Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Chattin’ Schiff

Was Peter Schiff’s performance at the DNC any different than what they do over at the Daily Show? Maybe not, but it sure felt like it. Schiff is a clever guy and a convincing debater, which is facilitated by his penchant for playing it fast and loose with facts. (He’s one of those guys who get the “half true” assessments from politifact).

A quick browse on YouTube will provide few examples of Schiff’s style for leveraging hyperbole and weaving half-truths. Schiff also has a common talent for omitting relevant bits of information and magically transforming correlation in to causation.  For example, to support his argument for tax reduction for the rich, Schiff incited his radio listeners to consider that, despite paying a smaller percentage of their income, in absolute numbers the rich actually pay well more than the middle class. I need not spotlight the, erm, “analytical looseness” of his position.

Schiff’s stunt at the DNC showed that the left are just as uninformed as the tea baggers, and probably shouldn’t be making big decisions. Wanting to ban corporate profits make you look remedial. Wanting to cap profits make you look less remedial, however, that course of action is not a feasible alternative. Schiff breached enemy lines and made the democratic base look foolish by prompting them to answer a very basic question. It should be noted that Schiff, like the Daily Show correspondents, generalized an unrepresentative sample. Nevertheless, it did hammer home the message that a large proportion of the electorate have no economic foundation on which to base their decisions or to guide their thinking about the economy. While the tea party wields more jargon, they are in the same sinking ship.

Schiff reinforced what all of us already know. Political campaigns aren’t about facts. They are hardly even about ideology. Details and substance matter very little, which is why Romney, knowing his base, didn’t posit a single detail when he was outlining his vision for the country. Instead, he spent is forty odd minutes peddling pabulum and criticizing Obama. We are buying brands. We are buying in to a candidate, a party, a set of policies that we don’t really understand. This isn't because of passion or patriotism, but because of what doing so says about us and makes us feel.

Hats off to Schiff. It may have been a low blow, but it was an effective one. However, Schiff likes to hear himself talk. And it is with this foible that he manages to diminish his credibility. On CNBC’s Squawk Box he bandied about some uncontested (as the show either omits Keynesians altogether, or  strategically invites the most feckless among them) charges: “these are the smartest democrats,” “they are the cream of the democratic crop.” Well, this is a canard and everyone knows it. Nevertheless, Schiff has done a good job at undermining the electorate. When it comes to political activism, going to conventions, asking for money and pandering to a base you don’t respect, you can assume that the A team is not on the floor.

But, as usual, Mr. Schiff marches forward. To support his position for slashing all corporate tax he states: “can’t you see that most jobs are from businesses.” Yes, but of course he neglects to point out, or to realize, that taxes do have positive externalities for businesses, as Obama pointed out in his now often misquoted speech. Schiff went on to lambaste, and thoroughly bastardize, Michelle Obama’s DNC speech. Schiff asserted the democrats believe that it is “more noble to receive something in charity than to give someone a job.” Moreover, according to Schiff, the democrats believe that it is “more important to try than to succeed.” No one who watched Michelle Obama’s speech, despite his or her deep conservatism, English incompetence, or schizophrenia, could have made that wildly outlandish inference.

Schiff pointed out to a group from Occupy Wall Street that “the people who help people are the people who make the most money. Making money is a sign of how many people you help… if I made a 100 million I had to create a lot of jobs to make that money.” Or you could have be like this guy, or this guy, or this guy.

Peter Schiff is a clever guy. He’s a fun, entertaining and challenging debater. But one thing he is not is well rounded. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, it’s easier to see the world through a single window. Like Romney, Peter Schiff seems to forget that privilege is a nice little advantage to have. They live in a  world where needing a loan for college is fiction. Where failure stems not from external circumstances, but from an internal deficiency. As with Romney, I credit Schiff for having parlayed his winning hand. But his lack of empathy renders him unworthy of respect.

Michael Lewis gave a great commencement speech at Princeton. He said (paraphrased):

“Don’t be deceived by life’s outcomes, while not entirely random, they have a huge amount of luck baked in to them. Above all recognize that if you’ve had success you’ve had luck. And with luck comes obligation. You owe a debt. And not just to your gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky. You are the lucky few. Lucky in your parents, lucky in your country, lucky in your school.”

Lewis’ point is that while many of us have done a lot to earn our success, we must acknowledge that we have had advantages, He implores us not don’t forget that, and to try empathize with those who haven’t had the same advantages.

In comparison, Schiff said “I think the people who aren’t paying their fair share are the lower class or the poor. They are slacking. Why aren’t they working harder? There are a lot of people who decide they don’t want a hard life. They don’t want to worry. They want an easy life.”

Schiff may be the multimillionaire hedge fund manager, someone who we’ve been groomed to admire – a Pavlovian conditioning we, against our nature, are now questioning. He may be smart and he may be rich. But does that mean he deserves our respect? 

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