When it comes to government and society, the idea of fairness takes on whole new meanings. What might seem unfair in a small group or between two people becomes very fair (and necessary) when applied on a national scale.
My friend Jen Goode has been putting together a project called Tuesday's Topic for over two years. More often than not, I haven't participated—not because I think it's an unworthy project, but because I have no discipline and I'm the worst procrastinator you'll ever meet (this is posting after midnight, so technically, it's Wednesday now). Every week, Jen posts the Topic and anyone who would like to write about it can do so and get linked to from the Facebook group and from the sites of other bloggers that are participating.
This week's Topic is Finding Fair, which lends itself to a great many angles. Annie took on interpersonal relationships and cosmic balance. Judi wrote about fairness in business. Jen came from the angle of family, sharing and compromise. Jen's husband, Dave, wrote a political piece. It's Dave's take on Finding Fair that really prompted me to fight my procrastination and participate this week. You see, I don't think what he wrote was very fair.
Now, before I get into this, understand that I consider Dave a friend, and although I disagree with what he wrote, no insult is intended or should be inferred. Too often, when people talk politics things turn ugly. Dave's a great guy, and we just have a difference of opinion.
Dave isn't alone in his criticism of the so-called stimulus package. Some call it a bailout or a handout. Some say it isn't fair that people are getting bailed out by the government after failing to run their businesses properly. Dave draws a line and calls it “personal responsibility”, which I don't necessarily disagree with. People should be held accountable for their actions, but I differ with Dave on a few key points. I think we both draw a line, but we simply put it in different places.
Now then. I don't think that the tale of the red hen, as modernized in Dave's piece, is fair. Here's why.
She baked five loaves and after they were finished she held them up for all of her neighbors to see. “Who shall help me eat this bread?” asked the little red hen.
The tale starts off with someone, a little red hen, who has created something that others desire. Good for her! Personally, I wrote a couple of books that I hope others will desire. Shameless plug, I know, but it's for a reason. We're talking about tangible goods.
“I will,” said the cow. “I need to eat to make good milk and I don’t have the time.”
“I will,” said the duck. “My welfare benefits don’t provide bread.”
“I will,” said the pig. “I learned to eat in school.”
“I will,” said the goose. “If you don’t give me any bread, that’s discrimination.”
Certainly, there are people in the world that take these stances. You may have noticed the first flaw in the retelling of the tale, though. It's implied that none of these four characters offered to pay for the bread. It's implied that they are simply demanding free bread, and while that is fine for the story, it's not what happens in real life. The goose, for example, has a valid point – it would be discrimination if the hen refused him any bread if she were giving it to the other animals. That's right, the goose uses the word “give”, but let's back this up a step and acknowledge that no price has been set. Set a price, hen, then see what the goose has to say, because at this point, all you've done is asked who wants to help you eat it… and that makes it sound like you're offering it for free.
I set a price for my books. If anyone were to demand that I give it away for free, I would refuse. My price is set. If you want to negotiate, we can talk. What does the hen inexplicably do next?
But the little red hen said, “No, I made the bread I shall eat all five loaves.” And she did.
Wait, what? The other four animals have expressed desire, but the hen, rather than negotiate a price just decides to keep all the bread for herself? Flaw number two: this makes no sense. If someone demanded I give away the books I wrote for free and I responded by hoarding them, how much sense would that make? Nobody would get to read them, and I already know all the words, so they don't do me any good just sitting around my house.
“Excess profits!” cried the cow. (Nancy Pelosi)
“Capitalist leech!” screamed the duck. (Barbara Boxer)
“I demand equal rights!” yelled the goose. (Jesse Jackson)
The pig just grunted in disdain. (Ted Kennedy)
And they all painted ‘Unfair!’ picket signs and marched around and around the little red hen, shouting obscenities.
What profits? What capitalism? The hen isn't selling anything and isn't making any money! This is where things get weird[er]. Nevermind that each animal has been assigned to a person in a pretty stereotypical fashion (yes, we get it, Ted Kennedy is a pig, sheesh). The interesting thing here is that the reactions to the hen's actions have absolutely nothing to do with said actions. The hen has decided to hoard the bread, remember. The reaction from the goose is a plea for equal rights? How does that fit? After they each made their statement, they picketed the hen, shouting obscenities. Obscenities? I'm honestly curious what part of real life that's supposed to equate to, because I have never in my life seen elected officials – or Jesse Jackson – picket someone and shout obscenities.
How ridiculous would it look if a bunch of people showed up at my house shouting obscenities because I wasn't giving away free books? Hm. I just had an idea for a publicity stunt.
Then Farmer Obama came. He said to the little red hen, “You must not be so greedy.”
Good point, Mr. President. The hen shouldn't be greedy, but that's not exactly what has happened here. The hen, rather than negotiate a price for her bread, has instead decided to hoard it all for herself for some strange reason. Remember, nobody was demanding free bread. The hen isn't being greedy, the hen is being stupid.
“But I worked hard and earned the bread,” protested the little red hen.
No, the hen didn't earn the bread. The hen created the bread. This is another flaw in the story. Look, I get it, this is supposed to be a parable about unfair taxes and government handouts and *gasp* Socialism. The larger meaning of the story is obvious, but there's no logic to it. If a simple story can't be accurately crafted to describe a situation, maybe the situation isn't quite what you think it is.
“Exactly,” said Barack the farmer. “That is what makes our free enterprise system so wonderful. Anyone in the barnyard can earn as much as he wants. But under our modern government system, the productive workers must divide the fruits of their labor with those who who are not productive. It is only fair.”
That's not what Obama or any other elected official is suggesting. Here, we get to the point of the story. The writer – Dave was reprinting this from another site – is calling Obama and the Democrats socialists or communists. They are not. Acting like taxes are something new is disingenuous. The previous administration collected taxes, too – the only difference is that while the Bush white house and the Republican congress gave the revenues to the rich and the military contractors, the Obama white house and the Democractic congress (now that they don't have a hostile president anymore) want to use the revenues for infrastructure, shoring up the economy and strengthening the middle class. Same money (basically), different focus.
Before anyone comes back with “but the government doesn't create jobs!”, as RNC Chair Michael Steele famously believes, allow me to remind you that the government contracts out to private firms to build roads and bridges (indirectly creating jobs) and that they directly pay government employees, including teachers, police, fire, the military, and a host of other positions that most people don't even realize are covered by the government. The government most certainly does create, and sustain, jobs.
The little red hen smiled and clucked, “I am grateful, for now I truly understand.”
No, she doesn't.
The little red hen never again baked bread but signed up for all the free stimulus bread joining her friends the cow, the duck, the pig and the goose. And one by one all the bread bakers stopped baking bread, following the example of their friend, the little red hen. And soon there was no more bread and everyone was hungry.
This is another “wait, what???” moment. The hen is a producer, not merely a consumer in this tale. She bakes the bread. She didn't set or negotiate a price, she decided on a whim to keep everything for herself, and now she decides to stop making the bread and… what? Get it from somewhere else? There are only six characters in this story; there is no other source of bread. All the other bakers followed the hen's lead? Hang on, there were other bakers? Nobody mentioned them! What are they charging for their bread? Are they profitable? Are they the ones providing the bread for the… free stimulus… you know, this is too silly. Let's wrap up.
And all the Democrats smiled. Fairness and equality had been established and ruled the land.
But… fairness and equality hadn't been established. All the farmer said was that the hen mustn't be so greedy. That's a suggestion, and it's a suggestion that, as a parent, I give to my children. Isn't that standard, teaching kids how to share? Nowhere does it say the farmer took the bread and gave it to the other animals. Okay, assuming that's implied, is that really what's happening in America? Is the government going to Ford and taking a bunch of cars and handing them out to anyone who asks for one? Is Farmer Obama going to the Coca-Cola company and taking truckloads of soda and giving them to folks on the street? I don't think that's what's going on… but just in case, could someone tell President Obama that I'm thirsty and I could use a new car? Just in case.
Pretty much sums it up…
That's Dave's closing to his blog entry. He agrees with the tale. In my opinion, you won't find any fairness in the tale. I don't think it is very fair to the Obama administration, Democrats or the people that voted for them. The worst part is that the recently passed legislation is structured in such a way that positive impacts will be felt slowly, rationally, and constructively. The legislation is creating a foundation for steady growth. As much of a solid idea as that is, the Republicans get to spend the next two years shouting, “Look, it ain't fixed yet! The Democrats don't know what they're doing! Put us back in power!” – and a significant number of shortsighted people will probably believe them. The 2010 midterms are going to be fairly interesting.
One more point about finding fairness. Dave has nothing to do with this point, this is just my own observation related to the whole stimulus/recovery package drama. On the topic of fairness… let's count how many Republican governors and other lawmakers complain – loudly – about how terrible the legislation is, then happily take the federal money to help bail out their states. They will happily (though not when there's a camera pointed at them, then they'll be resentful and dismissive) take the money for their states, bash the president and the Congress, then try to pretend like nothing good ever came of last year's election when the midterms roll around. That, in a nutshell, isn't fair.
I guess that's the whole point of everything that I've written here. What it boils down to is that in politics, fairness is given a back seat to personal desires and opinions, right or wrong. It's easy to come up with a story, even one that doesn't make sense, that backs up your personal viewpoints when you don't have to consider fairness. It's easy to insult and belittle an elected official when you don't have to worry about being fair. In politics, fairness is nothing but a concept that is paid a certain amount of lip service.
That's not fair, either.