PITHY POLEMICS

 
(1) On Being Great – (MR)
 
Murray Kempton said when Lyndon Johnson announced the Great Society that he would prefer a good one.
 
That insight is quite relevant today when we hear that Vladimer Putin and Donald Trump – an odd couple - want to make their respective countries great again. 
 
At least for countries, being great does not require being good – in fact, achieving greatness may well preclude being good.   A friend of mine once noticed that Hitler was not just a very very naughty man.  Naughtiness and evil do not exist on the same scale.  So too, perhaps to our surprise, greatness and goodness are not on the same scale.
 
For a country to achieve greatness seems to require power, dominance, war.  Both Putin’s actions and Trump’s words show that that is what they have in mind when they call their people to greatness. 
 
For my part, like Kempton, I would prefer that we strive hard to be a good society.  And that we choose leaders who have aim elsewhere – not lower but elsewhere -  than greatness.
 
(2.) Patriotism – (MR)
 
I had seen Michael Moore’s new documentary What to Invade Next and was discussing its interest and power with my son.  He told me that a co-worker had said of Moore’s films ‘Why should I see them?  They are so unpatriotic.’
 
I was once again astonished at such a conception of patriotism.  Moore is hugely patriotic – he desperately wants his country to become a better place to live and he spends a large amount of time, energy and money trying to make us see that we both need to be better and that it can be accomplished.
 
 
Socrates said at his trial that he was a gadfly to Athens, sent by the gods to sting the huge sluggish city into paying attention – and now that they had sentenced him to death, tired of his stings, they were going to find what they had lost.  One doesn’t have to think that Michael Moore is the Socrates of our country to notice that his mission is that of a gadfly.
 
(3.) Economic Miscellany – (BG)

There is statistical evidence that, when labor is cheap, employers spend less on labor-saving equipment and thereby increase productivity less.  A strategy for economic growth which is based on low wages is doomed to fail.
 
 Income inequality is greater in larger businesses, partially because the top echelon has greater financial resources to balloon its own compensation, partially because their employees accept lower pay in return for the expectation that they will have a more secure job, some benefits and possibly a ladder of promotions.  Since all industries consolidate over time as weaker competitors fail or are bought out, the trend toward bigness will continue, thereby tending to increase inequality.  The need for employee unions increases; the case for breaking up big businesses is as strong as it was during the trust-busting days in the early 1900s, and it isn't limited to big banks.
 
Stockbrokers, mutual fund representatives, insurance agents and other financial advisors should be subject to the fiduciary standard for all their clients, not only for retirement account clients as proposed by President Obama.  The fiduciary standard must also be applied to the bosses of these advisors and to the promoters of investments which they sell, because the advisors are dependent on their bosses and the promoters to tell them the full truth so that the advisors can tell their clients.  The game until now has been for the bosses and promoters to tell the advisors only what they want the clients to be told, so that the advisors will misinform with sincerity.
 
 
(4.) How do Progressives Slice Up the Electorate? – (MR)
 
Joan Walsh is a most sensible commentator.  But being sensible doesn’t work when you are playing in the wrong stadium.
 
Bernie Sanders is not trying to build a coalition of either white voters and especially not of white working class voters.  Look at who are attending his rallies, who are fastening on his bumper stickers:  they are not working class.  But they are importantly white – but to focus upon that first is a mistake.
 
Walsh is operating out of (a version of) identity politics – Sanders is trying to set that model aside.  If you want to characterize what he is up to it is that he is trying to structure our political discourse around the Occupy slogan, namely the distinction between the 99% and the 1%.  In that the difference between white and black, females and males, young and old, working and middle class, and so on vanish.  99% of us, no matter what those other distinctions, are in the same boat.  Walsh simply cannot see that Sanders’ is trying to change the game of how we slice up the sides in the political game.
 
For those who see the aim and actions of Bernie’s campaign that way, there remains a problem of why black voters do not see what is going on.  I think that there are several non-competing explanations of that – or better that the explanation must refer to several different themes.  But that is a discussion for another day. 
 
The crucial thing is to realize that Bernie is trying to slice the pie in a different manner, a manner crucially connected to the Occupy Movement.  It is unfortunate that he and his campaign are unable to articulate what they are up to in terms that would enable Walsh and others to see how he is attempting to shift our way of thinking of who we are to ally with.
 
(5.) Open Letter to President Obama – (MR)
 
Mr. President:  It has been reported that last week you were advising Bernie Sanders’ supporters that the time has come to abandon his campaign and unite behind Hillary.  Let me set aside for now the young people whom Bernie has energized and concentrate only upon those of us who have been engaged in politics for some time.
 
Should we accept your advice, to now throw our efforts behind Hillary Clinton?  The answer has to be No.  To understand why we must not give up on the Sanders’ campaign, it is necessary to understand both the history of our present circumstances and its logic.
 
Our, that is we Sanders’ supporters, long term view is that the Democratic Party for some time now has been mired in a set of ideas and in a number of connections to persons and institutions from which it is necessary to escape in order to fully move this country forward.  We might call those ideas and relationships The Democratic Establishment or the Wall Street-Corporations-Democratic complex.  Your advice to get behind Hillary now is a recommendation that we accept the establishment view of things.
 
We who are now supporting Bernie thought in 2008 that in you, Mr. President, we had found someone who was free of the grip of that view.  We thought that you would be a transformational President, that you would be a new version of FDR. No doubt that was a piece of self-delusion on our part.  But how could a very intelligent and well-educated young black man not see the direction the country needed to go?  You did challenge the status quo on Iraq and we assumed that that was a sign that you were importantly free from the blandishments of other snares of the establishment.  We noticed that you did say in the campaign that you would be a unifier – no doubt it was dumb to do so but we took that as campaign rhetoric from someone who must know that the powers in the country had to be confronted not coddled?
 
I still clearly remember the screams of bewildered pain when your early appointment of Geithner and Summers as your economic team was announced.  We were sure we had a President who would lead us out of the past and here he was immediately crawling in bed with the enemy.
 
That was the start of our realization that you were thoroughly enmeshed in the status quo and that we would have to wait for someone else to come along who was able to avoid being caught in that set of ideas and connections that have become Democratic orthodoxy. 
 
And then along came Elizabeth Warren recognizing that the rules are rigged in favor of the rich and powerful.  She was followed by Bernie Sanders with an even broader vision.  They both have what you lack: despite your command of rhetoric you do not have the capacity to explain to the American people where we are and what must be done to move the party and the country away from the ground zero.  So we progressives, after such disappointment, latched on to them with joy.
 
Now you, having been comfortable with the insiders all along (to our surprise), are asking us return to the security of the establishment.   We, however, are not going to surrender to the forces that you accepted and that Hillary champions so well.  And if the world does not work out as it should, if Hillary wins the nomination of the Democratic Party, we shall have to find some way of opposing the dark side, i.e. Trump, Cruz and the entire Republican party, without embracing what has become mainstream within the Democratic Party.
 
Final note: the young who have been galvanized into action by Bernie are not likely to heed a call to support Hillary.  As in Shakespeare, the reply to he who claims to be able to call spirits from the vasty deep is ‘But will they come when you call for them?’  Those young who Bernie has energized with a new and different picture of how things might be have no historical ties to the Democratic Party and to establishment thinking:  you may call them to switch allegiance but they have no special reason to do so.  To get them to unite behind Hillary is going to require not advice from you, or even from Bernie, but a public recognition of the power of his message and a promise that the Democratic Party will move in that direction.