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Columns

August 21, 2012

Romney focuses on self; Obama emphasizes unity

Mitt Romney criticizes President Obama for saying a person's success is rooted in his community and is not all his alone. Romney belittles this with his belief in individual initiative. He is better at the put-down than the push-up.

No, despite his claims, Romney is not a uniter, because in his heart he sees himself as the achiever who reached the top of the tree on his own. When the president said we are all in this together, he meant we depend on each other. Mitt talks down. He puts "I won" over "we won." He is sincerely smug.

It is a question of how one sees the big picture; in a self-centered way or broadly. Mitt wants encouragement and recognition for individual achievement. Little Jack Horner put in his thumb and pulled out a plum: "Oh what a good boy am I!" That's how little boys think, even though he had not put the plums in nor baked the pie.

Mr. Obama knows that in communities we help each other. He also knows that "each other" is the two-way street of mutual support and inter-dependent effort. He is a uniter, not the divider Mitt called him. Mitt is not a man of the people.

He sets himself above others as a self-made and a self-defined success. This is elitist and divisive. The less successful are diminished as less deserving and are responsible for their own situations.

Are we our brother's keepers? We say we believe in brotherhood. But the emphasis of Romney and Paul Ryan is the conservative one. Ryan's budgets speak his philosophy. They cut back most social programs.

Together they think that efforts to promote equity and fairness get in the way of just allowing the cream to rise to the top. For them, the homogenization of a level playing field is like diluting opportunity. They favor a hands-off freedom to foster individual initiative without regulation, and individual achievement is supposed to follow.

They credit individual initiative as the main source and support of success. For them, that means more economic growth, however how ill-distributed are the rewards. Hence comes the false dictum that appropriately high taxes on the high incomes of the rich will hurt small businesses by discouraging "job creators." Also the myth that a booming stock market is good news for all of us. It is not, for its benefits go mainly to the already well-off.

Both Romney and Ryan disparage the dependency of the poor, as though it has been chosen out of weakness. In effect, they are blaming the poor for their own disadvantage.

This seems to free Republicans from supporting social safety nets as enabling. They are inclined to ally government with the well-to-do. They would cut taxes on the wealthy, for example, even at the expense of social supports for working people.

For them, social dependency is a chosen affliction, aided and abetted by social programs. That is an ideology of social division, a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy that deadens the perception of opportunity for those who are near the bottom.

But it also wipes clear the conscience of the well-to-do. They can take credit for themselves while disavowing responsibility for the inequity they build into our society, and worse yet, built into the world.

Half the world starves, suffers, is stymied and helpless in disarray and deprivation. There is plenty of food for all, but all do not get a seat at the table.

Some of us are deliberately corrupt, selfishly stealing and hoarding. And some of us are essentially indifferent, seeing starvation as something that is unfortunate, but over there somewhere else, beyond our purview _ just a moment of ugly news on the TV.

The issue of human suffering is seldom presented in a humanistic way. Most of us feel no pain, and we pay little heed to those of us who do. Republicans tell us that taxes and social programs both have to be cut, because they make government too big.

Overall, we are always reminded that people are supposed to look after their own needs. Individuals are responsible for themselves despite swimming in strong international currents beyond any one person's control. The message is not to worry about those irresponsible people, their problems are their own fault.

Freedom is defined in terms of having no restrictive regulations to hamper profit-taking. The resulting progress is supposed to filter down to those at the bottom.

Perhaps the filter has become clogged.

William Masters can be reached at wmasters@thedailystar.com. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Star and its editorial board.

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