Thursday, March 08, 2007

Cries of Hypocrisy

I’ve noticed an interesting new line of attack against Democrats. Populist hypocrisy – the idea that it is disingenuous for politicians like Al Gore, John Edwards and Nancy Pelosi to ask for sacrifices from the rest of us while respectively running up huge electric bills, building massive mansions and requesting private jets. It doesn’t matter that all three cases are not nearly as cut-and-dry as the headlines make them seem. What matters is the perception of hypocrisy.

This is an interesting line of attack. After all, two of the Democrats greatest and most effective champions of the poor, Franklin Roosevelt and Robert Kennedy, were filthy rich. Were they hypocrites because they feasted while worrying about those going hungry?

Here’s where rightwing critics miss the point: Democrats hardly ever ask us to personally sacrifice. What they ask us to do is support government-based solutions. Yes, personal initiative is welcome (particularly in Gore’s cures for climate crisis) but, ultimately, all they’re asking is that we elect leaders who will marshal the power of government to address liberal concerns. Eventually we’ll have to pay higher taxes (particularly if we’re wealthy) but that’s a down-the-road matter.

The Republicans are the ones that generally demand personal initiative – whether it’s staying chaste before marriage or pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps without government assistance. A Republican politician who, for unfathomable reasons, was on welfare while cutting funds to that program would be a hypocrite. But a Democrat who lives in a mansion while increasing welfare spending is not.

The Democrats err not in failing to abandon privilege but in failing to look outside government power for solutions. John Edwards supports more government programs for the poor. But what if he instead supported living humbly and giving excess wealth to charity? Does not earnest sacrifice trump a willingness to pay higher taxes?

Morally, yes. But practically? Could we really be economically successful if we gave up the very-American desire to accumulate and then spend wealth? It’s vastly more realistic to just tax the hell out of ourselves than it is to expect each individual to willingly surrender wealth, however noble the cause. Unfortunately, most Democrats don’t even try to develop solutions based on individual initiative. They go right for the Big Government Spending Program.

But that’s another topic. In the case of Republicans labeling Democrats hypocrites, the tactic will fail simply because Republican politicians are just as ungodly rich and privileged as Democratic ones. As far as I’m concerned, what policies our leaders support matters much more than how they choose to live.

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