(My perennial Christmas Missive, loyal reader. And yes, the Potters of the world are still ahead in the game of life. With the election of George Barack Obama Bailey, however, by next year this holiday time, for the first time in a generation, the Potters may be on the defensive. Let us raise a voice of prayer and a glass of cheer to the prospect.)
I watched the perennial holiday chestnut, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the other day. There was George Bailey, as he is every year, struggling to keep the old Savings and Loan afloat. There was the malicious Mr. Potter, a truly covetous old sinner, trying to put Bailey out of business. There was Clarence the angel showing, once again, that our world is a better place for the George Bailey’s amongst us. It’s too bad that in today’s world the Potters are beating the Baileys, hands down.
Old man Potter dismissed the Bailey Savings and Loan as a kind of privatized social welfare program for dumb poor workers who couldn’t cut it on their own. “And what does that get us,” he asked? “A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class. And all because a few starry eyed dreamers stir them up and fill their heads with a lot of impossible ideas? Don’t the Rush Limbaughs or Tom Delays say the same thing today?
Labor laws, social welfare, retirement benefits, guaranteed healthcare, workplace safety laws, consumer protection–all are dismissed by our modern Potters as so much misplaced sympathy offered to the undeserving by the foolishly starry eyed, thinking that is at best naïve and at worst dangerous. Any mention of social welfare on AM radio is now associated with Bolshevik Socialism – want to give workers a guaranteed living wage or put any limits at all on the worst excesses of the market and you’re labeled as an advocate of Gulags and death camps.
George, of course, argued back. “Just remember this, Mr. Potter,” he retorted, “that this rabble you’re talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?” Today he could add: is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die with decent healthcare, affordable housing, quality education for their kids and the sure knowledge that when old age comes, there will be some comforts to look forward to?
We don’t have that many George Bailey’s today. Few stand up to our Potters when they tell us workers can’t expect job security, no one is entitled to healthcare and decent pay is whatever the most desperate amongst us is willing to work for. Even the Democrats, the party of dreams for the working stiff, have fallen in line with the rhetoric of balanced budgets and smaller government (except, of course, if deficits are required to provide tax cuts to the richest Americans) even if the cost are reduced programs to help the disadvantaged.
Can’t anyone makes the simple point George made that helping the least amongst us is not simple altruism, it is Capitalist self interest at it’s best? “Your all business men here,” he reminded the S&L board members thinking of supporting Potter, “don’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers?” Heck, wasn’t it that old socialist Henry Ford’s idea to raise worker pay, not because it was the moral thing to do but because it made them better participants in the Capitalist market place? Like Old Man Potter, much of American corporate business has become warped and frustrated by ruthless competition and now sees its workers only as cattle to be milked for as long as possible before being sent to the layoff slaughterhouse.
Frank Capra understood that the Potters amongst us seldom lose, though the more public-minded like old George could, on occasion, battle them to a draw. Notice that, while George Bailey ultimately survived his battle with Potter, the old man survived unscathed too, his own crime of theft of the Bailey’s deposits unpunished. There have always been the Potters amongst us, those who pursue personal gain at any cost, be they a grasping banker like fictitious Potter or the greedy executives of a massive corporations like Enron or WorldCom. What’s regrettable is that there are fewer and fewer George Bailey’s speaking up for the little guy.
In the real world the Bailey S&L would have been bought out by the 1980s by PotterCorp, a huge transnational Financial Services leviathan. A PotterCorp holding company would have bought out Bedford Fall’s chief industry, the plastic’s factory old Hee-Haw Sam Wainwright had built at George’s urging and shipped the jobs to Third World sweatshops. Downtown Bedford Falls would now be a ghost town with shops shuttered by a massive PotterMart selling cheap slave-labor produced products to the town’s poorly paid service employees. Yes, least be there any doubt, in the world of today Mister Potter would have won.
And, least there be any doubt, Mr. Potter voted Republican.