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It’s hard not (at least) to be disappointed with Barack Obama or to regard him as hypocritical.  Consider, for example this New York Times article about the President’s campaign bundlers—technically, they’re not lobbyists, but you almost have to parse words in a Clintonian (or is it Clintonesque?) way to arrive at that conclusion.  Our President is famous for his concern about the ethics of campaign finance and professes to share with the Occupiers a concern with the influence of corporations on our political life.  But . . . he raises more money from the wealthy (including many on Wall Street) than do his aspiring Republican challengers.

In a speech earlier this week, Paul Ryan offers a counterpoint to the contradictions inherent in Obama’s approach to politics and government.  While the way he says it is a bit strained by his effort to riff on the theme of class warfare, these claims are worth considering:

That’s the real class warfare that threatens us: A class of bureaucrats and connected crony capitalists trying to rise above the rest of us, call the shots, rig the rules, and preserve their place atop society. And their gains will come at the expense of working Americans, entrepreneurs, and that small businesswoman who has the gall to take on the corporate chieftain.

It’s disappointing that this President’s actions have exacerbated this form of class warfare in so many ways:

  • While the EPA is busy punishing commercially competitive sources of energy, a class of bureaucrats at the Department of Energy has been acting like the world’s worst venture capital fund, spending recklessly on politically favored alternatives.

  • While the unemployment rate remains stuck above 9 percent, a class of bureaucrats at the National Labor Relations Board is threatening hundreds of jobs by suing an American employer for politically motivated reasons.

  • And while millions of Americans are left wondering whether their employers will drop their health insurance because of the new health care law, a class of bureaucrats at HHS has handed out over 1,400 waivers to those firms and unions with the political connections to lobby for them.

When you seek to expand the size and scope of government the way Obama does, there are going to be more and more people whose specialty is “governmental relations” (aka lobbying).  Their job will be the protect the livelihoods of some and expand the livelihoods of others, facilitating the distribution of  money from government coffers to enterprises that “we” favor.  Now, perhaps some harbor the comforting illusion that all decisions about the distribution of public largesse are made on the merits, by disinterested experts who care for nothing other than the public good.  Yeah, right.  You don’t have to be a total cynic to see that, at the very least, the public good is a contested concept, and that contesting it will require resources and connections.  The well-resources and the well-connected will have a much easier time persuading those who distribute the money that the public good is what they say it is.

The marketplace strikes me as more “democratic.”  To be sure, my ‘demand” has to have dollars behind it to be effective.  But the dollars at least are used to purchase goods, rather than to persuade those in power to hand over other people’s money so that I can get what I want.

I’m far from arguing that the market is perfect or that it by itself produces justice, only that we have to be careful about our attempts to improve upon it.  Human sinfulness and self-interest will find ways to express themselves even in the best-intentioned efforts to remedy the defects of the marketplace.  But the more modest those efforts, the less room there is for (the inevitable) abuse.

If Barack Obama really cared about the “unfair” influence of the wealthy on politics and government, he’d favor a smaller government.  Until then, he’s always going to be vulnerable to the quite rightly placed charges of hypocrisy and crony capitalism.



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