No way to treat a capitalist

Posted: Aug 06, 2002 12:00 AM
Al is back; pass it on. And, omigosh, don't ask, "Al who?" Is it possible not to know? Albert Gore, last spotted somewhere or other sporting a beard, showed up last Sunday on the New York Times op-ed page to announce, if not in so many words, his political resurrection. More disturbing than any presumption of an empty tomb up Nashville way was the subject matter our former vice president chose for purposes of reintroducing himself. Implying no intention of bashing business, Gore bashed business with fury and disdain. Ostensibly what he wanted to tell us was that "the few" are imposing on "the many." "The future of democratic capitalism" is "at risk" and can't be "rejuvenated unless the people and the politicians focus on the question: What is good for the whole?" "This struggle between the people and the powerful," according to Al, "was at the heart of every major domestic issue of the 2000 campaign" -- in which the Democratic candidate was who? -- "and is still the central dynamic of politics in 2002." Then, the reward posters on the post-office wall: "pharmaceutical companies," "the insurance companies and health maintenance organizations," "those who profit from pollution," "the very rich," "$1.6 trillion in tax giveaways for the few," "immense deceptions and losses," "energy company lobbyists" and "the powerful." An impressive list, for sure, covering every populist cause presently in view. You can hear Al saying it on the presidential campaign trail. He probably can, too. Such expressions, such emphases, may -- like the post-Florida Al -- have whiskers. That is not to say they won't attract admiring glances. Gore clearly hopes they will. He could be dramatically right in being flagrantly wrong. What Gore's attempt at political levitation tells us is that he sees potential Democratic rivals attacking the "greed" of "the few." He would like to punch while the punching is good. His assumption about the rivals is in no way esoteric, what with Enron in the headlines and the WorldCom execs in handcuffs -- this, against the backdrop of the bear market. Capitalism hasn't lately generated many rave notices. It becomes popular, if not inevitable, in such an environment to take after the capitalists: being careful, as Gore was, sort of, to distinguish between "the greedy" and "thousands of honest American corporations." This few-against-the-many tommyrot is a staple of political discourse on the left. You hear it mostly in bad times, whose reality, like that of tornadoes and hurricanes, is a fact of life. A characteristic of capitalism is down cycles that offset in some degree the up cycles. People lose; people get hurt. Hurt excites politicians, who want to minister profitably to it -- meaning they want to regulate and control in such a way as to promise an end to hurt. This is where Gore is. He points angrily at greed, one of the Seven Deadly Sins, as if just discovering its hideousness. His remedy? Deploy government power in behalf of "the whole" -- as if Congress were qualified to define something so amorphous. The point, naturally, isn't Congress' definitional abilities; the point, presently, is using businessmen (the generic "greedy") to terrify dogs, old ladies and especially voters. The phoniest of Gore's phrases is "$1.6 trillion in tax giveaways for the few." "The few"? Now where did I get the impression that every taxpayer got his taxes cut? Which -- excuse me, Mr. Ex-Vice President -- wouldn't have happened had the Florida recount come out differently. At the best of times, capitalism is a radically uncertain affair. These being less than the best of times, it scarcely behooves the politicians of one party -- even, to some extent, both -- to be lambasting the capitalists. Alas, as our former vice president reminds us, that's what goes on around here. Can you even begin to imagine how the stock market is going to love the oncoming campaign?