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All Together Now

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                            All Together Now

                           By Jerome Richard     

Bill Clinton clarified the critical difference between the Republican and Democratic parties in his convention speech when he said: "We believe, We're all in this together" is a better philosophy than, "You're on your own." Of course, there are overlaps, but the distinction has become sharper in recent years as moderate Republicans leave the party (Snow in Maine, Lugar in Indiana) and conservative Democrats retire (Lieberman in Connecticut, Nelson in Nebraska), pushing the parties farther apart. Now, Romney comes along as the Republican standard bearer to reveal the core attitude underlying the difference:

There are 47 percent..."who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, food, housing, you name it. So, my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Never mind the gross over-simplification of the remarks, or the fact that it was said off-the-cuff to a gathering of wealthy campaign contributors. He has disavowed it only to the extent that he admitted he could have put it more elegantly. A basic tenet of the current Republican Party is that the very wealthy got their reward as a result of hard work and enterprise, while the rest, the 47 percent, are a bunch of lazy bums who deserve the dismal circumstances in which they live, but who insist on being parasites to the rich. As president, Romney would not worry about them. This is a variety of the philosophy called Social Darwinism

Herbert Spencer first used the phrase in his Principles of Biology (1864), in which he drew parallels between his own economic theories and Darwin's biological ones, writing, "This survival of the fittest, which I have here sought to express in mechanical terms, is that which Mr. Darwin has called 'natural selection', or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life." For many modern Republicans, the rich are simply a favored race, not so much because of inherited circumstances but as a result of their own efforts.

The current version of this attitude was most forcibly expressed by Ayn Rand in her novel Atlas Shrugged and other writings. Its current exponent is Romney's running mate Paul Ryan who subscribes to all of Rand's economic and social theories except her atheism. It is most succinctly expressed by the saying, "Every man for himself" or, "I got mine, Jack, (and some of yours too.)"

At the Republican convention the slogan one night was "We built it," deliberately taking out of context a statement by Obama meant to illustrate the fact that no one builds a business by him or herself, but has often unacknowledged help from the government in terms of infrastructure, laws to protect the enterprise, tax breaks, and the workers necessary for the success of any enterprise. In the Republican version, it--whatever it is--was built without help.

There is no doubt that hard work and enterprise are surer paths to prosperity than laziness and lack of vision. So are being born to wealthy parents, getting a good education, and luck. For many, due to circumstances beyond their control--crippling medical bills, negligent parents, losing a job through no fault of their own--the odds are not even.

Sheldon Adelson, who has vowed to spend as much as $100 million to help elect Romney, owns the Venetian Casino in Las Vegas. There people, rich and poor alike, can gamble at games where the odds, as in all casinos, are stacked against them. The rich can regard this as entertainment; for the poor it is too often like life itself. Incidentally, if Romney is elected, he stands to receive in return a tax break of 2 billion dollars.

Ambition is a good thing as a motivator. Coupled with hard work and imagination it is a formula for success. But it can get carried away with itself and turn to greed, and the trouble with greed is that it knows no limit. Adelson's parents were middle-class. He began his business career modestly, selling toiletry kits, and by hard work and imagination worked his way up to his present status. He is now worth an estimated 24.9 billion dollars according to Wikipedia.com. Surely, he is not unique, but it does raise the question, how much is enough?

So, I guess no one is really on his own, just as we are not really -all in this together. But it would be a better society if we recognized that and tried to do something about it.

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Jerome Richard is the author of the novel The Kiss of the Prison Dancer, and editor of the anthology The Good Life. He presently works and lives in Seattle.
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