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Giuliani: "It's great to be rich"

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On July 24th, Rudy Giuliani, the leading Republican presidential candidate, gave a campaign speech in San Francisco. It's illuminating to study the former New York City mayor's remarks because they reveal a lot about him and the prevailing philosophy of the GOP. He asserted that Democrats "do not understand a capitalist economy... they think it's bad to make money. They think it's bad to be rich... I think it's great to be rich." Giuliani's personal story indicates why he boasts of his affluence. When he left office, early in 2002, he capitalized on his fame as "America's Mayor." Rudy formed a consulting firm, Giuliani partners, and began a lucrative lobbying career that has earned him tens of millions of dollars. He supplemented this with six-figure speaking engagements throughout the world. In his speech, Giuliani argued that Dems do not understand the nature of the American economy. He claimed that the principal Democratic candidates for President - Clinton, Edwards, and Obama - "want to raise your taxes 20 to 30 percent, and it could be more." Giuliani defended the tax cuts instituted by President Bush: "Tax reductions stimulate an essentially private economy. Why Democrats don't get this, I don't understand... They attack President Bush for lowering taxes twice and for taking us to war... It's pretty smart if you're going to run a war to lower taxes... [To] stimulate the private sector." Giuliani wrapped up by claiming, "the country is really going in the right direction." It's tempting to focus on the many factual errors in Giuliani's remarks: for example, he claims that Clinton, Edwards, and Obama want to increase taxes "20 to 30 percent" across the board, while they have said nothing remotely like that. But it's more illuminating to look at his philosophy, because it's a remarkably candid presentation of mainstream Republican attitudes about capitalism and limits. Republicans give capitalism a higher priority than they do democracy, as they believe capitalism inevitably produces democracy. This formulation is both simplistic and incredibly destructive. It's based upon the notion that greed is good. Giuliani reflected this in his remark, "it's great to be rich." "Greed is good" has been the operating philosophy of the Bush Administration, which has pandered to the ultra-rich, "the haves and have mores." While there is nothing wrong with being rich, per se, there is something wrong with being greedy, being consumed by "rapacious desire." Greed elevates the personal interest above the public interest and reduces the ultimate moral test to "what's in it for me." A look at the careers of Bush and Giuliani indicates that what binds them, ideologically, is the primacy of personal over public interest. Republicans believe that the public holdings of the United States are a free resource that can be used to satisfy individual greed. The environment - public lands and resources, air, and water - can be used in the pursuit of personal wealth. The Bush Administration has assiduously catered to special interests. They've fed out of the public trough. Behind both of these destructive attitudes lurks the carnal belief there should be no limits on the pursuit of personal wealth. Republicans don't like the Federal Government because it sets limits, either directly through the Federal government's oversight and regulation function, or indirectly through taxation. The Bush Administration has restricted the Federal bureaucracy and reduced taxes, promoted policies that benefit the ultra-rich. Despite Giuliani's assurance to the contrary, Americans don't believe the U.S. is going in the right direction. Many Americans have very concrete reasons for their dissatisfaction: poor healthcare, employment insecurity, or dissatisfaction with the educational system. But the common concern that underlies our discontent is the belief that the government is not operating for the benefit of all the people, but instead to enhance the fortune of the privileged few. According to Rudy Giuliani that's the way it should be: government should get out of the way and stop setting limits on Republicans' rapacious desire for more wealth. Stripped to the barest ideological elements, that's the difference between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals. Republicans believe that with no government and no limits, the rich will flourish and magically this will help everybody else - wealth will "trickle down" throughout American society. Liberal Democrats believe in limits. They know the trickle down theory is a fantasy and argue that sanctioning unrestricted greed doesn't help Americans, in general, it permits the ultra-rich to make exorbitant salaries and buy private jets. When Rudy Giuliani argues that Democrats don't understand a capitalist economy, he's really saying that they don't support the Republican economic theory of unrestricted greed. He's acknowledging an elemental difference between Dems and the conservatives that run the GOP. Liberal Democrats believe in the common good and Republicans don't. Dems believe that the public interest comes before the private interest. They believe that democracy has a higher priority than capitalism; that there must be an economy that works for everyone in order to have a functioning democracy. Liberal Democrats believe that requires placing limits on capitalism, not letting greed run rampant.
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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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