Since When Did "For-Profit" Become a GOP Slur?

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Reason contributor David Harsanyi makes a salient point in today's Denver Post:

Listen to presidential candidates these days and you may start believing that working for a living was a moral failing.

Republican front-runner John McCain, for instance, seems especially fond of himself—or, at least, more fond of himself than usual—when throwing around a line about how his life was "not for profit, but for patriotism."

No one is diminishing the senator's war record, but there is no shame in making a buck, starting a business, promoting entrepreneurship, risking capital, creating jobs or generating the tax revenue that keeps folks like McCain employed.

The same vibe was on display last night in the Dem debate, as it has been in most of Obama's ballyhooed Kennedyesque oratoria, with its emphasis on shared sacrifice, greater causes, and inspiring brand new generations of young people to avoid those high-paying law firms to do the noble work of helping spend taxpayer money.

I talked about the McCain's disparaging attitudes toward private-sector individualism earlier this week, and made it one of my reasons to be very afraid of his presidency last April.

It's also a hoot-and-a-half that the GOP front-runner would call Mitt Romney's fortune-backed self-financing "alarming," given that he was more than happy to finance his first congressional campaign "from his wife's personal wealth." As the Arizona Republic reported, in its long, worthwhile October 1999 biography of the hometown senator,

Under 1982 election rules, it was legal for McCain to tap his wife's assets, as well as his own, when making personal loans [of $169,000] to the campaign. In 1983, the rules were rewritten, with tighter guidelines on the use of family money.

Still, when asked last July by the New York Times whether he would consider borrowing money from his super-rich wife, McCain said: "I would never do such a thing. I don't think it's the appropriate thing to do."

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  1. Matt – what impact do you expect from the Hill’s coverage of McCain’s flirtation with becoming a Democrat. Is this something you cover in your book?

  2. I think McCain is trying to turn “for profit” into a slur because the redneck and midwestneck masses (the base) of the party see Exxon-Mobile with record profits while they can barely pay to fill up their Bronco.

    Then they see Mitt Romney and puke.

  3. If I had a super-rich wife, I would consider it my duty to borrow money from her. For hookers and blow, of course. Not political campaigns.

  4. David — I didn’t drill down too closely into exactly how seriously he (or his advisers) were thinking of jumping ship; it was more part of my National Greatness/Weekly Standard chapter that probed how from March 2000 to Sept. 11, 2001, the Teddy Roosevelt fan club was talking a lot of Bull Moose.

    There’s a real good May 2001 Franklin Foer piece I linked to the other day (sorry, no time to find) that posited that Kristol, Brooks and McCain had turned, post-Dubya-drubbing, into basically liberals…. Marshall Wittman, for one, was going great guns toward a Third Party, and McCain spent that period ramming home campaign finance, using anti-rich rhetoric against tax cuts, and talking up environmentalism….

  5. from the Hill:

    Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was close to leaving the Republican Party in 2001, weeks before then-Sen. Jim Jeffords (Vt.) famously announced his decision to become an Independent, according to former Democratic lawmakers who say they were involved in the discussions.

    In interviews with The Hill this month, former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and ex-Rep. Tom Downey (D-N.Y.) said there were nearly two months of talks with the maverick lawmaker following an approach by John Weaver, McCain’s chief political strategist.

    Democrats had contacted Jeffords and then-Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) in the early months of 2001 about switching parties, but in McCain’s case, they said, it was McCain’s top strategist who came to them.

    Similar conclusions to your Foer piece it seems.

  6. If you don’t proclaim that making a profit is the highest and most noble of human callings, you are “slurring” it?

    It isn’t enough to treat capitalism as morally upstanding, you actually have to speak of it as morally transcendent?

    Get over yourselves.

  7. joe: Getting over myself was what made me accept the importance of making a little money.

  8. That’s the thing, Lamar: nobody is saying there’s anything wrong with that.

  9. Yes, joe, we do, and they should.

  10. “I think McCain is trying to turn “for profit” into a slur because the redneck and midwestneck masses (the base) of the party see Exxon-Mobile with record profits while they can barely pay to fill up their Bronco.”

    They can thank the eco-socialist wackos and the politicians in Washington who’ve caved into them by preventing drilling in ANWAR, and the outer continental shelf, etc. for those high gas prices – not Exxon. They can also thank the state and federal policitians for teh gas taxes they levy – which constitutes a far higher precentage of the price of each gallon sold than the oil companies profits do.

  11. Joe,
    Read your post, then start over at the top and tell us where the straw man came from.

    In temperament, does McCain have some similarity to Dondero?

  12. OK, Sam, let’s start at the top:

    Since When Did “For-Profit” Become a GOP Slur?

    Title of the blog post, and the term I used.

    Republican front-runner John McCain, for instance, seems especially fond of himself – or, at least, more fond of himself than usual – when throwing around a line about how his life was “not for profit, but for patriotism.”

    No one is diminishing the senator’s war record, but there is no shame in making a buck, starting a business, promoting entrepreneurship, risking capital, creating jobs or generating the tax revenue that keeps folks like McCain employed.

    Quote from the blog post, comparing McCain’s implication that patriotism is a higher moral good than profit to saying it is a “shame” to do so.

    Yup, I found the straw man, and I didn’t even have to get into the comments.

    So what do I win?

  13. So what do I win?

    Intense self-satisfaction.

  14. If you don’t proclaim that making a profit is the highest and most noble of human callings, you are “slurring” it?

    So where did anyone posit anything like that?
    Or were you just being hyperbolic?

    And I suggest that making a profit IS usually nobler than dropping bombs on rice farmers, even for patriotic reasons.

    Unless, of course, one is making the profit selling the bombs to the government.

  15. There is nothing wrong with making money, but we are electing a President not a CEO. If you know anything about how the federal government actually works you know that private sector management experience is about as useless as tits on a boar. The government just doesn’t work like the private sector. It doesn’t operate for a profit. How many “good government” “run it like a business” initiatives are going to have to fail before we realize that. Further, we don’t want government to run for profit. Do you really want DOJ running like a corporation? They already do if you consider asset forfeitures and income stream, which they certainly do.

    Yes, no one should insult Romney for making a dollar and succeeding in the private sector. But don’t think of a moment that that experience would do him one damn bit of good as President. Yeah, understanding how things work in the real world ought to cause you to have more realistic policies, but show me the actual policies. Don’t just point to your business experience.

  16. Uh, I was specifically referring to the first part of your sentence.

    There are actually levels between “slurring” and proclaiming something “the highest and most noble of callings”.

    McCain apparently is part of the nobility that looks down upon actually earning money through commerce. They can afford to disdain making money through exchange since they never had to do it.

  17. Of course the government doesn’t run like a business. But the president does have to manage lot’s of people to be effective. The success of a businessman such as Romney does indicate some facility for managing a team.

    I don’t know how McCain would do, but I suspect his temperament would tend him to the Lenin style of management.

  18. Answered already, Sam: in the damn blog post.

    I’m not the one being hyperbolic; those suggesting that John McCain slurred profit are being hyperbolic.

    I accurately restated THEIR argument, which is that it is a “slur” against capitalism to say that there could be something, patriotism for instance, that is more noble than seeking profit.

    There are actually levels between “slurring” and proclaiming something “the highest and most noble of callings”. Yes, there are. Which is why it is so absurd of Welch to claim that McCain “slurred” the profit motive when he suggested that patriotism was a higher and more noble calling.

    Don’t shoot the messenger, dude. That’s actually what Harsanyi wrote: that McCain slurred capitalism by describing patriotism as being more noble.

  19. Kennedyesque oratoria, with its emphasis on shared sacrifice

    There’s nothing like a few million bucks in your checking account to take the sting out of those sacrifices you make for the public weal.

    ——–

    generating the tax revenue that keeps folks like McCain employed.

    Amen, brother!

  20. Taken at its face value, that is true. I would say a life spent to a higher cause of some sort is better than a life spent on you. Of course that cause can be a lot of things. Just because you are in the private sector doesn’t mean you don’t have a higher cause than yourself. Your higher cause could be serving your customers. It could be making a better product. All of those are worthy causes. It is when we get beyond that that the private sector fails.

    The guys at Enron who lied cheated and stole their way to millions sure as hell acted in their own self interest. Of course that was the problem, they didn’t care about the company, and they didn’t care about their employers, their shareholders or anyone else beyond themselves. That is an empty life.

    It is kind of appalling how little credit Libertarians, who are allegedly the market’s defenders, actually give the market and freedom. Freedom and the market does not mean the freedom to screw everyone else or necessarily mean that it is somehow great or noble to get rich no matter how you did it. There are lots of noble unselfish pursuits to be had in the private sector. And in fact in pursuing those things, like making a good product or providing a good service, you usually make a little money to. Why is that so hard to understand?

  21. Gilbert Martin: ANWR has very little to do with the world price of oil and refining capacity in the US. Nice try, but the pants just don’t fit.

  22. The guys at Enron who lied cheated and stole their way to millions sure as hell acted in their own self interest.

    Of course we endorse the market. Where is Enron now? Exactly where it should be. The market speaks and Enron is dead.

    But when politicians lie and get us into war where many, many people are killed, including many innocents, what happens to them?
    Very little, they are usually lauded for making others sacrifice.

    I take issue with the claim that McCain’s version of patriotism is nobler than making an honest profit.

  23. “[T]hose who claim their liberty but not their duty to the civilization that ensures it, live a half-life, having indulged their self-interest at the cost of their self-respect. The richest man or woman, the most successful and celebrated Americans, possess nothing of importance if their lives have no greater object than themselves. They may be masters of their own fate, but what a poor destiny it is that claims no higher cause than wealth or fame.”

    That is what McCain actually said that further confirmed Matt Welch’s belief that he is the anti-christ.

    I don’t see what is so wrong with that statement. Brittney Spears is rich and certainly acted in her own interest but I think that someone who spent their lives as a cop or doctor or doing something beyond making money and blowing it, lived a more noble life. Yeah, not everyone can or should do something like fight fires or care for the sick, but everyone can do something beyond just make money and spend it. As I said above, there are lots of noble, fulfilling and unselfish things people can do. Is it really the case that Libertarianism means “only the unexamined life is worth living?”

  24. Lamar every incremental increase in supply affects of oil affects the global price of oil.

    ANWAR would increase the supply.

    Furthermore, ANWAR is not the ONLY place we can get additional supply. 85% of the outer continental shelf is off limits to oil exploration. There is plenty of oil there to get.

    Also, the oil shale deposits in the western U.S. are estimated to contain 3 times the total oil reserves of Saudi Arabia.

    Start bringing those sources of supply on line and it most certainly would have plenty to do with the global price of oil.

  25. I’ll describe a higher form of patriotism than McCain’s: that exhibited by those who chose to go to prison rather than fight Johnson’s dirty little war in Vietnam.

  26. Patriotism can of course be problematic for a number of reasons. The classic problem – one wrestled with since the classical world – is that of patriotic motivations of differing polities.

  27. “I take issue with the claim that McCain’s version of patriotism is nobler than making an honest profit.”

    What is an honest profit? Currency arbitrage is an honest profit. It is certainly not illegal. Is it the case that someone who got rich doing such and did nothing for anyone beyond buy stuff from them, lived every bit as noble a life as say an honest cop, who risked his life every day to protect people? I don’t think so.

  28. John,

    I suspect that very few people actually simply make money and spend it and I have never met a libertarian (or a Libertarian) who claimed that was the primary basis of a moral life, etc.

  29. “I’ll describe a higher form of patriotism than McCain’s: that exhibited by those who chose to go to prison rather than fight Johnson’s dirty little war in Vietnam.”

    The people of Cambodia and Vietnam salute you from their boats, killing fields and re-education camps.

  30. John,

    If the U.S. had not gotten involved in Cambodia would the Khmer Rouge have come to power?

  31. “I suspect that very few people actually simply make money and spend it and I have never met a libertarian (or a Libertarian) who claimed that was the primary basis of a moral life, etc.”

    I suspect there are a whole hell of a lot of them. My father who worked in middle management for 30 years would agree with me. We have an entire generation of MBAs who have no interest in making or doing anything beyond manipulating the market and stock price to make the most money in the shortest period of time. That is great for them and their golden parachutes. Not so good for the long term health of the company or the long term competetiveness of US industry.

  32. John
    Strawman

    libertarianism doesn’t decide for you what you should do with your life. That’s for you, and each of us in our own regard, to decide.

    Besides, there are no ‘unselfish’ humans.

    That they may seek other rewards besides the financial does not diminish that fact that they are rewards.

    John McCain is seeking the reward of power of political office to make the world in his own image.

    He wants to be the savior. I wonder how much reward he’d actually find in that?

  33. “If the U.S. had not gotten involved in Cambodia would the Khmer Rouge have come to power?”

    My guess is yes. Vietnam on the other hand, we probably should have bought off Ho, who just wanted to kick the French out and hated the Chinese worse than we did. But that happened long before Johnson.


  34. I’m not the one being hyperbolic; those suggesting that John McCain slurred profit are being hyperbolic.

    But why in the world is it a problem if they’re being hyperbolic? It’s a valid rhetorical device.

  35. John,

    We have an entire generation of MBAs who have no interest in making or doing anything beyond manipulating the market and stock price to make the most money in the shortest period of time.

    And these people don’t give to charities, don’t buy works of art and support the arts generally, etc.?

  36. We have an entire generation of MBAs who have no interest in making or doing anything beyond manipulating the market and stock price to make the most money in the shortest period of time.

    The general nature of youth is a certain callowness. What do you want to do about it?

  37. “libertarianism doesn’t decide for you what you should do with your life. That’s for you, and each of us in our own regard, to decide.”

    Okay. My value is to steal. Is that okay? Does Libertarianism have any core values or is it Libertinism and relativism?

  38. John,

    It is well documented that the Khmer Rouge only grew in popularity after U.S. involvement. Prior to that they were a minor actor on the Cambodian political stage. U.S. involvement in a region is not necessarily a good thing; indeed, it can lead to quite negative and unexpected consequences. U.S. involvement in other words is not a universal palliative.

  39. “The general nature of youth is a certain callowness. What do you want to do about it?”

    Nothing legally. But we certainly ought to call them out for being pieces of shit. This is where Libertarians go off the rails. They constantly confuse private approbation as advocating legal prohibition. There is nothing wrong with calling people out for bad behavior.

  40. Cambodia had a stable government and the Khmer Rouge was a tiny band, until we expanded the air war into Cambodia and actively worked to destabalize that government.

    And we didn’t even need to buy off Ho. He sent a letter to the State Department in 1945 asking that Vietnam become an American protectorate at the end of the war.

  41. John,

    Okay. My value is to steal. Is that okay?

    The answer to this question is quite obvious.

  42. “It is well documented that the Khmer Rouge only grew in popularity after U.S. involvement. Prior to that they were a minor actor on the Cambodian political stage.”

    1. They still needed brute force to take over.

    2. Even if that is true, didn’t we have a moral obligation to stop the threat we had created? It seems pretty damned immoral to create such a threat and then walk away leaving the Cambodians who supported us to the mercies of the Khmer Rough.

  43. Young males know at an emotional level that accumulation of wealth will increase their chances of reproductive success. Since most of them can’t attain the ‘aphrodisiac of political stature’ wealth is a fair substitute to enhance their attractiveness to potential mates.

    They also may have an awareness that SSI will not provide for their retirement.

  44. John,

    There is nothing wrong with calling people out for bad behavior.

    No there isn’t and I’ve never met a libetarian who would argue otherwise.

  45. “The answer to this question is quite obvious.”

    Why? You can’t say anything is wrong unless you have a system of values to explain why.

  46. And we didn’t even need to buy off Ho. He sent a letter to the State Department in 1945 asking that Vietnam become an American protectorate at the end of the war.

    Of course then we would have had to buy off the French instead, who were probably more expensive than Ho. So to speak.

  47. “No there isn’t and I’ve never met a libetarian who would argue otherwise.”

    What is this thread then? Is is excoriating McCain for having the termity to call out people who live callow greedy lives. Libertarians love to say that until someone actually does it, then the pants wetting begins.

  48. Josh,

    Of course then we would have had to buy off the French instead, who were probably more expensive than Ho. So to speak.

    FDR was all ready to tell the French to go stuff their empire, but Truman decided we needed to back them because ZOMG!!1!! teh Communists.

    There’s a good book by Archimedes Patti about this. He an OSS officer out there during WW2, IIRC.

  49. John,

    1. They still needed brute force to take over.

    Actually, they needed a lot of things.

    2. Even if that is true, didn’t we have a moral obligation to stop the threat we had created? It seems pretty damned immoral to create such a threat and then walk away leaving the Cambodians who supported us to the mercies of the Khmer Rough.

    That depends on whether one is a utilitarian or not. With that in mind note that the American bombing campaigns themselves were quite destructive.

  50. John,

    It is pretty obvious that libertarians have a system of values which prohibits (generally) stealing. I’m not going to into cases like that of Valjean.

  51. Republican front-runner John McCain, for instance, seems especially fond of himself – or, at least, more fond of himself than usual – when throwing around a line about how his life was “not for profit, but for patriotism.”

    So the exorbitant salaries made by Senators don’t count as “profit”? I mean, Paris Hilton is never going to live for profit either, but that doesn’t say anything about her character.

  52. “That depends on whether one is a utilitarian or not. With that in mind note that the American bombing campaigns themselves were quite destructive.”

    Providing Cambodia with enough support to keep the Khmer Rouge out of power would have been preferable to a genocide of 1/4 of the population. You can argue in hindsight that the US should have co-opted the SE Asian indigenous movements for themselves before the Soviets did. You can certainly argue Kennedy was wrong to sponsor the 1963 South Vietnamese Coup. But I can’t see a moral case for abandoning the South Vietnamese and Cambodians the way we did. Especially in 1974/5 when the North Vietnamese had been defeated and all we had to do was write some checks to the South and let them re-arm.

  53. John,

    Aye, well, there’s the rub. A certain percentage of any successful polity’s population will have to be devouted to profit for that nation to be successful. So it seems that greed is indeed a moral virtue.

  54. Okay. My value is to steal. Is that okay? Does Libertarianism have any core values or is it Libertinism and relativism?

    This subject is well covered in many writings. I don’t know where you got your impression of libertarianism, but I am reluctant to keep going over this subject with every person that brings up this strawman.

    Libertarianism is moral philosophy based upon the non-aggression principle. You own your life and everyone is equal in that regard.

    That’s the fundamental. What does that imply to you?

    My view is that this is the only way an individual can be a moral agent.

    Self ownership and equality requires respect for each other.

    The realities of biological life require the extension of self ownership into the material realm in that we require material resources for survival.

    The idea of trade and markets means that humans no longer have to fight each other to obtain the resources necessary to survival.

    As humans are social creatures there is no call to pit individual against ‘society’. The challenge libertarians pose is what shall nature of the relationship between individual and society.

    BTW, I venture to suggest that the abysmal behavior you observe in many people is a result of decades of government sponsored ‘schooling’.

    As a homeschooling parent, I observe a great difference between those socialized at school, and those socialized under the guidance of their parents.

  55. John,

    But I can’t see a moral case for abandoning the South Vietnamese and Cambodians the way we did.

    If the war were to drag on for another twenty years and it ended with the death of 1/3 or more of the population of those nations then one could make a case that leaving was the appropriate thing to do (form a utilitarian* perspective).

    Especially in 1974/5 when the North Vietnamese had been defeated and all we had to do was write some checks to the South and let them re-arm.

    Sans American air support the South Vietnamese were not capable of holding off a North Vietnamese invasion. If we had stayed there we would have been fairly significantly involved.

    *I’m obviously note distinguishing between the various types of utilitarian perspectives.

  56. The guys at Enron who lied cheated and stole their way to millions sure as hell acted in their own self interest.

    So does every politician and bureaucrat sucking on the State teat.

    I’ve known lots of these people, and most of them aren’t sacrificing lucrative careers running hedge funds to do what they do, trust me.

    Okay. My value is to steal. Is that okay?

    No, its not. Libertarians universally support property rights. And strong self-defense. You do the math.

  57. We have an entire generation of MBAs who have no interest in making or doing anything beyond manipulating the market and stock price to make the most money in the shortest period of time.

    The general nature of youth is a certain callowness. What do you want to do about it?

    National service for everyone!

  58. But I can’t see a moral case for abandoning the South Vietnamese and Cambodians the way we did.

    Why pick any particular moment in history to determine policy?

    Those who support a policy always choose a point that affirms their argument.

    Which makes this historical type of policy argument rather worthless.

    Hence the value of moral principles in determining policy.

  59. Providing Cambodia with enough support to keep the Khmer Rouge out of power would have been preferable to a genocide of 1/4 of the population.

    The Khmer Rouge went from 0 to ready to take over while we were still there.

    We spent a decade trying to stop the NVA and VC, and it didn’t work. In the process, we killed 2 million Vietnamese.

    You can’t just assume that American involvement will mean we will achieve our goals, and your reasoning here is based on exactly that assumption.

  60. Don’t forget, the U.S. govt tacitly supported the Khmer Rouge because they were involved in a low-intensity war against the Communist govt of Vietnam, and that the Khmer Rouge were able to come to power thanks to the instability created by the incursions by both U.S. and N.V. forces during the Vietnam war.

    🙁

  61. Hmm, a person living to make money is bad, a politician living for ego is noble.

    Anyway, in my personal, anecdotal experience, people may join the military because they’re patriotic, but they remain in the military for other, personal reasons. They are no more public “servants” than are politicians.

    I will decide what gives my life meaning.

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