alien to American values.
But he is on to something.
What Mardell means is that Romney may have hit on something that will appeal to the uglier instincts of the voters.
Despite being factually wrong, he has hit upon a central reason why American politics can seem so very different to what happens in Europe, including in Britain. Specifically, conservatism here is very different from conservatism there.
See, when I said that his goal was to prove that Romney is wrong, it wasn’t just my biased inference. “Factually wrong”, eh? How so?
There is a large section of the American right, indeed of the American people, which does not accept the grand central bargain of post-war politics across the other side of the Atlantic.
And we all know how well that has worked out, don’t we? Or is the sad situation in Greece and Spain, and the general death spiral of the Euro something Mardell hasn’t quite grasped? He’s writing as if Euro-style Democratic Socialism is the correct way to go, and those who don’t accept it are on the wrong side of history. So how is Romney wrong?
The Republican candidate of course protests too much. In a technical sense, any system of taxation involves a redistribution of wealth, from the individual to where the government chooses to spend it.
Ah, here we go, Mardell is going to demonstrate how Romney is wrong.
Of course, hundreds of years ago it was distributing the wealth of the masses upwards to the kings and lords. But nowadays, even if every citizen paid exactly the same in a minimalist state there would still be redistribution to defence manufacturers, or to the police force, or whatever.
This is a joke, right? Some under-educated teenage prankster has hacked into Mardell’s blog and stuck this in, right? Can he seriously believe that the basic business of government – defending the borders, keeping the peace, or whatever – is the same thing as the kind of wealth redistribution we’re all talking about? I mean, technically, using tax revenue to fund government agencies like the military and the police meets the definition of the word “redistribution”, but that’s got absolutely nothing to do with the concept that’s causing all this debate. Yet Mardell seems to equate anything the government is supposed to do on the most basic level with everything it can do if it wants.
In other words, he’s claiming that Romney said that not funding basic local services is the real American way. Which couldn’t be further from the truth.
Mardell has actually revealed his misguided beliefs before. In March, he displayed a serious misunderstanding of the entire argument against the individual mandate of ObamaCare, which forces people to purchase health insurance or face a serious tax penalty.
The centrepiece of Obama’s changes to the healthcare system is what’s called “the individual mandate”.
This means that Americans have to buy health insurance, just as in most countries you have to have car insurance if you drive.
The opponents say the government can’t require people to buy services, any more than they can make them buy bananas.
Notice how he doesn’t understand the difference between health insurance and car insurance, or the concept of commerce. The Supreme Court thought otherwise. Even the liberals on the Court understood how Mardell is wrong. As Justice Kennedy would point out in the hearing, when one buys car insurance, one has already engaged in commerce by buying the car. ObamaCare is forcibly creating commerce just so they can regulate it.
Furthermore, car insurance is first and foremost about protecting other people against what the insurance policy-holder might do. All the other coverage is subsequent. Not so with health care. Yes, the Court eventually upheld the individual mandate, but my point isn’t about whether or not it’s constitutional. The point is that Mardell’s analogy is wrong, that he has a poor grasp of the subject, and that his personal belief system shows through in his commentary. In fact, he also showed this same misguided opinion in this piece, where he says that the Individual Mandate is:
weird jargon for an accepted fact of life in most countries, that everyone has to have health insurance, just as in most places everyone has to have car insurance if they want to drive.
His bias on the issue makes him criticize the opinion of people on which he’s reporting. Even if he provides space for the other side of the argument, he’s not supposed to take sides. Yet he does, repeatedly. Like when he declared that the Supreme Court’s approval of ObamaCare was “good for democracy”. He’s a titled BBC “editor”, so that means he’s allowed to write opinion pieces. How or why one is supposed to separate his opinions from his allegedly impartial reporting, I have no idea.
Mardell then writes a couple of paragraphs demonstrating that he actually does know the difference between progressive wealth redistribution and basic government spending. Which makes it all the more ridiculous for him to conflate the two as he does elsewhere. He opens the next section of his piece by again using biased terminology, although very cleverly begins what he thinks is an epic takedown of Romney with this setup:
But he is right that in America has only slowly embraced anything that looks like redistribution of wealth. After all it was that arch-reactionary, Otto von Bismarck, who introduced the world’s first welfare system, including the old-age pension, in Germany in the 1860s.
America didn’t get anything like it until Franklin Roosevelt – FDR – brought in the New Deal, including a pension for the poorest in 1935.
Maybe it is something about presidents with three initials, but the real expansion of redistribution came with LBJ’s Great Society.
“Embraced”. And then he uses von Bismarck as some kind of “Mikey likes it” example of the palatability of wealth redistribution. Gosh, if an “arch-reactionary” can like it, what’s my problem, right? Never mind the vastly different political, social, cultural, and economic heritage of an only recently largely feudal Europe and the clean break, independent-minded heritage of the US.
Richard Nixon built on this, but many conservatives have never accepted the changes.
The one time Leftoids use Nixon as a good example of anything. Yawn.
This is in contrast to Europe, where both main political traditions after World War II seemed to broadly agree that while Soviet Union-style socialism didn’t work, capitalism if left to its own devices produced inequalities which if not softened could prove dangerous.
Dangerous when? How? Shut up, just accept the Gospel.
We know from Mardell’s infamous appearance at the BBC College of Journalism that he believes that Britain is superior to the US because of this difference.
He then holds up “Butskellism” and Mrs. Thatcher as still more proof that Conservatives ♥ wealth redistribution (his line about how she actually didn’t destroy the welfare state after all ought to shock a few BBC producers and favored edgy comedians, no?). Again we see that Mardell is showing his own personal bias on this political issue. Look, he’s saying, proper Conservatives and reactionaries (Tea Partiers take note) have long embraced wealth redistribution. Those who still reject it are wrong-headed.
Mardell then makes a fatal error.
Until a few months ago it was a core part of Mitt Romney’s argument that President Barack Obama was leading the US towards a “European-style entitlement society”.
Until a few months ago? Never mind that Romney’s only been the actual nominee for about three weeks, as he’s been the de facto nominee for a few months now. Mardell is suggesting that Romney hasn’t mentioned it much since, I suppose, Rick Santorum dropped out. Even so, during the Republican challenge for the nomination, the candidates were picking apart each other and not really focusing too much on the President. However…..
Mardell opened this piece with a mention of Romney’s recent interview on Fox News. Apparently he didn’t he notice that Romney said this:
Obama, supporters, ‘more European than American’ in outlook
Oops. Did Mardell miss this part? Not understand it? Ignore it entirely because it didn’t suit his agenda for this article? I mean, what does Mardell think that whole 47%er thing was about? Think it’s only just now popped back up? Think again:
June 27: “He’s taking us down a path towards Europe.”
Sept. 22: ‘European socialist policies not right for US’
In reality, it’s still a core part of his argument. I have no idea why Mardell chose to say that. Quite frankly, it destroys his credibility. Finally, this being a Mark Mardell report for the BBC, he has to get in a dig at the Tea Party movement.
The Tea Party stands for “taxed enough already”, but it was given life by one man’s revulsion at the Obama administration’s financial help for home owners who couldn’t pay their mortgages – a classic redistribution of wealth.
The “one man”, as Mardell’s link shows, is Rick Santelli, the CNBC reporter whose rant from the trading floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange gave the name to a movement which had already quietly started about a month earlier. But, contrary to Mardell’s narrow mischaracterization, Santelli was talking about sub-prime mortgages which should never have been given out to people who – as we now know – could not have afforded them in the first place. It was that whole Fannie Mae-Freddie Mac propping them up which led to the disastrous debt bubble which crashed our economy. Santelli’s point was that this was the government promoting bad behavior by supporting the idea that it was okay to get into massive debt that you could never pay because the Nanny State would take care of it.
Instead, Mardell wants you to think this was about the government merely stepping in to lend a warm helping hand to those temporarily in need, tending to the poorest and most vulnerable. So he demonizes millions of people for their “revulsion” (an emotional term chosen to manipulate you against them) for something he believes he’s already established is right and just and already accepted by proper Conservatives. Because that’s how he sees it.
His personal political ideology informs his reporting from start to finish. It leads him to misinterpret, misrepresent, and misunderstand what’s going on.
Now for an alternative viewpoint about the US and the inherent “revulsion” at “classic redistribution of wealth”. It’s a quote from early United Statesian icon Davy Crockett. Yes, that Davy Crockett. It’s rather long, but well worth your time, and hopefully you’ll get a better understanding of the US perspective than anything the BBC’s US President editor can provide.
SEVERAL YEARS AGO I was one evening standing on the steps of the Capitol with some other members of Congress, when our attention was attracted by a great light over in Georgetown. It was evidently a large fire. We jumped into a hack and drove over as fast as we could. When we got there, I went to work, and I never worked as hard in my life as I did there for several hours. But, in spite of all that could be done, many houses were burned and many families made homeless, and, besides, some of them had lost all but the clothes they had on. The weather was very cold, and when I saw so many women and children suffering, I felt that something ought to be done for them, and everybody else seemed to feel the same way.
The next morning a bill was introduced appropriating $20,000 for their relief. We put aside all other business and rushed it through as soon as it could be done. I said everybody felt as I did. That was not quite so; for, though they perhaps sympathized as deeply with the sufferers as I did, there were a few of the members who did not think we had the right to indulge our sympathy or excite our charity at the expense of anybody but ourselves. They opposed the bill, and upon its passage demanded the yeas and nays. There were not enough of them to sustain the call, but many of us wanted our names to appear in favor of what we considered a praiseworthy measure, and we voted with them to sustain it. So the yeas and nays were recorded, and my name appeared on the journals in favor of the bill.
The next summer, when it began to be time to think about the election, I concluded I would take a scout around among the boys of my district. I had no opposition there, but, as the election was some time off, I did not know what might turn up, and I thought it was best to let the boys know that I had not forgot them, and that going to Congress had not made me too proud to go to see them.
So I put a couple of shirts and a few twists of tobacco into my saddlebags, and put out. I had been out about a week and had found things going very smoothly, when, riding one day in a part of my district in which I was more of a stranger than any other, I saw a man in a field plowing and coming toward the road. I gauged my gait so that we should meet as he came to the fence. As he came up I spoke to the man. He replied politely, but, as I thought, rather coldly, and was about turning his horse for another furrow when I said to him: “Don’t be in such a hurry, my friend; I want to have a little talk with you, and get better acquainted.”
He replied: “I am very busy, and have but little time to talk, but if it does not take too long, I will listen to what you have to say.”
I began: “Well, friend, I am one of those unfortunate beings called candidates, and…”
“’Yes, I know you; you are Colonel Crockett. I have seen you once before, and voted for you the last time you were elected. I suppose you are out electioneering now, but you had better not waste your time or mine. I shall not vote for you again.’
This was a sockdolager… I begged him to tell me what was the matter.
“Well, Colonel, it is hardly worthwhile to waste time or words upon it. I do not see how it can be mended, but you gave a vote last winter which shows that either you have not capacity to understand the Constitution, or that you are wanting in honesty and firmness to be guided by it. In either case you are not the man to represent me. But I beg your pardon for expressing it in that way. I did not intend to avail myself of the privilege of the Constitution to speak plainly to a candidate for the purpose of insulting or wounding you. I intend by it only to say that your understanding of the Constitution is very different from mine; and I will say to you what, but for my rudeness, I should not have said, that I believe you to be honest. But an understanding of the Constitution different from mine I cannot overlook, because the Constitution, to be worth anything, must be held sacred, and rigidly observed in all its provisions. The man who wields power and misinterprets it is the more dangerous the more honest he is.”
“I admit the truth of all you say, but there must be some mistake about it, for I do not remember that I gave any vote last winter upon any constitutional question.”
“No, Colonel, there’s no mistake. Though I live here in the backwoods and seldom go from home, I take the papers from Washington and read very carefully all the proceedings of Congress. My papers say that last winter you voted for a bill to appropriate $20,000 to some sufferers by a fire in Georgetown. Is that true?”
“Certainly it is, and I thought that was the last vote which anybody in the world would have found fault with.”
“Well, Colonel, where do you find in the Constitution any authority to give away the public money in charity?”
Here was another sockdolager; for, when I began to think about it, I could not remember a thing in the Constitution that authorized it. I found I must take another tack, so I said:
“Well, my friend; I may as well own up. You have got me there. But certainly nobody will complain that a great and rich country like ours should give the insignificant sum of $20,000 to relieve its suffering women and children, particularly with a full and overflowing Treasury, and I am sure, if you had been there, you would have done just as I did.”
“It is not the amount, Colonel, that I complain of; it is the principle. In the first place, the government ought to have in the Treasury no more than enough for its legitimate purposes. But that has nothing to do with the question. The power of collecting and disbursing money at pleasure is the most dangerous power that can be entrusted to man, particularly under our system of collecting revenue by a tariff, which reaches every man in the country, no matter how poor he may be, and the poorer he is the more he pays in proportion to his means. What is worse, it presses upon him without his knowledge where the weight centers, for there is not a man in the United States who can ever guess how much he pays to the government.
So you see, that while you are contributing to relieve one, you are drawing it from thousands who are even worse off than he. If you had the right to give anything, the amount was simply a matter of discretion with you, and you had as much right to give $20,000,000 as $20,000. If you have the right to give to one, you have the right to give to all; and, as the Constitution neither defines charity nor stipulates the amount, you are at liberty to give to any and everything which you may believe, or profess to believe, is a charity, and to any amount you may think proper. You will very easily perceive what a wide door this would open for fraud and corruption and favoritism, on the one hand, and for robbing the people on the other.
No, Colonel, Congress has no right to give charity. Individual members may give as much of their own money as they please, but they have no right to touch a dollar of the public money for that purpose. If twice as many houses had been burned in this county as in Georgetown, neither you nor any other member of Congress would have thought of appropriating a dollar for our relief. There are about two hundred and forty members of Congress. If they had shown their sympathy for the sufferers by contributing each one week’s pay, it would have made over $13,000. There are plenty of wealthy men in and around Washington who could have given $20,000 without depriving themselves of even a luxury of life. The Congressmen chose to keep their own money, which, if reports be true, some of them spend not very creditably; and the people about Washington, no doubt, applauded you for relieving them from the necessity of giving by giving what was not yours to give.
The people have delegated to Congress, by the Constitution, the power to do certain things. To do these, it is authorized to collect and pay moneys, and for nothing else. Everything beyond this is usurpation, and a violation of the Constitution.”
I have given you an imperfect account of what he said. Long before he was through, I was convinced that I had done wrong. He wound up by saying:
“So you see, Colonel, you have violated the Constitution in what I consider a vital point. It is a precedent fraught with danger to the country, for when Congress once begins to stretch its power beyond the limits of the Constitution, there is no limit to it, and no security for the people. I have no doubt you acted honestly, but that does not make it any better, except as far as you are personally concerned, and you see that I cannot vote for you.”
I tell you I felt streaked. I saw if I should have opposition, and this man should go talking, he would set others to talking, and in that district I was a gone fawn-skin. I could not answer him, and the fact is, I did not want to. But I must satisfy him, and I said to him:
“Well, my friend, you hit the nail upon the head when you said I had not sense enough to understand the Constitution. I intended to be guided by it, and thought I had studied it full. I have heard many speeches in Congress about the powers of Congress, but what you have said there at your plow has got more hard, sound sense in it than all the fine speeches I ever heard. If I had ever taken the view of it that you have, I would have put my head into the fire before I would have given that vote; and if you will forgive me and vote for me again, if I ever vote for another unconstitutional law I wish I may be shot.”
He laughingly replied:
“Yes, Colonel, you have sworn to that once before, but I will trust you again upon one condition. You say that you are convinced that your vote was wrong. Your acknowledgment of it will do more good than beating you for it. If, as you go around the district, you will tell people about this vote, and that you are satisfied it was wrong, I will not only vote for you, but will do what I can to keep down opposition, and, perhaps, I may exert some little influence in that way.”
“If I don’t,” said I, “I wish I may be shot; and to convince you that I am in earnest in what I say, I will come back this way in a week or ten days, and if you will get up a gathering of the people, I will make a speech to them. Get up a barbecue, and I will pay for it.”
“No, Colonel, we are not rich people in this section, but we have plenty of provisions to contribute for a barbecue, and some to spare for those who have none. The push of crops will be over in a few days, and we can then afford a day for a barbecue. This is Thursday; I will see to getting it up on Saturday a week. Come to my house on Friday, and we will go together, and I promise you a very respectable crowd to see and hear you.”
“Well, I will be here. But one thing more before I say good-bye… I must know your name.”
“My name is Bunce.”
“Not Horatio Bunce?”
“Well, Mr. Bunce, I never saw you before, though you say you have seen me; but I know you very well. I am glad I have met you, and very proud that I may hope to have you for my friend. You must let me shake your hand before I go.”
We shook hands and parted.
It was one of the luckiest hits of my life that I met him. He mingled but little with the public, but was widely known for his remarkable intelligence and incorruptible integrity, and for a heart brimful and running over with kindness and benevolence, which showed themselves not only in words but in acts. He was the oracle of the whole country around him, and his fame had extended far beyond the circle of his immediate acquaintance. Though I had never met him before, I had heard much of him, and but for this meeting it is very likely I should have had opposition, and had been beaten. One thing is very certain, no man could now stand up in that district under such a vote.
At the appointed time I was at his house, having told our conversation to every crowd I had met, and to every man I stayed all night with, and I found that it gave the people an interest and a confidence in me stronger than I had ever seen manifested before.
Though I was considerably fatigued when I reached his house, and, under ordinary circumstances, should have gone early to bed, I kept him up until midnight, talking about the principles and affairs of government, and got more real, true knowledge of them than I had got all my life before.
I have told you Mr. Bunce converted me politically. He came nearer converting me religiously than I had ever been before. He did not make a very good Christian of me, as you know; but he has wrought upon my mind a conviction of the truth of Christianity, and upon my feelings a reverence for its purifying and elevating power such as I had never felt before.
I have known and seen much of him since, for I respect him—no, that is not the word—I reverence and love him more than any living man, and I go to see him two or three times every year; and I will tell you, sir, if everyone who professes to be a Christian lived and acted and enjoyed it as he does, the religion of Christ would take the world by storm.
But to return to my story: The next morning we went to the barbecue, and, to my surprise, found about a thousand men there. I met a good many whom I had not known before, and they and my friend introduced me around until I had got pretty well acquainted—at least, they all knew me.
In due time notice was given that I would speak to them. They gathered around a stand that had been erected. I opened my speech by saying:
“Fellow citizens—I present myself before you today feeling like a new man. My eyes have lately been opened to truths which ignorance or prejudice, or both, had heretofore hidden from my view. I feel that I can today offer you the ability to render you more valuable service than I have ever been able to render before. I am here today more for the purpose of acknowledging my error than to seek your votes. That I should make this acknowledgment is due to myself as well as to you. Whether you will vote for me is a matter for your consideration only.”
I went on to tell them about the fire and my vote for the appropriation as I have told it to you, and then told them why I was satisfied it was wrong. I closed by saying:
“And now, fellow citizens, it remains only for me to tell you that the most of the speech you have listened to with so much interest was simply a repetition of the arguments by which your neighbor, Mr. Bunce, convinced me of my error.
“It is the best speech I ever made in my life, but he is entitled to the credit of it. And now I hope he is satisfied with his convert and that he will get up here and tell you so.”
He came upon the stand and said:
“Fellow citizens—It affords me great pleasure to comply with the request of Colonel Crockett. I have always considered him a thoroughly honest man, and I am satisfied that he will faithfully perform all that he has promised you today.”
He went down, and there went up from the crowd such a shout for Davy Crockett as his name never called forth before.
I am not much given to tears, but I was taken with a choking then and felt some big drops rolling down my cheeks. And I tell you now that the remembrance of those few words spoken by such a man, and the honest, hearty shout they produced, is worth more to me than all the honors I have received and all the reputation I have ever made, or ever shall make, as a member of Congress.
“NOW, SIR,” concluded Crockett, “you know why I made that speech yesterday. I have had several thousand copies of it printed and was directing them to my constituents when you came in.
“There is one thing now to which I will call your attention. You remember that I proposed to give a week’s pay. There are in that House many very wealthy men—men who think nothing of spending a week’s pay, or a dozen of them for a dinner or a wine party when they have something to accomplish by it. Some of those same men made beautiful speeches upon the great debt of gratitude which the country owed the deceased—a debt which could not be paid by money, particularly so insignificant a sum as $10,000, when weighed against the honor of the nation. Yet not one of them responded to my proposition. Money with them is nothing but trash when it is to come out of the people. But it is the one great thing for which most of them are striving, and many of them sacrifice honor, integrity, and justice to obtain it.”