Monday, October 27, 2008

"Spread the Wealth Around," "Change," "Redistributive Change" What's the Big Deal?

"Joe the Plumber definitely asked the wrong question, when he prompted Barack Obama to say, " 'I think that when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody,' " earlier this month.

Ask the Wrong Question, Get Blacklisted: Biden, Obama, WFTV, and Marxism

That "spread the wealth around" remark got people wondering about exactly what sort of change Barack Obama wanted. It's not such a long walk, between "spread the wealth" and "redistribute wealth." An interviewer gave Senator Joe Biden an opportunity to clarify Obama's position recently: "...How is Senator Obama not being a Marxist, if he intends to spread the wealth around?"

Senator Biden called the question "ridiculous," said that the top one percent of earners in America are "good, decent American people" - and delivered a number of the Obama campaign's talking points.

Then the Obama campaign blacklisted WFTV, the television station that did the interview.

I don't blame them one bit. Barack Obama almost certainly wishes that the whole "spread the wealth" thing would just go away. And that won't happen if interviewers keep asking the wrong questions.

"Redistributive Change" for America

Considering what happened to WFTV, I doubt that many news services will care to ask Barack Obama or Joe Biden to clarify Senator Obama's disappointment with the lack of "redistributive change" in the civil rights movement.
Marxist? No: Good for America? Doubtful
I don't think that Either Barack Obama or Joe Biden are Marxists. They certainly don't fit the stereotype: someone running down blood-drenched streets, with gore from dead capitalists on their knives.

Joe Biden described the rich in America as "good, decent American people," and I believe him. And Barack Obama's desire for "redistributive change" quite clearly does not involve violence.

However, Barack Obama did say that he saw " of the, I think, the tragedies of the civil rights movement, ... was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change...."1 [emphasis mine]

No violence there. Just arranging for "redistributive change."

That sounds a lot like reparations.

Reparations: Sounds Good

Reparations looks good, as long as you're on the receiving end. Sometimes it's justifiable.

Sometimes, not so much. The American 'race reparations' that I've read about apparently boil down to forcing people who look a little like 18th and 19th century plantation owners to give money to people who look a little like slaves who worked on the plantations.

Reparations, Common Sense, and Blaming the Scythians

About half my ancestors were in Norway until well after slavery was abolished in America, but it's a fact: I look a little like the plantation owners. I've got the same genetic melanin deficiency.

The other half were Irish, which brings up an intriguing possibility.

I've got no complaints, but my life hasn't been all beer and pretzels. I've lost jobs, had trouble finding jobs, and gotten laid off. Someone must be to blame.

Maybe I should demand reparations from:
  • The English
    • There are a number of Irishmen who believe that the English have ground the Irish under the heel of oppression for centuries. And, considering British history since the time of, say Henry VIII, they have a point. (The typical attitude of the English toward the Irish encouraged Jonathan Swift to write "A Modest Proposal.")
    • 'Obviously,' English oppression is responsible for my eclectic employment record. And the English must pay!
    • The problem is, it's quite possible that some of my Irish ancestors were English Catholics who were deported. That would explain all those "Richards" in the family.
  • The Vikings
    • The Irish and the English were both mistreated by the Vikings, about a thousand years ago: Lindisfarne, and all that.
    • Which has me paying myself again. I'm half Norwegian.
  • The Romans
    • Norway, the part that wasn't under ice, wasn't in the Roman Empire: but part of the British Isles were.
    • I'll demand that the Italians pay me, for what their ancestors did to my ancestors.
It doesn't have to stop there.
  • Ancient Rome had trouble with Greece
  • Greece had trouble with Persia
  • Persia had trouble with Scythia
As if it weren't complicated enough already, some of the Scythians may be my ancestors: Norwegians and Celts came from somewhere, you know.

But That's Different!

I'll probably get comments about how I just don't understand what it's like to be discriminated against. Okay, my experience isn't the same as someone who is black, Chinese, a woman, seven feet tall, or four-foot-eleven. I can't even be sure that quotas and affirmative action helped me learn so many different skills.

The point is that, like it or not, blaming someone else for something that their ancestors didn't do isn't all that productive in the long run. Not all whites have ancestors who wore white linen every day and drank mint juleps on the veranda.

"Redistributive Change?" Been There, Tried That

Redistributive change sounds like a great idea, and has been tried before. On paper, it looks pretty good: as long as you're one of the redistributors, or one of the early recipients.

And, it's been tried. Russia made a good effort at spreading the wealth around, for most of the 20th century. Somehow, it didn't work out quite the way that idealists thought it would.

No: I am not calling Barack Obama a commie.

I think he's a Harvard Law School graduate, with ideas that are fairly common on American campuses, and a very idealistic young man.

I also think that America does not need a president, no matter how charming and eloquent, who believes that the lack of "redistributive change" in the civil rights movement was a tragedy.

Related posts: News and views:
1 Excerpt from "McCain to Attack Obama for Public Radio Comments from 2001:"

" 'But,' Obama said, 'The Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society. And to that extent as radical as I think people tried to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn't that radical. It didn't break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution, as least as it's been interpreted, and Warren Court interpreted in the same way that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties, says what the states can't do to you, says what the federal government can't do to you, but it doesn't say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf. And that hasn't shifted.'

"Obama said 'one of the, I think, the tragedies of the civil rights movement, was because the civil rights movement became so court focused, I think that there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change, and in some ways we still stuffer from that.'

"A caller, 'Karen,' asked if it's 'too late for that kind of reparative work economically?' And she asked if that work should be done through the courts or through legislation.

"'Maybe I’m showing my bias here as a legislator as well as a law professor,' Obama said. 'I'm not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. The institution just isn’t structured that way.' "

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