Democracy should shape capitalism, not the other way around
TheStar.com – /opinion/editorialopinion
September 09, 2012. Stephen Scharper
“It’s a decision between the least of two evils — and it really disgusts me.”
This is the bleak U.S. electoral assessment of Beth Vittatoe in North Carolina, a working mother of six, who voted for Obama four years ago, but is now leaning toward Republican Mitt Romney, albeit more with resignation than enthusiasm.
While she is disappointed in Obama, she is also frustrated with Republican obstruction that greeted him the moment he took the oath of office and slid his hand off Abraham Lincoln’s Bible four misty years ago. Sensing that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are working for ordinary people, Vittatoe commented to the Star’s Mitch Potter that “the big companies are so completely in the pocket of both sides” that the election won’t change things — not until we “separate the lawmakers from the money makers.”
While her rhetoric has a left-leaning tinge, Vettatoe, describing herself as a “staunch” Southern Baptist, will most likely vote for Romney. The deal breaker: Obama’s support for gay marriage. Given that both parties, in her mind, have abandoned the average American and the common good, her default electoral choice is based on what she terms her core personal values — in other words, her individual biases.
One of the maximum ironies in this campaign is that Mitt Romney, one of the richest men in America with assets over $250 million (U.S.), and his vice-presidential running mate, Paul Ryan, who is fabulously anti-union, are portraying themselves as men of the people, interested in working families who have been dealt a bum hand by an indifferent Obama administration.
And their strategy seems to be working. Many polls, including a recent Gallup survey, reveal Obama and Romney in a virtual dead heat across the country, with very little wiggle room in the rapidly evaporating puddles of undecided voters.
As Republicans vie for the all-important political centre in the remaining two months of the campaign, they are engaging in a rhetorical sparring match with the Democrats over who best represents “liberal values” — term which still causes hives in certain political camps.
Such jousting provides poutine for thought for those of us looking south from Canada, especially as we experience the Conservative-led assault against three core liberal values.
The first is that one should have some concern for the less fortunate, and that those at the bottom of the economic pile are worthy of moral and political consideration.
Second, that the economy should ultimately benefit everyone in a society, not just the wealthy and the mega-wealthy, and that government has some role in fostering such a balanced economic environment.
And third, that democracy itself is what should shape the type of capitalism a society embraces, not the other way around. In other words, a democratic political system, rather than the free market, should be the Prime Mover in contouring a nation’s economic landscape.
While the Republicans are striving to co-opt the first value, with critiques of how Obama has abandoned working families, and are nibbling around the second, with Romney claiming that he would eliminate taxes on savings for the middle-class, they just cannot swallow the third.
For right-leaning Republicans, the free market has become a type of American Idol, a virtually unassailable and sacrosanct reality that in many ways trumps democracy as the core of the American project. While happy to suspend tenets of the U.S. Constitution in the name of homeland security, and at times assailing U.S. founding father Thomas Jefferson for being anti-Christian, members of the Republican party rarely, if ever, speak out against the “free market.” It has supplanted democracy as their political lodestar.
Obama, like our many of our political leaders in Canada, needs to champion this third democratic value. Rather than the values of the so-called free market, democratic core values are, at root, collective, policy-related, social values, not simply personal prejudices. Ultimately, an election must be about these wider social values. Otherwise our elections will devolve into a bagatelle of biases, a potpourri of personal value differences rather than a referendum on what kind of economic, political, and ecological society we hope to become.
When it comes to these social values, we need to remember that democracy is a package deal.
Stephen Bede Scharper is a Senior Fellow of Massey College.
< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1253466–scharper-democracy-should-shape-capitalism-not-the-other-way-around >