Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Michelle Obama vs. Ann Romney

In the old days they didn't think about having the candidates' wives up at the national political conventions telling us all about their families.

But now it's essential.  Why?  Because of the women's vote.  Women don't abstract politics and its issues into a corner.  They see politics as part of their entire world of relationships.  And they judge the worthiness of people they know by their familial performance.  They need to know how a president relates to his wife and children.  And more than men, women need to know that the president "cares about people like me."

So how well did Ann Romney last week deliver, compared to Michelle Obama this week?

I'd say that Ann Romney did the job, which was to humanize Mitt Romney.  You could tell that her speech was a duty, a job that she had to do for her husband's sake.  You'd never know, from the mainstream media and President Obama's negative ads, that Mitt Romney is an exemplary man and husband.  Now we know.

But Michelle Obama is a politician, and it shows.  So her speech was a bravura performance from a real pro, combining touching stories from her family with heartfelt advocacy for her husband's liberal vision.

Of course, there isn't much difference between the two parties on the ends of politics.  We all want a prosperous world where kids get a good education, everyone can get health care, and old people get cared for in their golden years.

Everyone agrees upon the ends of politics.  The differences arise when we get to talking about means.  How do "we" educate our children.  How do we help the poor?  What do we do about health care?  What do we owe our parents in their declining years, and how do we deliver that care?  And who is "we?"

The difference between liberals and conservatives is stark.  Liberals believe that most of these social goods should be delivered through politics and government on the basis of "rights," a right to education, to health care, to income support.  Conservatives believe that most social goods should be delivered through "civil society" associations like churches, unions, and fraternal associations and mutual-aid societies.

Liberals base their "rights" talk on the Exploitation narrative.  The reason that people can't get the material goods they need is because it is denied them by an unjust ruling class and the savage ways of the market economy.  What's needed is a new ruling class that will redistribute the spoils of economic exploitation to the people that have been, up to now, denied access to these necessary social goods.

Conservatives base their "civil society" talk on the Invisible Hand narrative.  People are naturally social; they instinctively act to offer services to others in return for the material things they need to live and prosper.  But there is a problem.  It is the "freeloader" problem.  Some people take advantage of the system to take but not make.  There's the husband who won't work or deserts his wife and children; there's the slacker at work.  There's the neighbor that won't keep his yard clean.  There's the bum that would rather live rough than get a job.  Conservatives believe that if you get most people to join civil society associations then you take care of the "freeloader" problem.  That's because nearly all humans care about the good opinion of the people they know.  And people know who is slacking and who is pulling their weight.  Once you have taken care of the freeloader problem then the safety-net problem becomes much simpler.

Of course, society can never be a pure government welfare state; nor can it ever be a pure conservative civil society state.  But right now, conservatives argue, it is tilted too far towards the government welfare state and that tilt encourages freeloading and a destruction of healthy societal cooperation.  Liberals don't think we have gone far enough in guaranteeing rights.

Which brings us back to mom and apple pie.

Everyone wants our president to be a good man.  Everyone wants a world with education for children and care for the poor and the aged.  And everyone wants to look to the future with hope.

The question is: which way to the future is better?  And how much is enough?

The American people will get to adjust the "which way" and the "how much" in November.  Not by a lot, of course.  But certainly enough to make a difference.

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