Liberal evangelist St Sam Seaborn, now the patron saint of conservative bloggers and pundits for whom the greatest sin is hurting the feelings of very rich people.
Republican bloggers and pundits are having fun passing around this quote from an episode of The West Wing. They think Aaron Sorkin speaking in 2001 through President Bartlett’s speechwriter, Sam Seaborn, was presciently criticizing what they regard as President Obama's You Didn't Build That blasphemy.
Henry, last fall, every time your boss got on the stump and said, "It's time for the rich to pay their fair share," I hid under a couch and changed my name. I left Gage Whitney making $400,000 a year, which means I paid twenty-seven times the national average in income tax. I paid my fair share, and the fair share of twenty-six other people. And I'm happy to 'cause that's the only way it's gonna work, and it's in my best interest that everybody be able to go to schools and drive on roads, but I don't get twenty-seven votes on Election Day. The fire department doesn't come to my house twenty-seven times faster and the water doesn't come out of my faucet twenty-seven times hotter. The top one percent of wage earners in this country pay for twenty-two percent of this country. Let's not call them names while they're doing it, is all I'm saying.
Josh Barro, writing more in the mode of Paddy Chayefsky than Aaron Sorkin and echoing Ned Beatty's wrathful sinners in the hands of an angry corporatist god speech in Network---“You have meddled…Mr Beale!”---white knuckles the lectern and gasps from his pulpit at Bloomberg, "When Barack Obama has made an argument for progressive taxation that even Aaron Sorkin finds distasteful, he has erred."
Three things wrong with this.
First is, that's not what the President meant and Barro and the members of his choir and the elders in the front pews know it. So unless you actually built the bridges and the roads that carry your customers to and from your business' front door, stop whining and shut up.
Second, nobody cares that some rich people got their feelings hurt.
Third, thanks to The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin's reputation is not at its highest these days. In fact, he's regarded as something of a pompous, self-infatuated windbag who although he can write some snappy dialog knows next to nothing about politics, economics, baseball, social networking, journalism, or comedy, but particularly politics and economics. Everything he's done since West Wing has made even fans wonder if we were wrong about West Wing.
Other than that...
Barro and others seem to think we’re damned out of our own mouths and we ought to feel ashamed of the President as if he’s our pastor caught preaching a heresy. Seriously? They expect us to feel chastened, to tsk tsk at the President, because a fictional character was inordinately pleased with himself because of all the money he made as a lawyer? Oh well. Serves us right. It was liberals who evangelized that The West Wing, a usually cleverly written, always incredibly well-acted fantasy about how wonderful it would be if the country was run by a handful of smartypantsed white yuppies, was liberal gospel. Every now and then I'll come across a liberal blogger who seems to think Aaron Sorkin wrote a how-to manual for effective and moral liberal governance and then, like Sam Seaborn, I want to hide under the couch and change my name.
But here's the thing. Most of the time Sorkin didn't care what his characters were saying. He cared about how clever what they were saying sounded and how it played off what some other character had just said and then how clever what the next character to speak would sound playing off of that. The West Wing was often a comic symphony for voices speaking gibberish.
Seaborn's speech is a good example. It's not thought. It's sound. Which is fine. It's pleasant sound. As thought it's mostly BS. If you're rich the fire department does get to your house faster. The police not only arrive sooner, they ask permission first and then they wipe their feet when they show up and apologize for taking so long and being out of breath.
If the water coming out of your tap isn't hot enough, the mayor will drive over with his tool kit and replace your hot water heater himself and fix the drip from the kitchen faucet while he's at it.
It's a good life, being rich. Things are so much easier and pleasant. Also safer. It's not always a picnic, but when it is there are way fewer ants. That's why we all want to be rich. It's why we Democrats like to spread the wealth, so more people can live lives that are easier and more pleasant and safer and with fewer ants. It's why it's a bad thing that the One Percent have stopped spreading it and set themselves to hogging more of it.
It's also the case that Sorkin wrote that speech when Bill Clinton had just left office with stratospherically high approval ratings after having balanced the budget and built a surplus partly by raising taxes.
Besides the fact that it's out of date, and was out of date when it was written, what's wrong about the speech (or right if you think of Sam's character as somewhat callow and naive) is that Sam assumes everyone making upwards of 400 grand is like him, happy to pay their fair share so all of us can have good schools and safe streets.
Conservatives don't read our scripture any more closely than they read their own. Sam isn't arguing against taxes. He's not necessarily arguing against raising them. He's certainly not arguing for cutting taxes on the rich as Mitt Romney is promising to do. He's objecting to the rhetoric Henry’s boss---whoever Henry is---uses when he agitates for raising taxes and I guess cons who got that are assuming Henry's boss sounds like they think President Obama sounds, needlessly disrespectful of his betters. Their noses get out of joint if everything you say isn’t a hymn to the greater glory of our Galtian Overlords or doesn’t include a Wayne and Garth-level of apology for how unworthy we rabble are to live in the light of their gloriosity. But they miss or expect us to miss that Sam thinks taxes on the well to do are necessary to pay for infrastructure for the common good. This is an idea the Republican Party has lately rejected.
To the shock and dismay of even some Republicans, like retiring (in disgust) Ohio Congressman Steve LaTourette.
Long an advocate of increased infrastructure spending, LaTourette said he was ”horribly disappointed” in the debate over the transportation funding bill, calling it an “embarrassment” to the institution that a bipartisan bill approved by the Senate was not handily approved in the House.
A long-term funding bill ultimately passed, but only after months of internal Republican strife.
“We’re talking about about building roads and bridges for Chrissakes,” he said, adding that he had come to believe his Congressional colleagues have become “more interested in fighting with each other than getting the no-brainers done and governing.”
Hat tip to ClaireHelene7.
Second reading: As long as they’re quoting the Gospel According to Saint Sam Seaborn, chapter and verse, they should think about this one:
Mallory, education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don't need little changes, we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense. That's my position. I just haven't figured out how to do it yet.
You know who wouldn’t agree with this? The guy the Republicans are about to nominate for President. The guy who thinks we don’t need any more teachers.