In the midst of the total post-election meltdown that swept through the Fox News studios on Tuesday night, one lone pillar of reason stepped forward from amidst the chaos and hand wringing to explain just what had happened and why.
That pillar was Bill O'Reilly: "It's not a traditional America anymore, and there are fifty percent of the voting public [sic] who want stuff, they want things." In case we were wondering precisely who this stuff wanting fifty percent might be, Bill-O told us: latinos, blacks and women. He probably would have wanted to also include Gays and Lesbians, insofar as equal rights could be considered 'stuff' that Bill thinks they don't deserve. The stuff-wanters voted for Obama because they think he'll give it to them. Now lest you think that Bill-O has turned pinko on us and is bemoaning rampant materialism amongst women, blacks, latinos and gays in contrast to the well-known asceticism of the white establishment, let's be clear on what the problem actually is. It's not that wanting stuff is bad; it's what they want and who they want it from, i.e. the government. Never mind that many members of these decadent classes are perfectly happy to pay for this stuff through taxation, which is more than we can say for quite few of Bill's white establishment (Mitt included); wanting stuff from the government is in itself bad and apparently the exclusive domain of Women, Blacks, Latinos, and Gays.
As a straight white guy, I'm just gonna come right out and say it - I want stuff too! I am not sure that I'm fully part of the American white establishment since I not only want stuff but also live in Europe. But I am a middle-class, American, straight, white guy, married to a straight white woman, with a little white kid, so I think I qualify as fairly 'establishment'. By the way, my wife wants stuff too, but she's a woman so that's par for the course apparently. Here's the kind of stuff we want: clean safe streets, a good education system for ourselves, our little white kid and her little friends of all hues, affordable health care for everyone, affordable and decent housing, a clean environment in which we can enjoy our leisure time, and the right to get a little drunk and dance badly at our gay friends' weddings. Here's the kicker, we want the government to provide these things! We're fully willing to pay for them with progressive income taxation (less willing to pay via regressive VAT hikes), but I don't think anyone but the government can properly provide this kind of stuff.
In some cases, we're happy to get our stuff from the private sector, but we want the nanny state to regulate it. I feel entitled! Why? Because 'we built it' - to quote the Republican chant. But feeling entitled is just one side of the stuff coin; the other is that these entitlements are the foundations of a real establishment, i.e. a strong nation.
Let me explain what I mean. Establishing things, like a decent society, requires the kind of stuff listed above. Real members of the establishment, and by this I mean the kind of people (not all white men, Bill) who build things like lasting sustainable industries, schools and universities, cultures...nations know this. If your contribution consists of a new type of Credit Default Swap, moving a factory moved to Asia and filling the Cayman accounts of your investors, then I don't think you are part of the 'establishment', you're part of the 'destablishment'. Really establishing things requires good schools and brilliant, committed teachers willing to teach in them, often instead of pursuing more lucrative careers. It requires healthy, nourished children and adults who can function at their full capacity. It requires doctors, nurses and social workers who can ensure this is the case. It also requires that people be treated equally under the law regardless of who they love. The list goes on. Real members of the establishment know this and they are willing to pay for it, that's why people like Mr. establishment himself, Warren Buffet, think taxes on the rich should go up. That's why teachers, doctors, nurses, and carers often go above and beyond what's strictly required of them to provide the things we need to build a nation. Bill's wrong, this stuff is part of the established American tradition. It's what made the country what it is. It's also what made Britain the fair, decent and strong nation that it is in so many ways.
Here's what I am worried about. Bill-O and his Fox News 'Bills*!t' make for good political fodder in Britain. But the vocabulary of entitlement and the undeserving stuff-wanters often finds its way into our political discourse in a more nuanced form, especially when there are vested interests on the part of those in power to de-establish the things that build a strong and equal society. We should be wary of how ultra-liberal (in the sense of laissez-faire) ideas can de-establish some of our most important traditions. This stuff matters.