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Why American Politics is Such a Mess

February 1, 2012

The American right often seems pretty nutty. They don’t seem to want the social safety net that most Western countries enjoy. They often seem angry, but the object of their anger is often unclear or bizarre. Think of Glenn Beck’s vague apocalypticism, or the birther movement.

The reason many white Americans dislike welfare is that welfare in the USA is to a great extent a transfer of wealth from white people to black people. And people don’t like to be forced to support help people that 1) aren’t like them, and 2) aren’t carrying their share of the burden. But this sort of thing can’t be said openly. So instead you get a lot of libertarian and anti-government rhetoric. But people who see their countrymen as kindred aren’t moved by those sensibilities.

Right-wingers get charged with racism anyways (because at some level everyone sort of knows what’s going on), so I wonder whether it wouldn’t be worthwhile to be a little bit more forthright? Of course a lot of people geninely believe their libertarian rhetoric, and don’t want to think of themselves as “racists.”

In any case, the racial divide in the USA is a source of profound weakness, and makes sober political debate almost impossible.

*     *     *

Here’s Rick Santorum saying “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.” He later backed down.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. February 2, 2012 8:26 am

    That’s one reason. The underlying problem is conceptual — it’s a zero-sum capitalist POV. If you win/get more, I lose/get less. The notion of sharing, of leveling the playing field, is a joke here,

    • February 2, 2012 1:00 pm

      I agree with you that people *think* about things that way, and that this point of view contributes to the tensions.

      I’m not sure if you meant to suggest that capitalism *is* a zero-sum game, though. I wouldn’t agree with that. Capitalism and industrialization have made us all much, much wealthier.

      • February 2, 2012 1:19 pm

        It is often rather people with an anti-capitalist bent that have a zero-sum mentality. ie. the rich (people or nations) have become so by taking the wealth of the poor. As such, the solution is to redistribute the wealth that currently exists. This view does not seem to recognize the reality of wealth creation, and is why you get assumptions that the wealth of the West is directly related to the poverty of, say, Africa – and that the solution is to pay reparations / give aid.

        Those with a capitalist bent, have a view perhaps more like “a safety net makes people lazy”, or on the global scale, foreign aid destroys motivation.

        Unless one agrees with the assumptions, the view will seem pretty vicious.

  2. February 2, 2012 1:08 pm

    So many oblique ways of talking about these things that we can’t talk about. How horrible rap music is, ‘urban youth’, illegal immigration (but we love legal immigrants)…

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