A truly compelling argument for something you don’t believe in often brings out the best and worse in people. The best in the sense that they marshal their talents to mount a vigorous attack. The worse because the attack is usually build on a foundation of rhetorical devices intentionally constructed to mislead, not inform and certainly not to refute on the merits.
The truly compelling argument was made for liberalism (yes, that most denigrated of labels) by Elizabeth Warren, Democratic candidate for Senate in Massachusetts, former head of the congressional oversight council for the TARP bank bailout program, and intellectual parent for the Consumer Financial Product Bureau, among too many other things to list here.
This caused conservative pundit and syndicated columnist George Will to skewer her in his column in a rhetorical tour de force. Usually such things end there. Such august pundits, especially those revered by the other august pundits, usually get away with such things routinely. Never criticize a fellow pundit appears to be an iron rule of punditry.
But, the rule was broken in this case. Fellow pundit and fellow Washington Post columnist, E.J. Dionne, Jr., takes on George Will directly and by name in his column today. While this happens routinely on the internet among lesser pundits, it is the rarest of things among top tier published pundits, but anyone reading Dionne’s column today will wish there was much more of this.
What was it that got the conservative icon so worked up? As well summarized by Dionne, it was nothing short of this revolutionary (or, as Will suggests, anti-American) sentiment: “In other words, there are no self-made people because we are all part of society. Accomplished people benefit from advantages created by earlier generations (of parents whom we didn’t choose and taxpayers whom we’ve never met) and by the simple fact that they live in a country that provides opportunities that are not available everywhere. The successful thus owe quite a lot to the government and social structure that made their success possible.”
Those beliefs used to be widely shared across the political spectrum, but no more. As the worship of markets has pervaded almost every aspect of America and as the financial elites and their allies have promoted the idea that they are totally self-made and entirely deserving of any and all riches they can put their arms around, the idea, indeed the fact, that each generation of Americans begins by standing on a foundation built by prior generations of sacrificing, hard-working, tax-paying Americans has been denigrated and dismissed.
Whether one is a self-made millionaire, has inherited wealth or has nothing at all to speak of, all Americans are in debt to prior generations and to our current political, social, cultural, legal and economic system for the ability to be one or the other and to be one today, but another tomorrow. That’s why it is America and that’s what America must become again.
Dionne’s column is a must read: “The Straw Liberal.”
As is Will’s column