Methinks Mr. Stephens doth protest overmuch. Even to my right-center ears, a phrase like “the politics of envy” seems designed to de-legitimize the issue of inequality in American society. That is foolhardy: history reminds us that a political or economic elite that ignores inequality is speeding its own doom, potentially in an effusion of gore.
That said, deep beneath Stephen’s fiddling-for-the-assembled-plutocrats rhetoric lies a fair point.
There are legitimate issues with the regulation of the finance industry. There are legitimate problems with our tax code. Money plays far too large a role in our political process. And there is an unsustainable flow of capital away from those most able to put it to use in the service of the economy and the general welfare.
Enfolding those issues in the thick bearskin of class warfare only serves to obscure them and to draw our attention away from realistic, practical legislative and executive solutions to those problems. Wealth and those who hold it are not the issue – unless you seek to legitimize a means to strip wealth from all who have acquired it, regardless of means.
Even at the height of inequality at the beginning of his first administration, Franklin Delano Roosevelt never spoke of wealth in terms designed to incite anger against the wealthy, yet he managed to lay the moral and theoretical groundwork for a period of unprecedented equality in America. He underscored how wealth acquired, whether by industry or speculation, was the result of collective effort, and that those who had acquired wealth were obliged to see to the well being of the least fortunate.
And so we see the difference between a demagogue and a statesman. The former exhorts his followers into righteous anger at the accumulators of material wealth. The latter demonstrates that the very foundations of society that permit the acquisition, employment, and enjoyment of wealth depend upon the substantive contributions of those who have thus acquired it.
With each rhetorical shotgun blast at southern Manhattan, Senator Sanders chooses to play to his crowd rather than to lead them – and the nation. In so doing, he legitimizes the forces of reaction who would brand him a dangerous subversive. I am no fan of Mr. Sanders or his brand of progressivism, but for the sake of the nation, one hopes that as the campaign proceeds he becomes more the statesman and less the firebrand.