‘What do we want?’ ‘WE CAN’T TELL YOU!’

I could have sworn I saw something similar to this on a promo for the Letterman show (“Top Ten Things Overheard at the Occupy Wall Street Demonstrations,” or some such), but couldn’t find it on the Web. In any case, partly inspired by that, but more by what I’ve seen and read in recent days, I Tweeted this this morning

“What do we want? WE DON’T KNOW! When do we want it? DOESN’T MATTER! WE’LL STAY HERE FOREVER!”

And of course, it’s not just me. The NYT had this story on its site this morning:

Protesters Debate What Demands, if Any, to Make

In a quiet corner across the street from Zuccotti Park, a cluster of 25 solemn-faced protesters struggled one night to give Occupy Wall Street what critics have found to be most lacking.

“We absolutely need demands,” said Shawn Redden, 35, an earnest history teacher in the group. “Like Frederick Douglass said, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand.’ ”

The influence and staying power of Occupy Wall Street are undeniable: similar movements have sprouted around the world, as the original group enters its fifth week in the financial district. Yet a frequent criticism of the protesters has been the absence of specific policy demands…

In other words, they don’t know why they’ve spent the last five weeks of their lives doing this. At least, not in any way that could actually translate into results.

While the demonstrators’ goals are no clearer to me after having read that, my own opposition to the movement itself is a bit sharper.

One thing they seem to believe in, and which I strongly oppose, is direct democracy. One of the things that has prevented them from articulating aims is their insistence on everyone participating meaningfully in the decision.Which is impossible.  (They’ve tried it with Facebook, then decided not everyone is on Facebook, so that lacks legitimacy. Which shows how extreme they are in their democratic impulse.) Beyond the kind of painfully simplistic, bumper-sticker demands you hear in the kinds of chants I mock in my headline and Tweet above, a crowd can’t take a position on anything. And even on that mob level someone, or some few someones, have to come up with the idea to chant to begin with.

Where these folks are on the right track is in their sense that our representative democracy isn’t functioning as it should. But the answer is to fix the republic, not to abandon it for mob rule.

A mob cannot discuss, or refine, or incorporate minority ideas to achieve consensus. A crowd can’t deliberate or discern. Come up with an algorithm to assemble opinions from masses of people and synthesize a position, and you still won’t be arriving at anything like an intelligent decision. (Aside from placing a great deal of undemocratic power into the hands of the writers of the software.)

Good ideas for governing a multitude seldom spring, like Minerva, directly from the brow of an individual. They are even less likely to do so from a crowd. In either case, the idea should be tested, challenged and refined in debate. The problem in our republic today is that we don’t have real debate between people with differing ideas — we have shouting matches between irreconcilable factions who are not listening to each other. And a crowd on the street is just another set of shouters.

The thing is, you NEED a “1 percent” to arrive at properly nuanced decisions for a multitude. In fact, the decision-makers need to be fewer than that for anything larger than a village, or a neighborhood. It’s not possible for the 99 percent to all interact with each other meaningfully in arriving at an intelligent decision on a complex issue.

Speaking of which — something else I Tweeted about this morning: “I saw ‘the 99 percent’ demonstrating at the Statehouse. Apparently, there are fewer people in Columbia than I had thought.”

Actually, what you had there on the State House grounds the last couple of days was about the right number for making effective decisions for the entire state — if they had been selected in a manner infinitely better than self-selection, and also better than the way we’re choosing lawmakers now. Because that’s not working so well, either.

Someone responded to my latter Tweet this morning. It took him two posts to say it all:

I actually sympathize with the movement. They just can’t articulate. But damn, Columbia protesters are cringe-inducing.
to me, there are actually similarities between OWS and Tea Party. They know something’s wrong, but are too dumb to articulate.

Indeed. But it’s not that they’re too “dumb.” They could all be the smartest people in America, and it wouldn’t matter. A crowd can’t articulate anything — or if it can, the thing it articulates going to be too simple. That’s the problem with street protests.

67 thoughts on “‘What do we want?’ ‘WE CAN’T TELL YOU!’

  1. bud

    The movement is brand new and as such a bit disorganized. But give it time. Leaders will emerge and a concensus on what specific issues will be pushed take time. But the essence of the protests is actually quite specific. They are joining together to demonstrate against the incredible concentration of wealth into the hands of a tiny fraction of the population who just happen to be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. Given the stagnation of wealth by the many at a time when wealth creation in total has soared indicates a movement of this type is needed. Regardless of what the Doug Ross’s of the world say there is not way CEO pay increases can be justified by improvements in productivity over the last 30 years.

    Here’s what I’d suggest the protestors focus on:

    1. Return to Clinton era taxation of inheritance. Perhaps eliminate the first million and also spousal inheritance then tax the remainder at about 35%.

    2. Increase the number of tax brackets to include a number of stepped brackets for incomes above 200k, 1M, 5M and 25M. The highest rate should be at least 50%.

    3. Eliminate special tax rates for capital gains. Treat them the same as wage income.

    4. Eliminate the cap on SS taxes.

    That’s a start. Then if we cut spending on the military we may actually balance the budget and have enough money left over for a true jobs program.

  2. Kimber Bell

    Bud for President of Occupy Movement!!
    I agree its a new idea in this country to actually stand up and do something other than vote. To many its silly and it seems to have no purpose but this country was founded on discontent with government. At least they aren’t rioting and despite the fact that it is nearly impossible they are trying to hear what ppl have to say which is more than what many elected officials do for their own constituents. Anything that causes ppl to think about something other than greed and free market capitalism is alright by me. Or we could all sit around and “Encourage the big business to create jobs” again we see how far that got us.

  3. Kathryn Fenner

    I walked over to the Statehouse. It’s hardly a “mob”–just some concerned people who, in the only way they can figure out, are trying to counterbalance the kind of crazy that almost drove us into financial Armageddon with the debt limit while declining to terminate the Bush tax cuts for the well-to-do, that bailed out Wall Street without putting in any meaningful requirements that they clean up their act and/or lend out the funds given them instead of rewarding the folks who messed it up, that wishes to legislate its religious beliefs on the rest of us, etc. etc. etc.

    They are trying to be inclusive and reflect the beliefs of everyone. That’s tough. That doesn’t invalidate their concerns, any more than having Sarah Palin as its darling invalidated the legitimate concerns of the Tea Party, such as they are.

  4. Steven Davis

    Let’s give it a month and then see how many of those brave protestors are still sleeping on sidewalks in New York City.

    When has a rally actually produced anything positive? What does a bunch of hippies sitting on Wall Street actually accomplish other than shut down small businesses that get tired of people loitering in their store and using their bathrooms? Do they really think that the people they’re protesting against are really going to change their minds because they have to step around them on the way in and out of work? Once inside they could care less about who’s squatting on the sidewalk (in more than one sense) outside.

    If bud is going to remove the tax cap on SS taxes, is he going to cap the amount paid out? If Bill Gates is taxed a million dollars a year, is he going to get $50,000 monthly payments when he reaches 65?

  5. Lynn T

    Most of the statements by the Occupy groups in Columbia and elsewhere focus pretty clearly on the excessive influence of money on politics. They are blamed for not having a simple solution to suggest, but this is not a simple problem. As Mencken said, for every complex problem there is a solution that is clear, simple, and wrong. You can’t put solutions for this problem on a sign that is small enough for a human to carry. I think the movement deserves considerable attention for focusing attention on a serious problem that few of our politicians want to address. Your hero McCain tried to do so, at one point in his career, but it is unlikely that anything effective will be done unless politicians perceive that they have little or no choice. That requires public attention to the problem.

  6. Brad

    Well, there IS a simple “solution” to the problem of money in politics. It’s the one that the Brett Burseys of the world advocate, and these crowds would probably like: public funding of all campaigns.

    But I reject that. I do NOT want political candidates to be wards of the state, in terms of their ability to get their messages out.

    Also… while I think it’s pretty clear these folks don’t like what money does in politics, I doubt that they have any understanding of HOW it works in politics. I find that almost no one does.

    In fact, I won’t presume to be able to tell you exactly how it DOES work, because causes and effects in human behavior are far too complex for that. I don’t believe the person making the decision clearly understands how he arrived at it most of the time, in terms of “I got this contribution, so I’m going to vote this way.”

    The popular conception, which seems to be held by these protesters, is that politicians are “bought and paid for” by wicked rich people. That ignores the glaring fact that the MAIN thing causing politicians to make the decisions they do is their perception of the thing that OWS loves most: the will of a majority of the people.

    To the extent that the money has an influence, it’s on the shaping of the original message when the candidate is running for office. Candidates try to come up with platforms that will both appeal to a majority of voters AND attract money. (Of course, donors decide on the basis of factors other than position. They look to see who they think has a chance, which is often a function of how much money they’ve collected already. And some of the biggest givers give to both sides, to hedge their bets by winning friends whatever the eventualities.)

    The problem here is that politicians KEEP those campaign promises, most of the time — whether they are made to attract donors or (far more likely) to attract voters.

    If pols would do what I think they should do — make decisions based upon the specific issue within the specific context in which it arises, with far less regard to what they guessed their position would be during the election — it would negate a lot of the bad decisions they make because of being boxed in by their stupid promises.

    But a populist movement such as this one would HATE that…

  7. bud

    When has a rally actually produced anything positive?

    1973 – They helped end the Vietnam War
    1960s – Protestors were rewarded with the Voting Rights Act and other Civil Rights progress.
    2011 – Protests helped bring about the end of the ban on gays in the military.

  8. bud

    The popular conception, which seems to be held by these protesters, is that politicians are “bought and paid for” by wicked rich people. That ignores the glaring fact that the MAIN thing causing politicians to make the decisions they do is their perception of the thing that OWS loves most: the will of a majority of the people.

    This is almost too easy. The majority is greatly influenced by ads propogated by those who have, drum role please, MONEY. If enough ads are run suggesting it’s a good thing for the rich to be taxed less then eventually that will translate into folks believing that. And those people vote in such a way as to reward the rich with tax breaks.

    Perhaps and even better example – healthcare. It’s clearly in the best interests of people of modest means to have access to good healthcare. Yet somehow they manage to vote for the party that would deny them an opportunity to have health insurance. That’s because of the massive amount of money spent by big pharma and big insurance to demagogue universal health care.

    Money is indeed the root of all evil, especially when it comes to good politics.

  9. Phillip

    Brad, re your last comment, your belief that money only (or mostly) affects politics insofar as the “shaping of the message,” or that it really is the “will of the majority” that influences politicians’ decisions…well, that belief is naive and frankly, I think, wrong, and reflects what seems to me to be a touching faith in our democratic principles in the face of overwhelming evidence that modern hypercapitalism has been on a collision course with those ideals for a very long time, and beginning in the latter part of the 20th century, has begun to overpower the ability of those fundamental principles to function.

    Why is your analysis of the role of money in politics incorrect? Because since this is NOT a direct democracy (and I’m not suggesting that it’s good, practical, or preferable to be one, BTW), most decisions in government are NOT made at the level of public input. They may be the subject of public discussion in the aggregate, but not as much in the particular.

    What money buys is quite simple: access. If your belief in the role of money and politics were true, then how do you explain these two undeniable facts: the erosion of the middle class with ever-widening extremes of wealth and poverty in this country, and the ever-increasing dysfunction of our national political system, a subject about which you’ve written eloquently many many times?

  10. Kathryn Fenner

    @ Steven–King Day at the Dome brought the flag down, and the Paris protests of 1968 were pretty effective, as well as the Vietnam war protests. The Berlin Wall protests of 1989.

    Most recently the Arab Spring of this past year….

  11. Doug Ross

    I’m reading Lawrence Lessig’s book:

    Republic Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress


    He has hard evidence that refutes your notion on money in politics, Brad.

    “With heartfelt urgency and a keen desire for righting wrongs, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig takes a clear-eyed look at how we arrived at this crisis: how fundamentally good people, with good intentions, have allowed our democracy to be co-opted by outside interests, and how this exploitation has become entrenched in the system. Rejecting simple labels and reductive logic-and instead using examples that resonate as powerfully on the Right as on the Left-Lessig seeks out the root causes of our situation. He plumbs the issues of campaign financing and corporate lobbying, revealing the human faces and follies that have allowed corruption to take such a foothold in our system. He puts the issues in terms that nonwonks can understand, using real-world analogies and real human stories”

    I’ve only finished the first third of the book but it is clear that the problem with government today is the influence money has on the process. It’s a doomed system unless there is radical, drastic change — which will not happen as long as people continue to vote for the same politicians.

    Fritz Hollings is quoted complaining that the majority of his time was spent fundraising for his own re-election and that in order to get the money he needed, he had to go outside of South Carolina. Multiple congressmen admit that if they get a call from a $10,000 donor or a constituent seeking help with a veterans affair issue, the donor will get called back first.

    The best solution would be to reduce the size of government to the point where it was not economically productive to pay off politicians. That won’t happen – so we will continue on our path to self-destruction from the greed of capitalism and the greed of socialists looking to take from the productive members of society.

  12. Karen McLeod

    It would be nice if one of their ‘demands’ was that legislators pass a law that makes it clear that corporations are not persons. It would also be helpful if all parties that produce campaign commercials had to publish exactly where that money came from. Finally, I wish that MSM be more active in analyzing both political promises and campaign commercials to order to clearly expose lies and distortion that are rampant. I think these actions would do a lot to bring a little honesty to all sides of the political debate.

  13. Doug Ross

    “But I reject that. I do NOT want political candidates to be wards of the state, in terms of their ability to get their messages out.”

    Is that what happens in political campaigns now? Getting out a message? I must have missed that amidst all the negative campaign ads that dominate the airwaves (ref: Vincent Sheheen – nobody today could tell you what his “message” was… aside from “Nikki Haley is awful”)…

    How about we start with no negative campaign ads. No ads that reference another candidate’s positions (because they all lie about the other side anyway)… Only ads telling us what the candidate is FOR. That would be a great start.

    Then assign the name of a specific person who is responsible for the content of any ad (to help clean up the PAC sewage that gets out there).

    No direct phone calls from candidates unless a person specifically OPTS IN to receive them.

    All political mail should include a postage paid return to sender postcard allowing a person to opt out of receiving any more mail.

    The checkbooks of all campaigns should be held in a central, open banking system with instance access to all transactions to the public. It’s a farce that campaigns report their fundraising once a quarter. The money comes in and goes out every day.

  14. Brad

    So, by bud’s and Kathryn’s reckoning, there was ONE time that street protests has, as bud said, “produced anything positive.” The civil rights marches.

    OK, and the flag, which produced an effect that was slightly better than what we’d had, but not much. Of course, I would submit that a lot happened BEFORE the King Day rally, in terms of a consensus forming, which was one reason so many people showed up that day.

    And I’ve explained previously why I believe those to have been rare examples in which a public demonstration was called for, appropriate, and helpful.

    Oh, and Kathryn, why weren’t you at Rotary today? The 1 percent missed you…

  15. Brad

    Now, getting serious…

    I don’t see that anything that Bud, or Phillip or Doug said that “refutes” anything I said. Doug, maybe you should include in your next quote some absolute proof of quid pro quo relationships between money and policy. Otherwise, it’s just this guy looking at the same thing I’m looking at and seeing something different. At some point, assumptions are jumped to.

    I think motives are a slippery subject. I’m more interested in how people vote in the end and whether it’s a good thing or not than I am in why they did it. Because I’m quite serious; decision-making can be so complex that even the decision-maker has trouble putting his finger PRECISELY on every factor that has pushed him in a particular direction. No one else can really know.

    A lot of what I’m saying is related to the fact that I’ve had to think a great deal over the years about how groups of people make decisions on political issues — because I was in charge of such a process, every single working day during my years as editorial page editor (and involved in a somewhat different process, that of daily news decisions, for quite a few years before that). And of course, the issues we were making decisions on were the very ones that politicians were facing during that time.

    And even in a small groups of people who know each other VERY well from constantly working together under pressure for years — people you’ve come to trust implicitly, even when you disagree with them about many things, the process could be so convoluted that it could be difficult to say with any reliability what led us there, beyond the reasons we had room for in the paper. Not that it always was, but it COULD be.

    For instance, I remember writing a column about the decision leading to our controversial endorsement of Joe Lieberman (I liked to use columns, and later the blog, to explain the background about such things). I thought it was a good column. I thought I had been eminently fair to my colleagues who had disagreed with me (which included most of them, at the outset of the meeting — before I spent 3 hours talking my voice away and wearing them down). I thought I was being really magnanimous in victory (I had gotten my way). But one colleague told me that my column got it all wrong; that I had misunderstood what had happened. Of course, that colleague also used to tell me that the “consensus” system that I claimed was our decision-making process was a bunch of BS; they generally just did what I wanted. (Hey, that felt like consensus to ME.)

    Anyway, the things I’ve learned about decision-making on political issues persuades me that there are a bunch of reasons pols make the decisions they make, so I continue to reject the simplistic “it’s about money” argument.

    I’ve spent to much time watching pols wrestle with these things to believe it’s that plain and simple. I’ve seen them holding their fingers to the wind for prevailing opinions of the voters far, far too much. I don’t have any figures to support this, and it would be impossible to compile them, but my rough impression is that trying to do the currently POPULAR thing (listening to the vox populi, the way the OWS would have them do) is responsible for more bad decisions than campaign donations.

  16. Steven Davis

    @bud – if you say so, but I’m willing to bet that those three things would have resolved themselves regardless of some people standing outside with signs.

    @Kathryn – if you say so. But I can guarantee the flag would have come down sooner or later (with emphasis on sooner) regardless of the Dome Rally.

    I just don’t put a bunch of faith in some activists standing around thinking they’re accomplishing something by holding a sign and chanting stupidity. This is like pep rally’s in high school… all it did was give a reason to get out of class and something for the cheerleaders to do. As athletes, we could have cared less.

  17. Steven Davis

    “Oh, and Kathryn, why weren’t you at Rotary today? The 1 percent missed you…”

    So you’re saying that 99% didn’t miss her.

  18. Doug Ross

    “Otherwise, it’s just this guy looking at the same thing I’m looking at and seeing something different.”

    No, he’s not looking at the same thing. He is looking at and conducting extensive research about the topic. He provides a wealth of evidence to support his conclusions. He’s not just some guy who decided to come up with a theory and throw it out there. Did you ever consider that no matter how much time you spent “thinking” about an issue, you could still be wrong?

    “Lessig grew up in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and earned a B.A. in Economics and a B.S. in Management (Wharton School) from the University of Pennsylvania, an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Cambridge (Trinity) in England, and a Juris Doctor from Yale Law School in 1989. Lessig is currently considered a political liberal. As a law clerk, however, he worked for both Judge Richard Posner and Justice Antonin Scalia, two influential conservative judges.”

    I’ll even give you the book when I am done with it if you don’t want to read it in weekly installments on your visits to Barnes & Noble.

    His evidence would blow away your theory. It’s all about access that money gives to entities. Is there a reason why Congress spents weeks trying to hammer out a deal on debit card swipe fees last year while other far more important social issues are ignored? Yes, because as Lessig shows with the data, there were tens of millions of dollars spent on lobbying efforts by competing sides (banks and retailers). Those dollars buy access and buy the very limited time of politicians to address issues. It’s why we end up with a 2000 page Obamacare bill — do you seriously think that bill represented the prevailing winds of public opinion? Please…. it was a legislative cesspool of special interest groups getting their return on investment.

  19. Brad

    I could, if I had all day, go on and on about this…

    For instance, I could go on at length about such proof as the “getting your phone calls answered first.”

    Yep, I’d take a call from somebody who would give me $10,000. I’d put people at the top of my call-back list for a number of reasons. For instance, I’d call back the governor, out of respect for the office. That doesn’t mean for a second that I’m going to agree with what the governor has to say. As those of you who have known me for years will know.

    I’ll confess that there may appear to be one flaw in myself as a witness: I’m the kind of guy who would kiss off a $10,000 contribution if I disagree without batting an eye. So you might expect me to project my personality on others, and expect them to do the same. Except that I don’t. I realize fully that practically everybody on the planet values money more than I do. (Although the last couple of years have made me think more and more about George Bailey’s observation about money to the Angel Clarence: “Comes in pretty handy down here, bub… I found it out a little late.”) I’ve had that amply impressed upon me. (It was actually one of the hardest lessons for me to learn early in my career, deciding what would go on the front page. I had trouble believing that people actually cared if their utility bills, or their taxes, went up a couple of dollars. I finally came to believe that they DO, and played such stories accordingly.)

    Back to my point: I think the folk wisdom that money buy access (or helps with it) is correct. But even at my most cynical (and as Phillip correctly assesses, I’m a believer in our republic — but I CAN be cynical sometimes), I can’t believe, based on what I have seen in this world, that access EQUALS acquiescence. They often occur simultaneously — in fact, more often than not (because usually, the donor wouldn’t have given to this person if he or she were not someone the donor would expect to agree). But that doesn’t mean there’s a direct, pure, cause-and-effect relationship.

  20. Brad

    If I can’t get y’all to walk away with anything else I’m saying, I hope you will acknowledge this: It’s complicated. Far, far more complicated than a chant, or a sign at a rally.

  21. Steven Davis

    Another thing I’m confused by… how does sleeping on the State House lawn figure into them changing my mind? If anything it makes me wonder if the sprinklers are set on a timer to come on for a 5:00 a.m. wake-up call.

    And what’s with the protestors protesting personal hygiene? Would I be more likely listen to someone dressed in business casual or someone who looks and smells like they live under a bridge? Even clean jeans and a clean t-shirt would be an improvement.

  22. Brad

    Doug, I’ll trust you to give me some examples. From the book. I assure you, if you lent it to me, it would have to wait to be read. I have a long line of unread books I really, really want to read. (Burl keeps guilt-tripping me — and successfully — on that book he was kind enough to send me a couple of years ago. He assures me that I’d like it and I’ll bet he’s right, but I am SO backed up.)

    As for this “Did you ever consider that no matter how much time you spent ‘thinking’ about an issue, you could still be wrong?”

    Yep. That’s why I keep thinking (except, without the ironic question marks). It’s why I bother spending a HUGE portion of my life discussing with people who disagree with me.

    And yes, campaign money IS about getting your message out. Not only have I had to deal with making such decisions on a daily basis for years, but since I left the paper, I’ve actually given more time to thinking about running for office myself than I really like to admit publicly. And THAT thinking — or “thinking,” if you insist — has led me over and over to see two thus-far insurmountable barriers. First, no matter what a particular voter’s views, I have very firmly and adamantly, probably repeatedly, advocated something that INFURIATES him beyond measure. And I’m sure that very few people who have run for office have irritated people as eclectically, and as broadly across the spectrum, as I have. Secondly, who in the world would invest in my campaign, given the first point? And the reason that’s a concern is that I know that the money is critically essential (sorry, that was redundant, but I really wanted to emphasize it) to getting my message out. I’d love to think I could run for office totally with social media, but I don’t think that’s yet doable in SC.

    Finally, “How about we start with no negative campaign ads.”

    Who are you, and what have you done with my libertarian friend Doug Ross?

    You realize you’re talking like a McCainiac?

  23. bud

    Brad, we can reject the “it’s all about money” claim as being too definitive, too black (or white) in a world filled with tons of grey. I’ll concede that.

    But to suggest that money plays NO roll or even just a limited roll is frankly beyond naive. Of course money plays a huge roll. It corrupts decision making by giving way to big a megaphone to those who have the most money and the most money to lose if a decision goes against them. Doug has some good ideas that should be considered. But sadly we’ve tried campaign finance reform before and it seems that it cannot work. But that’s not to say we shouldn’t keep on trying. In the meantime the 99% folks should do what they can. They may not have the money that the 1% have but they can at least increase the size of their megaphone a bit. And maybe the voters will listen even if the current crop of politicians won’t. Hey baby it’s 1969 all over again.

  24. Brad

    Yikes, bud just made me have a flashback on Altamont…

    Thanks for seeing my point, Bud. And I DON’T think money plays NO role. I just think that when you try to reduce the role it plays to a chant, or a slogan on a sign at a rally, you’ve probably missed the mark.

    One last thought: Why do we all accept this “99 percent” claim, at least in the way we talk about it. If we go by hard, numerical evidence — which I would think would be Bud’s way, and probably Doug’s — the evidence suggests that these protests would, in the most optimistic assessment, represent at best 1 percent.

    And while I won’t go so far as to say that 99 percent of the public is alienated from their cause (I refuse to engage in the sort of hyperbole that they do), I believe a majority is likely to be put off by OWS. And way more than a majority in SC.

  25. Doug Ross

    Lying about your opponent (or at best presenting misleading information) is not a libertarian cause that I am aware of.

    Libertarians deal in truth.

    And I think you SHOULD make a run for office just so you can see what the process is really like. I did it. Lost badly. Thought I could win a school board seat paying $600 a year spending $500 of my own money on signs. Lost to a woman whose husband spent $20K on signs (before being sent to federal prison for check fraud) and who spent most of the first public forum for candidates in the bathroom throwing up (while my wife offered help) because she was afraid of speaking in public.

    I learned very quickly how things work in politics even at the lowest levels. Money, quid pro quo relationships, lying, backstabbing, ignorant voters who would vote for me just because I happened to be standing at the polling place… please run for something… then we’ll see how idealistic you are afterward.

  26. Kathryn Fenner

    @Steven–I was over there-They smelled fine. They have been there for a while, and they still smelled fine.

    Rotary AWOL: I am feeling poorly, and didn’t feel like dragging myself over to hear “You Lie,” Jr. and eat (or not) pig swill. Was I chiefly missed because unlike most of those there, I actually studied piano and am willing to play? I mean, I’m just a mostly useless liberal arts type….

  27. Brad

    Doug, for a second there I couldn’t even make out what you were talking about in that first statement. Then I realized: You equate “negative campaign ads” with “lying.” I don’t. I don’t like negative ads (or really, most of the political ads I see), but I don’t equate them with lying. There’s a great deal of spinning, which isn’t the same thing. As I keep saying, you can put all kinds of interpretations on something without lying.

    But let’s go to the example you cite… You often say Sheheen spent too much time talking about his opponent rather than about himself. Speaking of different interpretations of facts, I saw that same campaign and didn’t see that at all. But let’s suppose you’re right. Let’s examine only the statements Vincent made about Nikki. Which ones were “lies?” I don’t recall any. I don’t even recall any that put debatable interpretations on the facts.

  28. Brad

    Another digression: One of the things you learn from managing pages that contain lots of different people’s opinions: You can disagree pretty vehemently about what a “fact” is.

    I had a lot of arguments with my colleagues over things in letters and op-ed pieces. I, or my colleague, would say of a particular assertion, “That’s absolutely not true! We can’t let him say that…”

    And the other of us would answer, “No, it’s your OPINION that it’s absolutely not true. I agree with you that it’s not true, but plenty of people just as sincerely believe, as he does, based on what they and many would regard as convincing evidence, that what he’s saying is true. And this is the op-ed page (or a letter), which is for those opinions.”

    If we could agree that the demonstrability of the falsehood was beyond a reasonable doubt, that assertion would often be one of the things sacrificed to the hard fact of limited space. But if we couldn’t agree on what is is in that case, we’d leave it alone…

  29. Doug Ross

    Here’s two example from Lessig’s book.

    BPA (a chemical in plastics) has been found by scientists to have a whole lot of medical impacts on people who drink from plastic bottles or use plastic pacifiers. Industry funded research was done and 13 out of 13 studies found no harm. Independent studies were also done and 152 out of 163 found potential harm. Now which group do you think is going to have the money to lobby the FDA and Congrees to limit any restrictions on BPA? Which group will be more likely to hold fundraisers for Congressmen?

    What about price controls on commodities? Did you know that butter costs twice as much in the U.S. than elsewhere? Cheese costs 37% more? Mile 27% more? This is do to subsidies established during the New Deal and protected via intense lobbying by those industries. Richard Nixon was going to end price supports on milk until he was enlightened by a $2 million campaign contributuon from the dairy lobby. Sugar costs 2-3 times as much in the U.S. because of tariffs imposed on foreign production to prop up U.S. sugar producers. From Lessig: “Every penny of increase in sugar costs = $250 million in food costs to consumers”. Again, these tariffs don’t appear from thin air. They are created and maintained by Congress — and the producers know very well where to put their money to ensure they remain in place.

    It’s a broken system with too many laws developed as payback to rich, well-connected entities.

  30. Doug Ross


    Are you for price supports? I know that is a general question… but in general are you for them? If so, how do you suppose they come about? Through rational discussion in the public forum or through legislation in the backroom?

    As for Vincent Sheheen’s lying, oh there’s all sorts of “nuances” in that regard. I recall one of his ads using a line against Haley that was presented as coming from a newspaper when that newspaper turned out to be the Daily Gamecock. Cheap trick…

    And haven’t we reached a sad point when I have to prove something is a lie versus proving something is true? The political operative scumbags who run campaigns know exactly what they are doing… presenting facts out of context, cherry picking one item out of many, exaggeration, guilt by association, using unflattering photographs of opponents… it’s all a tawdry game centered around greed and power. And the sad thing is that you just sort of hover around the cesspool with your fingers clamped over your nose and admiring the view off in the distance.

  31. Brad

    I’m against price supports, in general. I might have been for them, in some circumstances, during the Depression, but I’m not now.

    I thought the Nixon price supports were pushed by HIM, quite openly, and not something that occurred in a back room of Congress in obscurity.

    And yes, I think if you accuse someone of lying, the burden of support is on you to prove they are guilty. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

    As for the holding my nose — no, I smell everything. I’ve been up a lot closer to it over the years than you have, and I’ve seen more of it. But I’ve also seen all the good in the people in politics. And I think it is largely the fault of us in the MSM that people such as yourself believe that they’re ALL crooks, ALL the time. Because we, quite naturally, wrote about the exceptions where someone DID do something wrong. (I’ve used this analogy before, but if you’re the night watchman, it’s your duty to shout that one of the houses in the village is on fire. It is NOT your duty to wake everybody up telling them that none of the other houses are on fire. Unfortunately, the conclusion many consumers of news have reached is that they are all on fire.)

    Then, bottom line, in the aggregate, I believe that the bad things that lawmakers and others do is only a small part of our problem, here in South Carolina. Around here, a huge part of the problem is the good things that DON’T get done…

  32. Brad

    So, to put it another way, it’s not that they’re crooks, or dishonest, or stupid, or anything. It’s just that, in the aggregate, they are not good or wise enough…

  33. Doug Ross

    Here’s one of Sheheen’s ads… a classic example of cherry picking, hyperbole, and what I would call lying via surrogates.


    “She claims to be a fiscal conservative but then she wants to put a tax on our groceries.”

    Is there any non-Democrat hack who would try and claim that Haley is not a fiscal conservative?

    Would you call her a tax-and-spend liberal?

    30 seconds of cherry-picking smears using other people to make the claims. Besides being dishonest, it was gutless.

  34. Brad

    Ah, but see, you’re jumping to conclusions that in each case, the money is the sole determinant — or perhaps only the prime determinant. Which remains to be seen. I’m talking cause and effect here.

    For instance, “Richard Nixon was going to end price supports on milk until he was enlightened by a $2 million campaign contributuon from the dairy lobby.”

    Nixon LOVED price supports. He was notorious for it. In spite of all those moneybags Republican contributors who probably thought they were anathema.

    So, you have a case in which he could raise money from that industry. But you also have a guy who has a big weakness for price supports. Where is your bright line?

    Of course, if you want to find something for me to be paranoid about, you choose well when you choose the dairy industry. I have railed for years that they are secretly running the country (and trying, in diverse, devious ways, to poison me with their wretched bovine secretions).

    But when I say that, I’m kidding… sort of.

  35. Brad

    No, it wasn’t. Nikki is seldom what she claims to be. And I think you could find some very conservative people who would get upset about, say, the money she spent on her Paris trip. I don’t, but they would.

    Or they might get worked up about her not being able to remember whether she rode first-class on that trip to Asia with Sanford, at a time when Sanford was making state employees double-up in motel rooms on trips.

    The thing about Nikki is that she believes in these things until they apply to HER. Such as her believing in transparency until she decides to hide behind a special exemption in FOI law that lawmakers carved out for themselves.

    These things speak VERY clearly to character, and give the lie to the way she paints herself in public. This is the kind of truthful negative campaigning that is quite appropriate.

  36. martin

    I don’t think Afghanistan is appreciably more corrupt than US politics, particularly the Congress. It’s just done in a different, more underhanded way here. In fact, I get downright mad when Congressmen start talking about Afghani corruption, seeing how they operate here.

    You shouldn’t need examples of out and out corruption, you just need to notice that with rare exceptions like Fritz, they retire and stay in Washington to lobby. And, before that they set up their spouses and former staffers to work for lobbyists. But, they hardly ever come back home. It’s all about making big, big bucks selling and buying influence, in and out of office. They are not citizen legislators.

    I don’t believe in public financing anymore. We support those people too well already. Is there any way to limit the amount than can be spent on a given campaign in a given location? And, for God’s sake, limit the campaign season. The longer it gets, the more money they need and it turns into a really destructive to the country vicious circle. Then, oulaw PACs and superPACS. No, do that first.

  37. Steven Davis

    @bud – You mean the people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs who created a product and went public with the stock making them billionaires? Not everyone can dig a ditch for minimum wage.

  38. Brad

    Hey, I can! I’ve done it. Of course, I was 19 at the time.

    It was a lot of fun down there in the ditch, sweating away in the West Tennessee August at midday, while The Man occasionally left his air-conditioned trailer to come out, measure, and tell us we weren’t digging to the right depth.

    He’s lucky he didn’t get a shovel upside the head…

  39. Doug Ross

    Bud’s initial comment on this post suggested a 35% inheritance tax on amounts above 1 million.

    Steve Jobs net worth at the time of his death was around 7 billion. So bud would like to see his widow presented with a bill for 2.5 billion dollars. Because, well, because it’s not fair that Steve Jobs went from being an adopted kid living in poverty to a multi-billionaire who created hundred of thousands of jobs in a period of about 30 years (paying millions in taxes over that time). It’s just not fair to all the people who didn’t have the opportunities he had.

    Now, when Mrs. Jobs is presented with that $2.5 billion dollar bill, how is she going to pay it? Well, she’ll probably have to sell a large percentage of Apple stock Jobs owned. And what will happen to the price of Apple stock when 2.5 billion is put up for sale? The price will drop for everyone else thus causing the ripple effect of innocent bystanders losing wealth.

    There should be no inheritance taxes… especially for people who created the wealth on their own.

  40. Steven Davis

    “greedy capitalist entrepreuers ”

    I find this comment funny. How many entrepreneurs go into business developing a product not to succeed?

    Now if Communism was allowed to take over in this country we wouldn’t have people like bud upset, he’d be too busy standing in line for bread and toilet paper.

  41. Steven Davis

    What bud doesn’t understand, bless his heart, is that the inheritance tax is the most unfair tax in this country. I know farmers who’s parents died and passed the farm on to their children who then had to sell the farm to pay the inheritance tax. Land that was bought and paid for by previous generations and now worth $2-$3000 per acre. It doesn’t take much crop land to equal a million dollars. What bud wants, is for the children of those land owners to fork over $350,000 for every million dollars in crop land inheritted or in other words, bud wants to put small farmers out of business and only allow large corporate farms to survive.

  42. bud

    Consider my heart blessed.

    Let’s take 2 kids. One has a father who was a successful farmer and another who works in a factory all his life but never saves a dime. Both kids earn high school diplomas and go to college. Both get a job hundreds of miles away from their parents house. Both lose their parents in a tragic automobile factory. The farmer’s kid gets to keep $1million plus 2/3 of everything over that amount. The factory worker leaves his child nothing. Not sure I see any unfairness in that situation.

  43. bud

    …a tragic automobile accident …

    The above example assumes a $1million exemption with a 33% inheritance tax above that. That would be my inheritance tax plan. I’d also exempt spouses from inheritance tax.

  44. Doug Ross


    Seriously? Because the assets belong to the fathers not to the government.

    Using your example, if the day before the farmer father died, he turned over all the assets to his son, the government gets zero. That’s fair, right? Or is that not allowed?

    That’s what happens now anyway with rich people. The money goes into trusts. Strom Thurmond died with an estate worth less than $100K.

    The problem is that you think everything belongs to the government no matter how hard you work during your lifetime. You think success is all about luck. It’s a sad view unfortunately shared by many people who are jealous of people who accumulate wealth.

  45. Brad

    I don’t think Bud thinks “everything belongs to the government.” I don’t.

    But I also don’t think wealth is accumulated by an individual in a vacuum. It is totally dependent on living within a polity that has laws protecting the abstract notion of private property. Without it, these enterprising Dads probably would have died very young trying to defend what meager holdings they had managed to grab in their short lifetimes in the Hobbesian state of nature.

    It doesn’t all belong to the government. And it doesn’t all belong to the individual who accumulated it, either, because he could not have accumulated it without living in a civilization. And taxes are the price of living in such a civilization.

    That’s why we rendered unto Caesar. And we have far, far more reason to render unto a government that derives its authority from us.

  46. Steven Davis

    @bud – Who said life was easy? What makes it “fair” to take something the farmer worked hard to keep? Who buys the farm land that has to be sold… another small family farmer? Nope, a corporate farm. You know how this end ups, the family farm is a thing of the past and everything is farmed through corporate farms. Who “inherits” their land? Nobody… so they end up with it all.

    Let’s make this easier, let’s say all inheritance are taxed at 35%. When you die, would you expect your heirs to pay 35% of assets like your house, your vehicles and anything else of value? Would it be a hardship on them? If you have a $200,000 house… can your heirs pay the $70,000 tax on it without selling it? Where does your family move to… a $130,000 house?

    A million dollars isn’t exactly a lot of money when it comes to farming. Most family farms have physical assets that are valued at close to a million dollars, they may not have a bank account with more than a few hundred dollars in it but they have non-cash assets.

  47. Steven Davis

    Bud – Let’s say the parent isn’t killed but just seriously and permanently injured. They go into the nursing home, the farmer’s family gets to pay for his care out of pocket by having to sell their assets because assets weren’t transferred to an heirs name within a time period dictated by the state (as long as 3 years). The factory worker’s family is spared having to sell their assets because Medicaid picks up the entire bill.

    I suppose that is fair in your mind.

  48. bud

    If a rich kid pays inheritance tax that means someone else pays less. Sure we should spend and tax less, starting with the military, but given the fact that we need revenue why not start with the folks who didn’t actually earn the money. Seems fair to me to tax large estates and leave small ones exempt. After all that farmer couldn’t have gotten his produce to market without the roads. He wouldn’t have fertilizers and other modern farming implements without the government doing research. The ports that he ships his corn from is operated and defended by the government. Seems like the farmer and his son can and should pay it forward for those kids who inherit nothing.

  49. Doug Ross


    Did Steve Jobs pay taxes throughout his lifetime? Why should whatever he earned after paying taxes be taxed again just because someone decides for it to be so?

    Every dollar Jobs earned and spent in his lifetime was taxed.

    If someone bought a beach house in 1965 for say 200,000 and it’s now worth $2 million, would you suggest the heirs should be forced to sell it to cover the tax bill? This happened to my wife’s grandfather. He had 5 acres on an island at the top of Long Island that he had owned from 1960 until 1990. When he died at age 90 my in-laws had to sell the home to pay the estate tax because he hadn’t been smart enough to shelter the asset. The man built a business from nothing and because he was successful, his heirs were forced to either sell the business or sell the beach house. That is a travesty.

  50. Doug Ross

    “And it doesn’t all belong to the individual who accumulated it, either, because he could not have accumulated it without living in a civilization. ”

    What a sad view of liberty. Government as equal partner in the ownership of personal property. Why don’t you just raise the taxes to the point where a person doesn’t have to liquidate what he has earned over a lifetime? Oh, because you can’t justify that. Easier to take it from a dead man with some legalese concocted by the recipients of the theft.

    It really must be miserable to look at successful people and think that you’ll only be happy when you can take away what they have worked hard to obtain.

  51. Doug Ross

    And can I assume you find the profession of estate planning to avoid estate taxes to be borderline treasonous?

    And you certainly wouldn’t advise any of your relatives to do anything to limit the government’s due alms, right?

  52. Brad

    First, I did not say “equal partner,” or anything close to it.

    Second, I think it’s YOUR view of liberty that is sad — that of the radical individual huddled like Gollum over what he’s managed to hoard (in SPITE of everyone else, he believes), snarling at the rest of the world, daring everyone to touch it. That’s how I picture it, anyway. That’s what anti-government libertarianism is to me.

  53. Doug Ross

    Except for the part where I pay $50K or more in taxes a year.. other than that, yeah, I’m hoarding what I can. I contribute a much larger amount than most people do. If that’s “hoarding” then I’m doing a really lousy job of it.

    It’s okay, though. I will keep paying for other people to exist in the polity. Too bad those people getting the benefit hate me for it.

  54. Brad

    My point, of course, Doug, is that it’s not all one or the other — it’s not all yours, and it’s not all the larger society’s. As I say, the society isn’t even an equal partner. But it has a significant role to play in your ability to accumulate wealth, and libertarians tend to ignore that. They think they did it all themselves, and nothing could be more wrong.

  55. Doug Ross

    So then why isn’t everyone successful? The people who aren’t have access to the same set of government provided benefits that I have had. In fact, many have access to much more than I ever had.

    I’m satisfied that my contribution to my success is the vast majority of the reason for it. I’m the one who gets up out of bed every day and goes to work… and have done that since I was 17. All government provides is an infrastructure. It’s up to the individual to make something of it. I’ve been a net contributor to the government over the course of my lifetime. Others are not. I’ve paid my share and others as well. I’d like to see others do more. That’s not selfish…

    And again, you apparently believe that the ownership of assets accumulated during a lifetime is temporary and subject to a “day of reckoning” after death. That’s the point where you come in and say “I’m sorry you didn’t spend more of what you earned. I’m sorry you saved what you earned. It’s time to give a large chunk of it back to the people.” Only someone on the receiving end of that equation would be for it.

  56. Brad

    DOUG! Yes, you are responsible for the majority of it! And you should keep the majority of the money!

    My point is that you would NOT have accumulated what you had in the absence of a governmental system that institutionalizes respect for the rule of law. You would NOT be doing as well as you do, say, in Somalia. If you survived at all, which would be something you could little control.

    Living here is less a right than a privilege. You should agree. You certainly seem to feel that way about immigrants — that if they don’t play by the rules, they should be gone, and should receive zero benefits from our society. And surely you wouldn’t suggest it has to work differently because of the accident of your being born here — would you?

    I believe they, and you, should all play by the rules.

    Finally, I unequivocally reject your statement that “Only someone on the receiving end of that equation would be for it.” Not least because it’s based in an Us vs. Them notion of different classes of citizens, which I find abhorrent.

    I’m all for progressive taxation, and I’m quite sure that in my lifetime I’ve paid far more than the average in taxes — and never begrudged a dime of it.

    And since I have not turned 65, I have never in my adult life received any direct payments or personal services back — beyond the services everyone receives, such as road, schools, the people we deal with at the DMV, the cops I dealt with when my laptop was stolen, etc…

    EXCEPT those three weeks or so that I actually DID file for unemployment during the year I was out of work. But that doesn’t put a dent in my status as a donor to the system. I was paid less in those weeks than I had paid weekly in taxes the year before, so my statement stands. (The biggest idiots in this country are the ones who think employment checks are some sort of sweet deal.)

    Not everyone thinks ME FIRST. I can promise you that. And one reason I reject libertarianism is that it is based in thinking that way, and assumes everyone thinks that way.

  57. Doug Ross

    You keep missing the point. I have paid my fair share of taxes over my lifetime. I have paid more taxes than most people. I haven’t avoided paying taxes, used tax loopholes, or anything else. I don’t get paid under the table. And I continue to pay my taxes despite my belief that a large portion of them are wasted on an ineffiecient system full of corruption. That is the part I despise. I work so others can waste my my earnings.

    But you keep avoiding the basic question – why should assets accumulated during a lifetime be subject to taxation? How can it be fair to tax what is left after a lifetime of earning and paying taxes? How can it be okay to avoid paying estate taxes for some people and others lose their homes? It is double taxation.

  58. Doug Ross

    What percentage of your career success would you attribute to the infrastructure provided by government? And how much of that do you feel you have adequetely covered to this point with your tax payments?

    I’ll throw out 10% as the impact of government on my achievement. And I think I’ve more than paid for that over the past 30 years. The other 90% is a result of my own efforts.

    Your theory is like saying an editor of a newspaper shouldn’t be paid more than the minimum wage because without all the readers buying the paper, he wouldn’t have a job. It’s the readers who gave you your career not your efforts.

  59. Doug Ross

    Using your (and bud’s) theory, a true patriot is a rich guy who buys 1000 bottles of expensive wine at $1000 each rather than saving that $1,000,000 to pass on to his heirs. Better to blow it all than save it. Punish savers, reward spenders.

  60. Brad

    No, actually, it’s nothing like that. I keep saying things, and you keep saying something I didn’t say back to me.

    As for “It is double taxation.”

    Really? How do you figure? What did your heirs do to earn it? When were they taxed on it before? It seems almost like you’re assigning personhood, or citizenship status, on the money itself.

    So — and maybe I’m regurgitating your thoughts as inaccurately as you are mine, and if so, I’ll stand corrected — if you put an X on a 100 dollar bill that you receive as pay, and you pay taxes on that bill, and then you take that dollar to Best Buy and purchase something, and you pay sales tax, that’s double taxation? And then if the manager of Best Buy is paid with that same bill, and he goes to Food Lion and buys groceries with it, that’s triple taxation?

    Sorry I couldn’t think of a better analogy, but it’s the only way I could think of of tracking THE SAME DOLLARS through multiple taxation scenarios. Of course, almost no one is paid with actual cash these days (unless they’re trying to AVOID taxation). We’re paid in ones and zeros in a computer. Which makes tracking a particular dollar even more absurd.

    What we do, except in the case of property taxes (which we KNOW you don’t like), is tax economic activity. We do that with sales taxes (when you buy something), income taxes (when you are paid for work), capital gains (when you take a profit) and inheritance (when wealth is transferred to another person or persons). We’re not taxing the money itself. The number of dollars involved is simply used as a function for calculating an amount. The dollars themselves are not living creatures with rights that protect them from double-jeopardy…

  61. Doug Ross

    So the day before you die, it’s your money. The moment you die, part of it belongs to the government. It is the same dollar that was taxed in the first place. It is a transfer not a payment for a service or object. The government is taxing the transfer — unless you do it before you die. Then it’s okay… no payment to the government.

    And if this is a reasonable tax, why is there an arbitrary limit where it kicks in? Why is 999,999 dollars not worthy of taxation but the next dollar is? What’s different about that next dollar?

    And, again I will ask you, is it okay for a rich person to place assets outside the reach of estate taxes? If so, what is different about those dollars? What makes them untaxable? It’s the same transfer as an inheritance – just pre-death (even if it is a day before).

    Rationalizing stupidity is tough.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *