Wednesday, August 1, 2012

National Geogaffe-ic

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Democalypse 2012 - National Geogaffe-ic
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Democalypse 2012 - National Geogaffe-ic - Romney Abroad
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All of this, including cursing at the press corps, will be very popular with Romney's base. (Indeed, I suspect that it might be popular with Americans in general.)

But when it comes to culture, this is how Republicans think. And it's not that they're wrong, but it's woefully incomplete. It's simplistic. Still, it's what we Americans want to believe, that we're a wealthy superpower because of how much better we are than the rest of the world.

Well, culture does matter. No one disputes that. But it's not everything. That's where the Mitt Romneys of this world get it wrong.

Romney was born rich. His father was politically powerful and wealthy. Mitt had every advantage growing up. (Note that he keeps suggesting that people borrow money from their parents, like everyone's parents have $10 million lying around to bankroll a child's initial investments.)

But Mitt thinks that he was successful entirely because of his own efforts. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he doesn't notice that, any more than a fish recognizes being born in clean water. Mitt has been swimming in pristine water all his life without recognizing it.

It's not that Mitt Romney didn't contribute anything. No one is saying that. It's just that he's been playing the game of life on the lowest difficulty setting. Lucky him.

But not everyone is that lucky. Furthermore, even when you are that lucky, you don't succeed entirely on your own efforts. A person doesn't just start with certain advantages and disadvantages. These things are important your whole life. No matter what, you're not in this alone. It's not a single-player game.

That's what Barack Obama was getting at here:
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.

Republicans, of course, twisted his words. Mitt Romney is making political hay out of a complete lie. Well, that's what Republicans do, especially when backed by hundreds of millions of dollars in anonymous donations.

Barack Obama understands that "we succeed because of our individual initiative," but that it's not the only reason for our success. We live in a wealthy modern democracy built by the blood, sweat, and tears of ordinary and extraordinary people over many generations. That's important!

Likewise for nations, culture is important. But it's not everything. You can have the greatest work ethic in the world, but if you live in a war-torn land, lacking basic infrastructure, struggling just to survive, that matters.

John Scalzi's brilliant comparison with computer game settings works for this, too. (Admittedly, I'm a gamer, so it might not strike you the same way.) You still need to put in the effort. And through skillful play - and some luck - you can succeed at almost any difficulty setting.

But it's easier for some people than for others. That's just a fact. If you're an American, if you're a native of any wealthy modern democracy, it's probably been easier for you than for most people in the world. Certainly as a white, middle-class American, you've had many advantages - not as many as Mitt Romney, perhaps, but still very important advantages.

That's not denying the importance of individual effort, not at all. And it's not denying the importance of a nation's culture, either, to point out that it's not the only matter of importance.

But Republicans are faith-based, and they're eager for simplistic answers. When they do well, it's all because of their own effort. When they do poorly, it's because other people are holding them back - the government, liberals, socialists.

Well, we all want to believe that we're special, right? If America has been successful, it's just because we're better than other people. Maybe we are. I know better than to argue with my fellow countrymen about "American exceptionalism." Nevertheless, it's never just because of that.

And maybe Mitt Romney is a brilliant businessman, I don't know. (Note that he hasn't released his tax returns.) But I do know that he started off with every advantage, both as a straight white American man and as the child of wealth and political privilege.

He doesn't see that, because he wants to think he did it all on his own. In consequence, he's willing to make things harder for other children, children who weren't born wealthy.

In the game of life, you don't have a choice of difficulty settings. If you did, we'd all be born wealthy. And we'd all be born in wealthy modern democracies, too.

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