Quote of the Day:
But what do politicians mean by the forgotten man? Two opposing definitions predominate. Which of these Mr. Trump chooses will tell us the kind of president he might make.
Shlaes writes in today's Wall Street Journal that the "Forgotten Man" has been around a long time in American politics–but we don't all mean the same guy:
The forgotten man emerged in the 1880s in the lectures of a Yale professor named William Graham Sumner. A Thomas Piketty in reverse, Sumner abhorred efforts to equalize society and offered an elegant equation: “As soon as A observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X or, in the better case, what A, B and C shall do for X.”
“C” is the forgotten man, declared Sumner, a kind of everyman who falls into no category: “He works, he votes, generally he prays—but he always pays—yes, above all, he pays.”
The Forgotten Man caught on with FDR, but for him the Forgotten Man was not "C" but "X." Not everyman liked the switch:
FDR’s forgotten man was the opposite of Sumner’s. Roosevelt’s predecessor as the Democrats’ presidential nominee, Al Smith, objected to the switch. Smith, himself from the humblest of backgrounds, warned that highlighting class distinctions divided the country when it needed to pull together. “The Forgotten Man is a myth,” Smith said, “and the sooner he disappears from the campaign the better it will be for the country.”
FDR won in 1932, largely because of support from the Forgotten Man, and Roosevelt kept rewarding people he regarded as responsible for this and subsequent wins. Unemployment payments, make-work jobs and the right of collective bargaining were among these rewards.
Who is Trump's Forgotten Man? Shlaes writes:
And where stands Mr. Trump? With Sumner’s anonymous crowd, or Roosevelt’s specific groups? That Mr. Trump is by temperament a man of deals suggests he will be inclined toward FDR’s way of thinking. Mr. Trump’s Atlantic City projects fit perfectly into the Sumneresque definition of “jobbery.” Mr. Trump’s unabashed protectionism does not recall Roosevelt, an exception as a free trader, but it does recall the Democratic Party.
But Mr. Trump does not pit rich against poor. He may end up standing more for the universal than the individual.
We’re told this election is “different.” Perhaps different enough that we will get a real discussion of the consequences of rewarding groups. Sumner’s distinction between “jobbery” and true capitalism is one that many voters would be thrilled to see Mr. Trump recognize. And how fabulous it would be if Hillary Clinton took on Mr. Trump over trade with the vigor of a Sumner. Here’s an opening question for the first Trump-Clinton debate: “Who is the forgotten man?”
Of course, questions at presidential debates are rarely that good.