In Praise of Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Nancy Patton Mills, David Wecht, Christine Donohue, Heather ArnetIn 2016, one of the country’s two major political parties was rocked by an insurgent demagogue who prospered by pandering to ignorance, xenophobia, blind hatred and outright stupidity. So was the other one. One party fought back. The other didn’t.

I am aware that many people, and especially even readers of this blog (including myself at times) believe that the vast majority of polticians prosper by pandering to ignorance, xenophobia, blind hatred and outright stupidity. But the Trump/Sanders phenomenon took this to a whole new level. Never before in my memory have politicians with a real shot at the presidency been so aggressive in their refusals even to try making sense, or in their denials that making sense is a virtue. Never before have they been so forthright in their insistence that as long as we all hate the right people, everything will be alright.

For roughly 40 years now, the Democrats and the Republicans, in their highly imperfect and frequently corrupt ways, have offered competing visions for the country and have, in their highly imperfect and frequently dishonest ways, fostered debate about the merits of those visions. Highly imperfect, frequently corrupt and dishonest — but still with at least some nods toward the value of rational discourse, and, though less often than I’d like, sometimes with considerably more than nods. Politicians in both parties have been known to demonstrate by example that it is possible to be spirited without being mean-spirited, that there is a difference between an argument and an insult, and that your opponents need not be your enemies.

Our freedom and our prosperity depend on that legacy, and when it came under dire threat this year, it was the duty of both parties — more specifically of the men and women who run those parties — to resist. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, clandestinely and perhaps not for the purest of motives, did that. Reince Preibus caved in. As a result, the Democrats have a nominee with whom I profoundly disagree on almost everything, while the Republicans have a nominee with whom it is impossible to disagree because he is incapable of formulating a coherent thought — a fate the Democrats narrowly avoided, because Wasserman Schultz did her job.

I realize that many Democrats’ dissatisfaction with Wasserman Schultz is based on things other than her behind-the-scenes manipulations to keep the yahoos at bay. But at least she kept the yahoos at bay. That’s more than anyone at the Republican National Committee seems to have even attempted.


53 Responses to “In Praise of Debbie Wasserman Schultz”

  1. 1 1 Zazooba

    What an utterly bizarre election. Not just one, but two, count ‘em two, complete bizaros capture about 45% of the primary vote.

  2. 2 2 Khodge

    Wasserman Schultz did the job of not allowing any competition. She may have prevented any discourse within the party, thus preventing a possible nominee with whom you could agree on various matters.

    For the Democrat Party, there is no noticeable bench, no candidate of the future. The Republicans were able to present so many healthy alternatives that a skilled manipulator easily divided and conquered.

  3. 3 3 Roger

    What you really want is a monarchy, or a military dictatorship, or maybe an oligarchy of rich financiers who control the politicians and prevent fair elections.

    We have leaders who are forcing policies on the USA that the people did not approve and do not want. What Trump and Sanders have in common is that they are not owned by the super-rich who own the other politicians.

    You complain that Trump uses insults. His most common one is “Crooked Hillary”. But now you are praising the crooked process that got H. Clinton where she is today, and asking for more crookedness!

    And for what? To get less insults? No, there were plenty of insults at the Democrat convention this week. To get more rational discourse? Not from H. Clinton, as she just reads from a teleprompter and never holds press conferences. To get less hate? No, the Democrat party has bet its whole future on identity politics.

  4. 4 4 Khodge

    Roger, in The Armchair Economist, that is Steve’s suggestion.

  5. 5 5 Harold

    How much difference did Wasserman Schultz actually make? Would Bernie have won without her?

    Sanders got much less coverage than Trump. Sanders has some similarities with Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of our Labour Party in the UK. Corbyn has been a rebel all his political career, often voting against the Labour party line. He is adored by the left wing and the trade unions, but has no respect among his MP’s. There is a good chance he will win the latest leadership challenge. It is widely believed that he is unelectable as prime minister.

    However, even Corbyn would become electable if the other side out up an even more bigger caricature. Possible Alan Sugar – the host of the UK version of The Apprentice, would do the trick.

    As an aside, Corbyn’s brother is a snake oil weather forecaster.

  6. 6 6 Harold

    I apologise for my use of the phrase “even more bigger”. It was an unacceptable form of words. It should not have happened, and it will not happen again. To ensure this is the case I have sacked my speech writer.

  7. 7 7 Sub Specie Æternitatis

    And this is why I don’t blog any more. Last night I remarked to a friend that I wish that Reince Priebus had been half as good at his job as DWS was at hers, for the exact reasons stated eloquently above. But before that thought had a chance to ripen into a blog post, one is preempted once again.

  8. 8 8 Sub Specie Æternitatis

    Speaking of DWS:

    I carry no brief for her—she has always struck me as a mildly misogynistic, anti-semitic caricature of no discernible talent or qualities—but what exactly was the offense for which Hillary fired her as convention chair?

    That she maneuvered the DNC behind the scenes to support Hillary? And Hillary only became aware of this transgression this week?

    That she allowed evidence of this maneuvering to fall into the hands of Russian hackers who disclosed it? Insufficient emphasis on IT security for emails? Really, Hillary?

  9. 9 9 Ken B

    Khodge is right. DWS did not protect the sanctity of debate within the Democrat party, she helped strangle it, replacing it with insider trading. Hillary did not win because of DWS’s machinations against Sanders, who was never competitive in enough big priomaries; she helped Hillary win by machinations against other, possibly better, democrats. She helped Hillary win by *averting* a debate on issues and policies.

  10. 10 10 Harold

    It is the old ends and means argument again.

  11. 11 11 Will A

    The job of a chair of a party is to deliver victory, not to set policy.

    It is too early to praise or condemn either chair. If Trump wins and the Republicans maintain both chambers, Preibus deseves praise.

    As to other comments about Schultz preventing any discourse, do you honestly believe that there was no discourse? No just a little? The party platform is exactly what Clinton would have wanted uf Sanders never ran?

  12. 12 12 Sub Specie Æternitatis

    @Will A: “It is too early to praise or condemn either chair. If Trump wins and the Republicans maintain both chambers, Pr[ie]bus deserves praise.”

    If one takes a purely technical view of the performance of RNC chief, perhaps one could identify it with “maintaining control of Congress and winning the Presidency, whoever the GOP candidate may be.”

    But regardless of one’s views of Trump, does anybody take that narrow a view? Would you congratulate Priebus if he got David Duke or Bozo the Clown elected as GOP president?

    If you wouldn’t, you concede that the RNC must be judged not only on the success, but also the quality, of his candidates. And by that standard, I will call Priebus an abysmal failure, regardless of what happens in November.

  13. 13 13 Ken B

    @Will A
    One can succeed partially can one not? No *registered democrat* other than Clinton made a dent. DWS’s efforts were not confined to a few month fiddling with Bernie, but for years working behind the scenes.

  14. 14 14 Ken B

    Was Romney a good candidate?

  15. 15 15 Sub Specie Æternitatis

    @Ken B

    That depends on what you mean by a good candidate.

    If you mean, would have made a good President, I am on record as saying that Romney would have been a more beneficial/less harmful President than any major party candidate since Reagan.

    If you mean, able to defeat a sitting President in a general election, a task only successfully completed twice in last hundred years, then the answer is “not good enough” (though he came closer than most who attempted this task).

  16. 16 16 Ken B

    @Sub 15
    Then we agree. I was just wondering if you’d say no, how you could square that with special blame for Priebus. Danke.

    DWS is beside the point. She is Steve’s contrarian click-bait hook for the post. The issue is: both parties faced a hostile takeover. The dems fought it off, the gop did not. That’s not due to RP or DWS. It’s more because the dems have a system with super delegates. Their raison d’etre is to overrule the popular vote in some circumstances. And they would have.
    I’d say the dems had a better immune system, to pick a pejorative metaphor. The party is better insulated against a passing fancy or sudden fad.

  17. 17 17 Steve Landsburg


    What you really want is a monarchy, or a military dictatorship, or maybe an oligarchy of rich financiers who control the politicians and prevent fair elections.

    No, what I really want is a constitutional republic in which neither politicians nor oligarchs nor rich financiers have the power to tell other people who they can trade with, or who they can invite into their homes, or to whom they must sell wedding cakes, or what wages they are permitted to work for.

    You complain that Trump uses insults.

    Here is where you’ve most thoroughly missed my point. I do not object to Trump’s insults. I object to the fact that he offers nothing *but* insults. He hasn’t made the slightest effort to *explain* to people why, for example, the Clinton-free-college plan or the public health option is such an appallingly bad policy. These policies *are* appallingly bad and it’s important for politicians with the ear of the public to be explaining why. Trump is failing in that responsibility — in fact, not even attempting to fulfill it.

    One might also hope that in addition to explaining what’s wrong with Clinton’s policies, he’d offer some alternative policies of his own. “ISIS will disappear when I am president” is not a policy. “Dead industries will spring back to life when I am president” is not a policy.

  18. 18 18 Neil

    What does it mean that both parties have switched, over one election cycle, from pro free trade to vehement anti free trade? That is a disturbing sea change.

  19. 19 19 Josh

    I’m tempted to vote for the libertarian candidate Gary Johnson but will most likely vote for Clinton, even though I would have preferred to vote to someone like Jeb Bush. Although I’m not sure Jeb would have been as good as Obama has been on, say, rights for gays (marriage basically) and the generalized de facto marijuana legalization we’ve experienced under Obama. The free college stuff and equal pay for equal work..etc. This is stuff I disagree with Clinton on. But you’re right. At least she’s somewhat clearly and somewhat consistently stating her positions.

    and to me personally the two biggest issues are trade and immigration. Clinton deep down I think is generally favorable to free trade even though she’s had to strategically limit that kind of rhetoric due to Bernie Sanders influence. But I think she gets it deep down. She just has to be sneaky about what she says about free trade. She also seems fine with making immigration and staying/working here generally easier. She’s flawed but much better than Trump.

  20. 20 20 Roger

    Steve, whatever your opinion of trade, cakes, and other such issues, they will not stick if the USA is flooded with immigrants who have different values and who disagree with you.

    Of the Clinton bad proposals that require money appropriations, the decisions will be made by the Republicans who control the House. Trump’s opinion will not matter much.

    If Trump really offered nothing but insults, then he would not inspire the hatred that he gets from the elites. Why do you think Clinton flip-flopped on trade policy? Only because of stinging criticisms from Sanders and Trump.

    Of all the candidates running, Trump and Sanders did the best jobs of addressing issues that people care about. That seemed to be the opinion of millions of voters, anyway.

  21. 21 21 Tom

    An alternate title for this article could be “In praise of disenfranchising millions of voters (because I disagree with them)”. As far as demagoguery and blind hatred go your article is a perfect example of argument by emotion than logic. Why object to Trump because he cannot undo the poor state of economic education in this country that allow people to fall for “free” education and “free” healthcare? Shouldn’t the blame for the poor state of economic education fall on the educators and economists in this country and not a politician that must rectify the lack of education in a 30 second sound bite?

  22. 22 22 Zazooba

    FWIW, I find the DNC emails I’ve seen so far to be pretty trivial stuff. If you rummage through thousands of emails, you can pretty much always find a couple of obnoxious ones that look bad.

    And there are only a few bad ones, so even if there was some activity trying to tip the race away from Bernie, it doesn’t seem to be enough to make a difference. I would want to see hundreds of emails back and forth plotting against Bernie to say the DNC was seriously biased and that the bias had an impact.

    Oh, and I wonder if there are a few anti-Hillary emails in there too.

  23. 23 23 Zazooba


    “I do not object to Trump’s insults. I object to the fact that he offers nothing *but* insults.”

    I agree that Trump is unserious about many, many issues, especially traditional Republican issues (or he is just plain liberal on some of the issues).

    But, he seems to have some pretty clear ideas about immigration. And those ideas are what got him where he is. You can’t seriously talk about Trump’s rise or appeal without talking about immigration.

  24. 24 24 Keshav Srinivasan

    Steve, I agree with your characterization of Trump, but your characterization of Bernie Sanders seems absurd to me. I don’t think it’s remotely correct to say that Sanders was “aggressive in his refusal even to try making sense, or in his denial that making sense is a virtue.” When did Sanders deny that making sense is a virtue? And how is he “incapable of formulating a coherent thought”? And he certainly knows that there is “a difference between an argument and an insult”.

    He presented a detailed argument for why he believes the economy is rigged towards the rich and powerful, why he thinks the underlying problem that causes this is a corrupt campaign finance system, how he intends to usher in a political revolution to overturn that system and encourage citizen participation, and what policies he wants enacted once the people have more control of their own government. To wit, he favors single-payer healthcare, as he thinks we need to treat healthcare as a right not a privilege, he favors a carbon tax, as he thinks the dangers of climate change are too great, he favors free public college because he thinks that it’s necessary to ensure equality of opportunity, he favors increased regulation on Wall St. including a reintroduction of Glass Steagle and a breaking up of the banks because he thinks Wall St. engages in excessive fraud, he wants increased taxation of the rich because they aren’t contributing enough to society, and he wants to change American foreign policy away from regime change which he thinks is a source of America’s problems.

    That does not strike me as a man who has not thought about public policy or who substitutes insults for arguments. And although he differs with Hillary Clinton’s views on many subjects, it seems to me that the character of his arguments are quite similar to hers. And he operates from a coherent ideological framework. This is in stark contrast to Trump, who seems to choose his views arbitrarily and talks about how all of America’s problems will be fixed without even attempting to give detailed policy solutions.

  25. 25 25 Victor

    I agree with the above. One may disagree with Bernie but you have to have a very idiosyncratic view of coherence to say he is incapable of formulating a coherent thought. Contrary to your portrayal,the majority of his assessed statements on politifact have been graded as “True” or “Mostly True”. Moreover, Bernie’s rhetoric has been consistent throughout his entire career, so one could argue he was actually the most coherent candidate in this election.

    The most charitable interpretation I could give you is that you find moral statements like “Access to healthcare is a right.” to be incoherent. If you understand “rights”, however, as something society has a moral obligation to provide, I don’t see how it is the incoherent, unless you’re a full blown nihilist.

    I think, however, that rather than being a completely accurate reflection of your views, this post is more symptomatic of your tendency to be a bit of a troll (someone who says things to get a rise out of people). It’s this tendency that leads to post titles, such as “In Praise of Genocide”.

    Note: I voted for Clinton over Sanders in the primaries, but not because of the absurd claims you made in this post.

  26. 26 26 Steve Landsburg

    Victor: If “Access to health care is a right” is a coherent thought, then so is “A date with Kelly Ripa is a right”, or “Ownership of the New York Mets is a right”. When a resource is in limited supply, declaring “access” to be a “right” contributes absolutely nothing to a conversation about how it’s going to be allocated. Compounding this is that health care comes in different quantities, in virtue of which “Health care is a right” is as incoherent as “Money is a right”. A dollar is money; so is a hundred dollars; so is a billion dollars. The health care that Henry VIII received was health care; the health care that the average middle class American received in 1975 is health care; the health care that Donald Trump gets today is health care. Where is the line between a “right” and “not a right”? Does it move over time? In response to what exactly. Et cetera.

  27. 27 27 Ken B

    @Keshav 24
    One place where Sanders refuses to even try to make sense is his position on free university for all. He does not consider for example how this affects those who choose not to go to college, or to do an apprenticeship instead; he refuses to detail how such a program can be paid for, or how large an expansion of the university system it would involve; he does not discuss if it would involve displacing foreign students; he makes no case for a fleet of new scholars of transgressive gender imagery in French frog pottery. There is no serious questioning if too many attend university, or if they take the wrong thing. I could go on. What you hear from Sanders is warmed over stuff from a different, distant, past. And none of his arguments are quantitative.

    He blamed povert on the plethora of deodorant choices. This isn’t just prima facie silly. It’s an appeal to resentment and envy. It reflects a deep misunderstanding of markets, and his attitude around the question reveals his unconcern to even try to do so, or to think it important.

    Just two examples.

  28. 28 28 PE

    “I will decide who is a yahoo!” — DWS

    “I will decide who is a Jew!” — Karl Lueger

  29. 29 29 Neil


    A right is not something the government has an obligation to provide, it is something the government cannot deprive the people. People have a right to access to health care, just as they have a right to own a gun, but they do not have a right to force others to pay for it. I am okay with the government providing health care to the poor, but it is not a right.

  30. 30 30 Sub Specie Æternitatis


    That is the classical or negative view of rights. It is also the only one that makes internal sense.

    Unfortunately, it is not the modern or positive view embraced by both governments (see, e.g., the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and most of the general populous. If you try telling them that they don’t have a “right” to anything they’d like to have, you will not please your audience.

  31. 31 31 iceman

    Also with healthcare (and Kelly Ripa perhaps) the resource is a service, in which case the question is “how can you have a right to something someone else must provide for you?” I thought a long time ago we came to view such a notion as fairly abhorrent. Appeals to a moral obligation of “society” is the language used to wash over these pesky considerations of actual “rights”, e.g. the right not to work as a doctor. I could cite some rather unsettling historical examples of such language.

    Owning the Mets might not even be a privilege :)

    “increased taxation of the rich because they aren’t contributing enough to society”

    Another teaching example of a statement begging for a premise; e.g. how did they (all) get rich without (someone at some point) having contributed to society?
    I’m continually perplexed as to why classism gets a pass as another “ism” useful for grouping people together to sow resentment without basis

    As much as I dislike all of the anti-trade rhetoric, when push comes to shove I have to believe whether a candidate wants to raise or lower taxes weighs more heavily on economic freedom at least in the US.

  32. 32 32 Alan Gunn

    We know Clinton will do bad things. We have no idea what Trump will do (and neither does he). Sometimes I find comfort in knowing that my vote can’t possibly affect the outcome.

  33. 33 33 Peter

    @Steve #26

    I come to this blog often and really enjoy to discussions, even as a person schooled very little economics. This comment was the exact reason I enjoy it so much: the concise description of such a complex, and exceedingly intricate, problem that makes perfect sense to the average layperson (like myself). Steve, with your permission, I will have to use this in future conversations–I simply love how well this illustrates the problem of sound-byte politics with no substance.

  34. 34 34 Sub Specie Æternitatis

    @Alan Gunn:

    I agree with all of your observations, but doesn’t the second point into the opposite direction from the last?

    If–somehow–I was given the power to choose whether Hillary or Donald become president on January 20, 2017, I would be agonizing about that choice.

    But given that I (and you) know that our support will make absolutely no difference and that whatever will happen, will happen, why not just take the intrinsic pleasures of speaking the truth as best you can discern it and maintaining your integrity by supporting neither?

  35. 35 35 Josh

    I agree with Neil’s sentiment in #29. Just because it doesn’t make sense or I don’t get what it means by saying “every person has a right to medical care,” that doesn’t mean I necessarily think programs similar to, say, Romneycare or Obamacare don’t make sense.

    Since most people in this country are against letting those who desperately need medical care, but who can’t afford it, not receive it, it makes sense to me to force those people to pay something to be insured at some basic, perhaps high deductible level, to help pay for their potential catastrophic future care. If those who are extremely poor can’t afford the premiums, then that can be part of the safety net. But in our country their probably shouldn’t be too many people who can’t contribute something to their potential future catastrophic care.

    We do it with auto insurance. Maybe there are reasons why this generally is a bad idea still. I’m sure Landsburg is much much more versed on these potential pitfalls. But in a country that doesn’t want to turn people away, forcing people to contribute to insuring themselves makes sense to me.

  36. 36 36 Ken B

    Alas that is no solace this time. Were Weld atop the Libertarian ticket I might be able to support him, but then this

    Presidents are mostly about foreign policy, and Johnson is simply unacceptable to me, if we are talking about being honest. Too bad.

    The only thing I can in good conscience advocate is divided government. If you support Hillary, vote for a GOP congress; if your support Trump vote for a Democrat congress.

  37. 37 37 Alan Gunn

    @33: That’s what I plan to do. Though for some reason Clinton’s “real” supporters (not just those who find her less awful than Trump) sometimes annoy me so much that I get the urge to back Trump just to annoy them. My sense is that those people want to control the lives of those they see as less virtuous than themselves, while many of Trump’s fans are just woefully uninformed. Like Ken B, I do hope for a divided government, but this year looks like one in which people who bother to vote may mostly just pull a party lever and go home

  38. 38 38 Sub Specie Æternitatis


    That is a very reasonable point. If we are not going to let people die in the streets, then we either force people to carry health insurance or we create moral hazard.

    But it is not a all clear to me that the consequences of moral hazard here would be worse than the effect of forced health insurance. In particular, if health insurance has to take the idiotic, comprehensive (rather than the sensible, catastrophic) form people demand here, it may be worse.

    My pet health reform plan (endorsed by nobody, even though it should leave almost everybody better off), is to abolish Medicare, Medicaid, the tax deductibility of health care premiums, EMTALA, the tax deductibility of medical expenses, etc. and replace it with a single program: a tax credit for all medical expenses kicking at 10% of AGI and reaching 100% at 30% of AGI. (While I wouldn’t outlaw health insurance, it would likely die out under such a scheme).

    The net effect would be (a) to make most health care expenditures regular out-of-pocket costs controlled by ordinary market forces and (b) give everybody in the US government-funded catastrophic health insurance (with catastrophic defined in terms of AGI; nobody would ever have to pay more than 20% of their AGI on medical expenses in any year; people without any income would have all their expenses paid).

    There is much to be said about the fine details of how such a program would work, both to avoid obvious pitfalls and many hidden additional benefits compared to both the current and popular alternative schemes, but that would be a long, long comment.

    @Ken B#35:

    I hear you, brother. I’ve been very disappointed in the Johnson campaign and its apparent strategy of disavowing not just the controversial parts of the Libertarian platform, but even those parts that many who would be inclined to vote for him—or even outright majorities—consider desirable. Weld’s statements that they would appoint justices like Breyer(!) does not help. All that being said, Johnson will have to try still harder for me to consider him as bad as Hillary or Donald.

    @Alan Gunn#36:

    Confession time: The wails of Hillary true believers at the popularity of Trump warms my heart too. But in the end, you can’t let your views be determined by what will provide the most Schadenfreude.

  39. 39 39 Zazooba

    @SSA #33

    “why not just take the intrinsic pleasures of speaking the truth as best you can discern it and maintaining your integrity by supporting neither?”

    Supporting neither is kind of the easy way out perhaps. It is easy to act holier than everybody, because nobody ever fully measures up to our high-so-very-high standards.

    Speaking the truth is always a good idea, though. Even if you hold your nose and support one over the other, you can still be honest about your choice. You don’t have to turn into a zealous advocate. (Although human nature seems to almost implacably impel people to zealous advocacy.) (BTW, “zealous” sure has a lot of vowels in it; feels wasteful.)

    Just as an intellectual exercise, this is an interesting election. Usually we have some reasonably good clues about what kind of a president a candidate will be. Obama turned out to be pretty much as expected if you had been closely watching what he said in 2008 and 2012.

    But, what on earth would Trump be like? The best I can do is picture him as Andrew Jackson. But what does that tell us?

    And Hillary is surprisingly opaque because she may not mean anything she says, so maybe she is something else at heart. On the other hand, she keeps saying a lot of hard-left things, so she probably means a lot of them. Also, it is easy to assume she is more centrist because she is associated with Bill Clinton, but she is not Bill Clinton. Plus, she has not done any post-convention tacking back to the center that we usually expect. But, she has an incentive to toe the Obama line during the election.

    So who knows?

  40. 40 40 Ken B

    @36, 37
    I confess. I kinda want Trump to win. I just don’t want him to become president. But his election victory would have a desirable effect upon a few million people.

    Oddly it was Obama who put this best. “The presidency is not a talk show.” If we could elect Trump national talk show host instead of president I’d be all for it.

  41. 41 41 Victor

    @Steve Your comment is appreciated and well taken.

    That being said, I still think it makes sense to use moral language in this context. Just as one has a moral obligation to save a drowning person, it can be argued that society has a moral obligation to guarantee a certain level of healthcare service.

    Now the problem your post pressed is “what constitutes the morally sufficient level of health care access”. That is a tough question and I concede the language of rights does not get you very far. (Does someone have a right to daily exams with the purpose of catching a potential illness early?). I think there is clearly room for market forces to work its magic in allocating services to those who value them most. But markets are imperfect, and when the stakes are so high, I believe ethical considerations are appropriate, and coercive measures to guarantee ethical outcomes may be necessary.

  42. 42 42 Ken B

    Victor in 41 says coercive measures may be necessary because markets are imperfect. I’d say markets may be necessary because coercive measures are imperfect.

  43. 43 43 iceman

    “coercive measures to guarantee ethical outcomes”

    To me this is an oxymoron — not just ends vs. means, but also because ethics and morals are individual determinations. Another example of what I call the fallacy of omniscience. I really think references to rights and morality are best left out of this, or any discussion of redistribution. At best it presumes the superiority of your / the majority’s version of “positive” morality, which can quickly take you to bad places. (By contrast protecting real “negative” rights makes no fundamental claim on others.) If you must you can try to cast it in terms of maximizing social utility: “hey sorry guys but I have to take some of your stuff because my calculator says so”. Just acknowledge it’s authoritarian / mob rule.

    “society has a moral obligation to…”
    Again substituting “I think people have” belies the hidden premise that government is the only way to help people. You might argue it’s more efficient (at least among those who agree with the goal), although the historical record is not too supportive. And efficiency isn’t always the top criterion.

  44. 44 44 Will A

    @ sub #12
    “But regardless of one’s views of Trump, does anybody take that narrow a view? Would you congratulate Priebus if he got David Duke or Bozo the Clown elected as GOP president?”

    Are you claiming that it is morally wrong to praise someone for being successful at something you find morally wrong?

    I can’t both find Jerry Falwell’s preaching morally reprehensible and congratulate him for the fact that he had the talent to attract such a large following and become wealthy as a result.

    Was Ted Cruz wrong to congratulate Donald Trump on winning the nomination at the Republican convention? Did this congratulation show approval on Ted Cruz’s part?

    What I can say is that if Priebus were to get anyone elected (whether David Duke or Bozo the clown), he should get praise from at least 50% of the voting public because he helped to prevent a person that the majority of voting Americans didn’t want from becoming president.

    Or is that not worthy of praise?

  45. 45 45 Sub Specie Æternitatis

    @Will A#44:

    We may be quibbling about semantics here, but while I can respect great skill, even brought to bear in an evil cause, I will not praise it.

    Do you much praise the skill of the politically correct administrators agitators that have effectively lobotomized entire sub-disciplines and silenced any dissenters without tenure? Do you much praise mainstream media which have so effectively cocooned much of the middle-brow class that they are just entirely unaware about the arguments against the widely-embraced progressive platitudes?

    I concede that they have been effective. But I don’t praise them.

  46. 46 46 Will A

    @ sub #45

    I wouldn’t praise unlawful behavior.

    I believe that a person who legally obtains wealth and power deserves praise for in a society that values wealth and power.

    It kind of begs the question of if there were a capitalistic society, where those who legally make wealth and are successful and are therefore adding value to society, would there be no evil legal actions that a person could take?

    Or put another way, if a person in such a society succeeded in his chosen endeavor would he be worthy of praise a priori? Or would there still be legal evil actions that a person could take that would not be worthy of praise?

    Or in a capitalist society would there people who are successful in their chosen endeavors but wouldn’t add value to society.

    Btw, I personally am not too offended by the middle-brow class statement (I’m more upset that JoJo didn’t choose Luke during hometown dates on the Bachelorette).

    I am curious whether the middle-brow class includes includes politically correct administrators?

    Or are the mainstream media and politically correct administrators working together to hide the arguments that a middle-brow class would hunger for?

  47. 47 47 Ken B

    “while I can respect great skill, even brought to bear in an evil cause, I will not praise it.”

    I’m having a parsing problem here. You won’t praise great skill is what you are saying. You can respect it even in the service of evil though.

    So Vladimir Horowitz plays all 32 Beethoven sonatas by heart, then plays them backwards blindfolded, and you cannot summon up a “well done”?

  48. 48 48 Zazooba

    @SSA, Will A, Ken B,

    People! People! Angels. Heads of Pins. Time to move on.

    I am stepping in and officially ending this line of argument. Think of the children!

  49. 49 49 Ken B

    Just don’t expect praise from SSA for it!

  50. 50 50 iceman

    Victor 41 – forgot about this: “Just as one has a moral obligation to save a drowning person”

    This glosses over an interesting question: does one have a moral obligation *to put oneself at risk* to save another?
    One attempt at an answer as I recall is Ayn Rand’s view that in fact to do so for a stranger is *immoral* in that it demonstrates insufficient respect for one’s own life, which is something to be lived to its fullest. [A common misunderstanding here is that to the extent we know and love another (for their virtues) they become an extension of ourselves and so in that context self-sacrifice is compatible with “the virtue of selfishness”.]

    I would say I’m not sure how this translates to society’s moral obligation to provide health care (e.g. giving up some income increases your financial risk?), but I think part of the problem is once again we’re blurring cases of individual morality with some amorphous “societal” version.

    Will A 46 – I think your question is only answerable by saying legality does not necessarily equate with morality, there can be good laws and bad laws and loopholes so technical compliance can tell you little. E.g. someone might find a way to legally steal another’s idea (the history of the tech industry is replete with examples), which would not be adding value to society, rather the real innovator did not get rewarded. You might respect the cleverness of the lawyers but probably not “praise” that (legal) outcome in the sense of a generalizable good.

    It seems the real issue you want to be after is just wealth creation per se. There I would suggest in an idealized “capitalistic society” (i.e. based on voluntary exchange), success by definition is wealth creating / value adding. In fact it’s hard for me to see why this shouldn’t be considered a positive force or virtuous endeavor in *any* type of societal arrangement — regardless of whether a group “values wealth and power”, shouldn’t they be interested in improving people’s lives? If not I start to question the real motives.

  51. 51 51 Will A

    @ Zazooka #48

    Perfect timing calling the end of the discussion before sub had a chance to respond.

    Remind me, did we agree on $5 or $10?

  52. 52 52 Sub Specie Æternitatis


    Dang it! Next time inquire with me whether I can outbid Will A first.

  53. 53 53 Ken

    In 2016, one of the country’s two major political parties was rocked by an insurgent demagogue who prospered by pandering to ignorance, xenophobia, blind hatred and outright stupidity.

    HRC isn’t an “insurgent demagogue”. She’s an establishment demagogue.

    But the Trump/Sanders phenomenon took this to a whole new level.

    For an educated man, you know little about American political history.

  1. 1 DZ Sokol » Blog Archive Great Summary of Clinton vs Trump - DZ Sokol
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