In my previous post I indicated I would write about Medicaid today, but I changed my mind after the recent hullabaloo over President Obama saying: “If you’ve got a business you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Though it was just more political game playing, it also reflects a key difference in perspective between the two parties.
Some time ago I read about a study of attitudinal differences between Democrats and Republicans, and the point I best recall was that Democrats tend to see life in terms of luck or the lack of it, while Republicans tend to see life more in terms of personal credit or fault.
When you think of your successes how much gratitude do you feel to others for helping you achieve? And when you see the troubles of others, how much fault do you accord them? Did they not work hard enough? Were they just too foolish to deserve better?
In other words, when something bad has happened to someone else a Democrat is more likely to think that could have happened to him: “When you hear about all these people who’ve lost all this money, you can’t help thinking there but for the grace of God go I.” A Republican’s inclination would be to think: “If they lost their money they probably deserved to (*1).”
The recent flap over Obama’s words above reflects this difference in views. If you read what he said in total (quoted in the article at the bottom) rather than words the rabid right, always eager to smear him, took out of context, you will see he is not denigrating independent entreprenures, but only pointing out that “no man is an island”, that whatever we accomplish is tied to contributions made by others to our success, sometimes in the form of government.
In other words, he is expressing a Democrat’s tendency of thought, just as the rabid right is expressing a Republican’s emphasis on individual responsibility – credit or blame – albeit in a totally unfair depiction. Not that they care. The more foreign, less American they can paint Obama, the better off they think they will do in the election (*2).
Rushbo, as he likes to call himself, the high priest of the rabid right, has jumped all over that out-of-context comment saying it is now “undeniable” that Obama “hates America”, and others on the right just shake their heads at the President being woefully “out of touch” with how the economy works. What I find interesting is that no one would suggest Warren Buffet is out of touch with how our economy works, yet he is a strong supporter of Obama. Has he secretly gone insane?
An avid capitalist, Buffet has made billions in investments with his understanding and acumen of how our economy works. He exemplifies the Republican creed, but he doesn’t identify with it. Born middle class but now the third richest man in the world, he could claim credit for it all, and few would object. But he doesn’t think that way:
When questioned about his success in a Time interview, he said: “I’ve had all this good fortune…. It starts with being born in this country, though. It starts with being born male in 1930.” With a bit more thought, I’m sure he would have added “white” to his list. Buffet feels gratitude for what the American system has given him and feels it is duty to give back. A successful Republican businessman would more likely think: Give back? I didn’t take anything from anyone. I created something that benefitted others as well as myself.
Returning to the Affordable Care Act, backing or not backing a plan to extend health insurance to 30 million largely depends on which view of life you hold, that of Warren Buffet or, let’s say, Donald Trump. Are those who lack insurance mostly responsible for that? Shouldn’t they have just been smarter and tried harder? Or has bad luck played a key role for most of them, including being born less fortunate than most, beginning life lodged in a cycle of poverty?
That is the deciding question. That is the heart of the matter.
(*1) I wonder how many Republicans invested heavily with Bernie Madoff and to what extent they hold themselves to blame for their losses.
(*2) The eagerness to smear Obama as un-American at heart prompted a firestorm of misinformation placing Obama in France on July 4th referred to in my July 6 Smatterings post.
- What Did Obama Actually Say? (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com)