The Book of Virtues

Economic absurdities that
Democrats must expose:

...because it's wrong to penalize success and hard work.

...therefore, we should eliminate the capital gains tax.

...After all, they came from, and understand, business.

...even though it is based on pitting the worlds' workers against each other.

...union bosses are only out for themselves.

...and the more the rich have, the more will trickle down to everyone else.

...Democrats are communists, or at least, socialists at heart. when we tax wealthy investors, we lose jobs. investors, not workers, create wealth. we should give them all the tax breaks possible.

...Democrats just want to tax and spend today.

General Issues:

...check out this 2-minute video.

...It's a mountain, and a terrible defense of globalization.

...for those of Indonesia, Mexico, China and India.

...and how not to do it again.

...and the "crisis" is just a ploy by those who want to destroy it.

...Republicans' most important propaganda technique.

...and get the media on your side

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The REAL Problem with
Bill Bennett's Selective Virtues

     Forget the debate about whether or not Bennett, a flawed human being, has the right to lecture the public about moral issues. As right-wing columnist Cal Thomas concluded, "Like all of us, Bennett suffers from certain vices. But that does not override the virtues he has proclaimed." True enough. But that's not the side of Bennett to object to: he's an unabashed apologist for governmental policies that benefit the wealthy and powerful, and at the direct expense of working class Americans.

     William Bennett's widely acclaimed Book of Virtues may be the slickest, most devious philosophical attack on working Americans yet published. Take a look at the list of virtues that Bennett chose to head his ten chapters:

The Book of Virtues

by William J. Bennett

  1. Self-Discipline

  2. Compassion

  3. Responsibility

  4. Friendship

  5. Work

  6. Courage

  7. Perseverance

  8. Honesty

  9. Loyalty

  10. Faith

     This is a powerful book because it does two things. First, it omits from any substantive discussion the virtues most important to the treatment of workers—fairness and justice.

     Second, it allows those who caused the income disparity between rich and poor to feel virtuous about themselves and to publicly claim the moral high ground. Note that, with the absence of fairness or justice, any greedy and materialistic chief executive officer today would meet the criteria for virtue on the basis of this list.

     They're disciplined, give money to charity, are responsible to their shareholders, have friends at the county club, "work" hard, have the courage to fire thousands of employees, persevere in their efforts to make a profit, are honest (follow the laws that are biased in their favor), are loyal to the politicians who do them favors, and pretend religious fervor occasionally.

     In other words, with a few rationalizations, the qualities of greed and materialism can easily be embraced by Bennett's list. His strategy: If you can't make greed a virtue, by blatantly calling it so, you at least can make the pursuit of greed a virtue by calling it work, perseverance, discipline, and so on. Of course, leave fairness and justice—in the ways work is rewarded—out of the picture entirely.

Plato's "Justice"

     It’s not likely that Bennett simply didn’t think of fairness and justice as virtues, because he included “Plato on Justice” as a minor essay in his Chapter 8, which dealt with “Honesty.” Look at Bennett’s introduction to Plato’s essay, and Plato’s definitive statement about justice. Bennett:

The ancient Greek word for “just” is a slippery one for modern translators. Depending on the context, it can mean honest, pious, fair, legally correct, lawful or obligated, to name a few possibilities. In the end, it may be that the meaning of Plato’s “justice” comes closer to our modern notion of “integrity.”

     Plato On Justice, from The Republic:

But in reality justice was such as we were describing, being concerned however, not with the outward man, but with the inward, which is the true self and concernment of man: for the just man does not permit the several elements within him to interfere with one another, or any of them to the work of others—he sets in order his own inner life, and is his own master and his own law, and at peace with himself; and when he has bound together the three principles within him, which may be compared to the higher, lower, and middle notes of the scale, and the intermediate intervals—when he has bound all these together, and is no longer many, but has become one entirely temperate and perfectly adjusted nature, then he proceeds to act, if he has to act, whether in a matter of property, or in the treatment of the body, or in some affair of politics or private business; always thinking and calling that which preserves and cooperates with this harmonious condition, just and good action, and the knowledge which presides over it, wisdom, and that which at any time impairs this condition, he will call unjust action, and the opinion which presides over it ignorance.

     Bennett’s confused introduction is revealing. To include justice in his book, he must have searched for days to find an obtuse essay by Plato that has justice in the title, but has nothing to do with our modern concept of fairness.

     In fact, when you read Plato’s definitive statement about justice, you have to wonder: Does Bennett himself have the foggiest notion of what the hell Plato is saying here? (Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. Plato did say all that in one sentence.)

     So why did Bennett omit fairness and justice from his list of virtues? Easy: These virtues are not consistent with the political strategies of Wall Street and its supporters.

     That’s why the only references to these virtues in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune, Barron’s and Business Week are those that, in one way or another, justify greed and materialism. They have to say these absurd things in their publications. Their ability to maintain any semblance of a clear conscience and a pretense of virtue is to deceive each other and the public about their pretended moral superiority.

"Work," as Bennett Defines It

     Look at some other curious things in the "Book of Virtues," especially Bennett's definition of "work":

What are you going to be when you grow up?" is a question about work. What is your work in the world going to be? What will be your works? These are not fundamentally questions about jobs and pay, but questions about life. Work is applied effort; it is whatever we put ourselves into, whatever we expend our energy on for the sake of accomplishing or achieving something. Work in this fundamental sense is not what we do for a living but what we do with our living.

     This perversion of the definition of work has become an important part of the defense of greed. Financial conservatives align themselves with one of the most potent symbols of American values by expanding the definition of work to include just about anything. To give their own activities moral respectability, they make them equivalent to the work done by real workers.

     Attila the Hun, Money-Changers-In-The-Temple, stock brokers, investment bankers, professional athletes, Hollywood actors, chief executive officers, real estate agents, politicians, management consultants like me, and some of the greediest members of society fit Bennett's definition of work better than do truck drivers, assembly line workers, secretaries, farm laborers, janitors—and so on.

     Most manual laborers work for the money. They have to to survive—not because, in some inspirational moment, that's what they choose to do with their lives (which, apparently, Bennett feels is a more virtuous motivation to work).

The Selective Scrooge

     Bennett's selections of materials to put in his book are instructive. Of all the passages he could have taken from A Christmas Carol, Bennett picked:

Marley's Ghost
from A Christmas Carol

by Charles Dickens

(After Marley's Ghost complained of his "chain I forged in life," he described how his lack of compassion had led to his plight.)

"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

It held up its chain at arm's length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.

"At this time of the rolling year," the specter said, "I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode? Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me?"

     Bennett chose a passage in which Marley's Ghost doesn't discuss his deplorable treatment of employees. Instead, he describes his failure to go outside his business to seek out the poor and give them charity.

     So, what is the lesson we get from Bennett? After you become wealthy by screwing your employees—and making them poor—go to their homes and give them charity. How redeeming. How inspirational. How perfectly Republican!

     Instead of this excerpt, what could Bennett have selected from Marley's Ghost? Why not use Dickens' description of the deplorable way Scrooge treated his clerk? His clerk worked "in a dismal little cell," and warmed himself with a comforter because Scrooge threatened to fire him if he used too much coal. No, that wouldn't serve Bennett's purposes—Scrooge's behaviors sound too much like the behaviors that modern conservatives endorse.

     Or, from "The First of the Three Spirits," why not pick Dickens' description of Old Fezziwig? Fezziwig was Scrooge's former boss and he treated his employees decently. Scrooge observed that "He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome, a pleasure or a toil." No, that wouldn't do either—it sounds too much like a virtue that today's corporate bosses should have, but obviously don't. And, of course, these are the same guys who finance the campaigns of Republican and conservative Democrat politicians.

     Or, he could have quoted the passage from "The End of It," where Scrooge said to Cratchit, "I'll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon." Obviously, an undesirable concept in a book intended to make today's financial barbarians appear virtuous.

The Real Conservative Virtues

     When conservatives extol the virtues of "hard work," they're saying:

If your parents didn't send you to college, you are virtuous if you work two jobs in manufacturing plants or fast-food restaurants, develop carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists, have no medical coverage in the process, and end up at the age of 65 with no retirement funds.

Oh, by the way. Be a disciplined worker, be loyal to your employer, don't cheat your employer, get your satisfactions from your friendships, and be courageous. You must not be envious of the rich, or complain about how little you make compared to your bosses, or complain about your terrible work conditions.

On the other hand, if your parents send you to college, or you inherit huge sums of money from them, you are virtuous if you have the discipline to go to France to study art, become an expert in French impressionist painting—and spend your life "working hard" by traveling all over the globe giving lectures. Oh, by the way. You have a moral obligation to complain about how much money uneducated or poorly born waiters and assembly-line workers make for doing such uninspired and uninteresting work.

     Greedy and materialistic people never change their behaviors to meet moral or religious standards—they redefine their moral or religious standards to justify their egocentric behaviors. And when enough of them gain control of government, their concepts of morality become the new national standards for behavior.


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