A friendly rebuff to Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren is a non-crazy left-of-centre US politician. Circulating on Facebook is a neat little vignette about a reasonable view of social democracy.

I actually agree with her statement (left) that wealth-creators should pay their share of taxes – but think it’s incomplete without a dig at the wealth-consumers. Plenty of US pols (like the weirdo bunch calling themselves Republican presidential contenders) are anti-tax, but most of them have always taken a public sector salary, so their views don’t exactly carry water. Here’s my quick rewrite from the right side of the fence …

There is nobody in the government who creates wealth. Nobody. You’re in the public sector out of a sense of duty to others and a desire to contribute to society? Good for you.

But I want to be clear. The services you provide are paid for by the wealth-creating part of society. Your salary is paid out of the taxes levied on the private sector. Your immense job security is made possible by the private sector’s ability to grow the economy. You’ll be safe in retirement, because your government pension is guaranteed by the taxes from people whose benefits are far, far lower. You don’t have to worry that marauding private sector workers will bring the country to a standstill by striking, because people in the private sector lose their jobs if they pull that stuff…

Now look. You joined the UK public sector, and you provide halfway decent services without wanting a kickback. That’s great! Keep on doing it. But part of the underlying social contract is that you understand you’ve got a terrific deal. You’ve got better job security, higher average salaries, and massively better retirement benefits even with the proposed reforms that ask you to pay a little bit more and retire a little bit later. So can you think again about all this strike action, guys?

So is he debating or not?

Oh, wow. This is probably the worst thing John McCain could say short of “Sarah, I’m not feeling well.” The first of only three ‘debates’ between the two men vying to be US President, and McCain wants a raincheck?

(I use the word ‘debate’ loosely – American ‘debates’ are far too scripted and controlled to involve real surprises, unlike the shouting matches we get over here. Robin Williams once described the British Parliament as ‘Like Congress with a two-drink minimum.”)

It’s going to be a laugh if Obama turns up and gets 90 minutes of primetime to explain his policies to America. Perhaps he’ll bring a cardboard cut-out of McCain to ‘debate’ with.

Obama fading?

Hmmmmm. A crowd of only 4000 people when Obama appeared with Biden? Two things could be going on here.

The first: Obama may be showing signs of timidity. By choosing an establishing Washingtonian for his VP, has he done that most dangerous of things – sacrificed courage for pragmatism? If so, he’s doomed. Obama is nothing except the hope for change; if he loses that respect, there’s really nothing left.

The second is that perhaps most people have already decided on Obama (or McCain) and don’t see any point taking part in the festivities. Obama fatigue has set in. The next ten weeks will be frustrating for both candidates, but better for McCain. My call has always been that Obama would lead the race, but McCain would win. Either outcome, of course, is far better for the world than the disastrous Bush/Cheney years.

But it’s always dangerous reducing American elections to simple better/worse overviews when the country is so vast and varied… from the East Coast’s blue liberal intellectualism to the uneducated hopelessness of the red interior, where millions live in near-third-world poverty. And of course, the differences between the USA’s left and right are far smaller than in Britain, even after years of centrism from both main parties. Most Americans know that the differences in actual policies after the next election will be tiny.

From the outside looking in, it’s obvious Obama will be far better for the world as a whole – presenting America the way it sees itself, as a beacon of hope rather than the frightened bully so obvious for seven years. But that doesn’t mean a whole lot to a non-college-educated working pauper in the deep south, who’s seen dignified blue-collar jobs depart and his city, home, and credit crumble. For that guy, voting Republican – so he can keep his guns and hold on to his self-righteous anger – makes a lot of sense. It takes a lot to hold onto your ideology when your family’s hungry.

Or maybe there’s a third force at work here: the death of ideology. Does anyone really have any anymore? In the UK, Cameron certainly doesn’t; Brown does, but nobody wants it; in the USA there doesn’t seem to be any: all politics is just bread and circuses. I’ll still hope Obama gets in, just for the warmth and humanity he might bring to the world stage. But I think the moment where it seemed likely has passed.