Up By Your Bootstraps

September 29, 2016

There’s a video making the rounds on Facebook…I’ve seen it a number of times…it’s supposedly “hilarious.” The gist is that Smart, Liberal Democratic college student berates her hardworking, wise old dad because he’s voting for the Republican Party presidential candidate, and she doesn’t agree with his economic policies.

Now, you’re going to have to suspend credulity at this point that Dem Daughter’s biggest concern about the other candidate is his economic policy (what with the fact that, in the 16 months since he announced his candidacy, he hasn’t actually articulated one), as opposed to all that niggling evidence that he’s a bigoted, ignorant, bloviating sexual predator, but let’s go with it and see if there’s something to be learned here (spoiler alert…no).

Dad chuckles at his simple-minded progeny and begins to mansplain to her why he’s supporting a presidential candidate who wasn’t aware that Russia had invaded the Ukraine and annexed Crimea in 2014, or that the Central Park Five were exonerated and released from prison based on DNA evidence years ago (he still thinks they should be executed).

So he reminds his daughter, the hard-working Liberal Democrat (Wait! Is there such a thing?!?), that because she takes tough classes and studies all the time and never does anything fun, she has earned a perfect 4.0, whereas her Slacker Girl roommate who never goes to class, parties all the time, and only takes easy courses, has, not surprisingly, ended up with staggeringly bad grades.

Dad then jokes that Dem Daughter should put her economic policy where her mouth is by instructing the Dean to give Slacker Girl some of her hard-earned GPA so that Slacker Girl will not have to face the consequences of her poor choices. And of course Dem Daughter sees the error of her ways and decides that she, too, will vote for her dad’s guy, even though he’s creepy and looks like a giant circus peanut.

What troubles me about the message here is the assumption that those who would benefit from the “wealth redistribution” touted by Dem Daughter have precisely the same opportunities as those in the top 1%. This is a false equivalency, as many who are at the lowest level of the economic spectrum aren’t necessarily there because they are lazy or make self-indulgent, poor choices.

In many cases, familial support, access to good education and healthcare, or quality employment simply don’t exist. Those of us who were blessed with loving parents, intact families, top-notch schools, regular medical and dental care and good nutrition, don’t always understand that what we take for granted as the norm is only a dream for many, many people in this country.

This video also wrongly assumes that those who are wealthy got that way because they worked hard, which is also not necessarily the case. Certainly, the Bill Gates of the world can point to years of backbreaking hard work, but a great deal of the 1% inherited their wealth and have never worked a day in their life. Still others have used family wealth and connections to launch (or bail out) businesses that might otherwise have failed.

Hard work is certainly a virtue, and in many cases is indeed a path to success and prosperity, but not always. It bears noting, moreover, that those who have worked the hardest for their wealth are often the first to want to give it away for the greater good, while others establish “charitable foundations” to which they themselves do not contribute and which they utilize to commission large portraits of themselves or to settle lawsuits.

Finally, this video unfairly and inaccurately attempts to characterize the ideas of those like Bernie Sanders, who has never suggested that the rich should simply be stripped of their wealth and have it handed over to all those lazy poor people so they can blow it by making the same poor choices that led to their poverty in the first place.

At their most basic, policies designed to combat income inequality seek to implement a minimum wage that can actually provide the fundamental basics of food, clothing and shelter, while eliminating income tax loopholes that allow the top 1% to avoid paying their fair share. No one is suggesting that all those on Wall Street who played Russian Roulette with mortgage-backed securities and in turn created the worst economic downturn is 50 years should be forced to sell their homes in the Hamptons, but would it be too much to ask them to contribute, proportionately to their income, for the cost of roads, schools, law enforcement, government salaries, etc.? And seriously…do we really think it’s okay that the CEO of Aetna, Mark Bertolini, took home $17.1 million in 2015, while Wal-Mart holds food drives…for its own employees?

So, no, I don’t find this video “hilarious.” I find it arrogant, overly simplistic, and uninformed. But maybe that’s because I’m a Liberal Democrat who can’t help wondering whether Slacker Girl is okay, and whether her behavior isn’t a cry for help, but I digress.

Hard work, yes. But also, paying your fair share. Oh, and maybe some empathy and compassion, too.

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