As always, words and images reveal values. The political fight over regulation of business, and the culture-war battle over health plans and contraception, reveal whether partisans are for the few or for the many.
In my view, a fringe of bad business actors, poorly regulated, pushed America off the economic precipice during George W’s term. Republicans believe the answer to our economic problems is less regulation. They trust the few. Government regulates on behalf of the many. Whose side are you on?
Now comes Marco Rubio, the Tea Party darling from my state of Florida, putting forward a bill that would allow any business owner to refuse to cover any health procedure he or she (mostly he, of course) morally objects to. This is clearly the few deciding for the many.
Some Democrats are eager to have this fight over birth control — imagining this front in the culture war was won long ago. They may be right. But as is often the case, the flames of the morality issues obscure the framework that holds up the conservative view — we’ll all be better off if the few can decide for the many.
That’s the plantation system. That’s paternalism. That’s elitism.
The new ruling class, of course, is the oligarchy. Wealthy business leaders. Let them decide and we’ll all be fine. We shouldn’t worry our pretty little heads about this stuff. How’d that work out when the oligarchy decided unrestrained speculation was good for all of us? In the 1920s, in the 2000s. Today’s New York Times shows that the financial industry violated the law in 84 percent of foreclosures examined in a California study. Leave business alone and business will improve the economy and all of our lives. That’s the philosophy. What we’ve seen in the past decade — and past two hundred years — says leave business alone and too many businesses will damage the environment and make the economy work best for the few, ignoring whether it helps or hurts the many.
(I’m not anti-business. Most of my clients are businesses. My dad was a VP of General Mills, an ethical company. But too many businesses ignore three-quarters of what corporations are chartered to do — serve the community and employees and stockholders and customers. Too many serve only the people — mostly white guys — who run the companies.)
In the America of myth, we supposedly let the people decide. In fact, America has always been run by an elite — those of higher wealth and education. It seems to me that Democrats generally believe the people should have a stronger voice in how the country is run, including providing for the common good. It seems to me Republicans generally believe — despite their rhetoric — that the few should have a greater say, and that will be good for us all. Either side, taken to the extreme, is dangerous.
“This election is about whose side you stand on,” Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren said clearly — as she makes every issue clear with straightforward living-room, not hearing-room, language. “Here’s an example of giving power to insurance companies and corporations to undercut basic health care coverage. I’m going to fight for families to keep that coverage,” Warren said.
Who do you trust? The many, or the few?
— Bruce Benidt
(Photo of Oak Alley Plantation, from angelsghosts.com)