“You’re On Your Own” vs. “We’re In This Together” Illustrated

Terrance Heath

After many years in the workforce, most of them spent working in Washington, DC, I firmly believe you can tell an awful lot about people by they way they treat those who work for or under them. Those relationships can reveal a lot about how someone sees the world and other people. In Washington, it too often reveals a deep-seated “Rankism”  — a worldview in which people are either “Somebodies” or “Nobodies”; or, in Washington-speak, “People Who Matter” and people who don’t.

I didn’t expect the presidential election to end up confirming the above, but reports of how Mitt Romney and Barack Obama treated their campaign staff after Tuesday night says a lot about differences between the two, in terms of character and worldview.

Mitt Romney’s campaign staff no doubt felt a little down Tuesday night, and probably as “shell-shocked” as Willard himself. As one Romney advisor said, “There’s nothing worse than when you think you’re going to win, and you don’t. It was like a sucker punch.” Well, maybe there is something worse. Like finding out the guy you just spend a good chunk of your young life trying to get elected, and stuck with to the bitterest of bitter ends, won’t give you so much as cab-fare in the end.

From the moment Mitt Romney stepped off stage Tuesday night, having just delivered a brief concession speech he wrote only that evening, the massive infrastructure surrounding his campaign quickly began to disassemble itself.

Aides taking cabs home late that night got rude awakenings when they found the credit cards linked to the campaign no longer worked.

“Fiscally conservative,” sighed one aide the next day.

In conversations on Wednesday, aides were generally wistful, not angry, at how the campaign ended. Most, like their boss, truly believed the campaign’s now almost comically inaccurate models, and that a victory was well within their grasp.

Who gave the order to cancel the cards, and when? Did Mitt whisper to his campaign treasurer “Cancel the cards”? Was it before or after he conceded? I wonder…

In any case, if you were a Romney campaign staffer trying to get home after suffering a crushing defeat, you had to fend for yourself.

That seems like a perfect illustration of the conservative philosophy Jared Bernstein summed up as “You’re On Your Own” (or YOYO).

Protecting the rights of individuals has always been a core American value. Yet in recent years the emphasis on individualism has been pushed to the point where, like the diners in hell, we’re starving. This political and social philosophy is hurting our nation, endangering our future and that of our children, and, paradoxically, making it harder for individuals to get a fair shot at the American dream.

This extreme individualism dominates the way we talk about the most important aspects of our economic lives, those that reside in the intersection of our living standards, our government, and the future opportunities for ourselves and our children. The message, sometimes implicit but often explicit, is, You’re on your own. Its acronym, YOYO, provides a useful shorthand to summarize this destructive approach to governing.

The concept of YOYO, as used in this book, isn’t all that complicated. It’s the prevailing vision of how our country should be governed. As such, it embodies a set of values, and at the core of the YOYO value system is hyper-individualism: the notion that whatever the challenges we face as a nation, the best way to solve them is for people to fend for themselves. Over the past few decades, this harmful vision has generated a set of policies with that hyper-individualistic gene throughout their DNA.

Contrast that with the video that’s making the rounds, of President Obama expressing his apparently heartfelt thanks to his campaign staff the day after.

The president made a surprise visit to his Chicago campaign office Wednesday to show appreciation to campaign staffers and volunteers.

In a five-minute video released by his campaign yesterday, the president shares the story of how he moved to Chicago at 25 years old, knowing he wanted to make a difference but not knowing where or how to start. It was as a community organizer for several south side churches that Obama learned about “the grit and resilience of ordinary people.”

He said he also learned how to work with others for a common purpose and how to deal with disappointment when it happened.

“I grew up,” Obama told the crowd. “I became a man during that process.”

He praised the campaigners for all they’ve accomplished, comparing his story to theirs.

Like I said before, I think it tells us a lot about the man.

Which brings us to this remarkable video of Barack Obama thanking his campaign staff for all their hard work. Obama is famously unemotional, remaining steady when those around him are panicking, never too hot, never too cold, always in tight control. Yet here, he doesn’t just get a catch in his voice, there are actually tears rolling down his cheeks. I’m pretty sure this is the first time we have ever seen Obama cry. Take a look; it’s around the 3:20 mark that he gets really emotional…

We’ve been watching Obama for eight years, and this is the first time in a long time we’ve seen a new side of him as a person. I suppose none of us can really appreciate the way things look and feel from the Oval Office, but it seems to me that he is overwhelmed by all the work those people put in for him. It’s something that politicians at all levels don’t express enough gratitude for, the fact that all these people basically give up their lives and devote extraordinary time, effort, and commitment (usually for low pay) to the cause of getting you a job. Obama has a healthy ego, but he seems genuinely humbled by their work and devotion to him. And I don’t mean “humbled” the way politicians usually use the word, to mean its exact opposite (“I’m humbled by this cheering crowd demanding I run for president”), but actually humbled.

Eons ago, I worked for a congressional candidate who lost in the primary. He was a county official, a guy who had run a few successful campaigns and seemed destined for higher office. But he lost this race, and it ended up being his last. The morning after the election, I got to the campaign office early to find it empty except for one person: the candidate, who was sweeping the floor. Now that’s humble. Barack Obama isn’t going to be sweeping the floors, but it’s nice to see that, from what we can tell at least, he appreciates what the people who worked for him in this campaign did.

That understanding of “coming together for a common purpose,” that Obama learned as a community organizer is probably one source of the message he employed during the campaign and during his presidency, summed up (again) by Jared Bernstein as “We’re In This Together.”

We need an alternative vision, one that applauds individual freedom but emphasizes that such freedom is best realized with a more collaborative approach to meeting the challenges we face. The message is simple: We’re in this together. Here, the acronym is WITT.

Though this alternative agenda uses the scope and breadth of the federal government to achieve its ends, this book is not a call for more government in the sense of devoting a larger share of our economy to government spending. In fact, there is surprisingly little relationship between the ideological agenda of those in charge and the share of the economy devoted to the federal government. To the contrary, some of the biggest spenders of federal funds have been purveyors of hyper-individualism (with G. W. Bush at the top of the list). But, regardless of what you feel the government’s role should be in the economy and society, an objective look at the magnitude of the challenges we face shows we must restore the balance between individual and collective action. We simply cannot effectively address globalization, health care, pensions, economic insecurity, and fiscal train wrecks by cutting taxes, turning things over to the market, and telling our citizens they’re on their own, like the gold prospectors of the 1800s, to strike it rich or bust.

All Together Now aims to set us on a new path. At the heart of the WITT agenda is the belief that we can wield the tools of government to build a more just society, one that preserves individualist values while ensuring that the prosperity we generate is equitably shared. Importantly, under the WITT agenda, this outcome occurs not through redistributionist Robin Hood schemes, but through creating an economic architecture that reconnects our strong, flexible economy to the living standards of all, not just to the residents of the penthouse. As the pie grows, all the bakers get bigger slices.

Granted, the NBC articles about Romney staffers coming up short on cab far did mention further down that Romney did thank his campaign staffers too. And, yes, tears were shed. Just not by Mitt, who was already thinking of his own future.

Yesterday afternoon, campaign manager Matt Rhoades thanked the staff in one last meeting at the campaign’s Boston HQ, as did Romney and his wife, Ann.

Romney was stoic – thanking the team for their hard work and telling them he did not plan to disappear. (Aides to Romney said they were optimistic he would be receptive to a sincere offer from the president to work together)

Ann Romney’s remarks brought several staffers to tears as she told the assembled group that they would always be part of the fabric of the Romney family.

After their speeches, Tagg Romney drove the former candidate and his wife home to Belmont.

I don’t know how Romney’s former campaign staff got home that final meeting, but by that point they knew they were on their own. They will always be “part of the fabric of the Romney family.” Just don’t expect cab fare.

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