Sen. Pat Toomey Defends Capitalism as a Moral Issue
Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey was the first guest speaker at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Toomey, after being introduced by event organizers Frederick W. Anton III and Lowman Henry, spent his half-hour speech talking up the idea of capitalism as a moral issue and, therefore, President Barack Obama’s hatred of morality. Toomey’s speech was often confusing, a bit murky on the facts, somewhat hypocritical but, above all, effective.
“As much as we advocate…for free enterprise,” Toomey began, “we often don’t give it the defense it deserves.” Toomey’s defense of free enterprise was preceded by his congratulatory self-pat on the back over the recent Jobs package Congress has passed and President Obama intends to sign. He called it the most “pro-growth” bill he’s seen since getting elected.
The left, he says, doesn’t know how to debate numbers when it comes to economics. So they instead use moral criticisms about how capitalism is cruel and unfair. “This is the debate where we lose,” he said. “But capitalism deserves a practical, empirical, materialistic defense. I believe that capitalism isn’t good because it works, it works because it’s good. And the big government alternatives are not wrong because they fail, they fail because they’re wrong.”
In making his argument for capitalism, he again noted that “the left”—which includes President Obama—attacks free enterprise by using “straw men” and “caricatures.” He argued Obama has personally attacked capitalism and proved this attack by quoting the president as saying the American system of economics cannot be a free license to take what you want from whomever you want.
“Really, Mr. President?” Toomey asked Obama, rhetorically, from afar. “Capitalism has never worked? [Note: President Obama has of course never said that capitalism has never worked, though Toomey was not quoting him verbatim when he brought this up. It was not clear how Toomey took the president’s remarks on predatory lending and other aspects of banking which led to the 2008 financial meltdown/recession to mean all aspects of capitalism.] I get the feeling that maybe all the time the president spent community organizing…he may have not studied enough history,” and noted both the 19th and 20th centuries provide examples of capitalism working.
Toomey did not take questions after his speech.
“Think about what being middle class in a free enterprise society means,” he continued. “It’s not just phones but smart phones. Not just a computer, but high speed internet access and often an iPad. It’s not just a car but its two cars, and they’re safer and more fuel efficient and more durable than anything you could buy just 10 years ago. Thanks to a free market competition, everything we need constantly gets better and becomes more affordable.”
He went on to use the case of David Fosbury to describe perfect capitalism, since Fosbury revolutionized high-jumping using the rules already in place, and therefore was able to reinvent the wheel, if you will.
Bill Gates, too. The senator described Gates as “one of the most successful capitalists of all time.” He then noted that while he respects Bill Gates’ decision to give his wealth to charity after he’s dead, that money likely won’t do as much for humanity as he did while he was alive.
“I’ll go out on a limb and say Bill Gates did more for anybody in a capitalist venture than he ever will in giving away all the profits he reaped,” Toomey said.
Capitalism, he continued, isn’t just the best form of economics there is—it’s basically all there can ever be, the world’s best hope, because it is the best, no matter what. Capitalism relies on everyone to have a strong initiative and lift themselves up, all the time, and it rewards those who invest in themselves, he said.
“It is an empirical fact that capitalism helps the poor and reduces poverty so much better than a hand out,” he said. “It’s no accident that as capitalist nations enrich themselves, life improves, the life expectancies rise and the infant mortality rate falls.”
He also had continually harsh words for Obama.
“The president understands this is the case. That’s why he understands his argument against capitalism is a moral one, not an empirical one. He understands there is no empirical case against capitalism to be made,” Toomey added. He denounced the auto bailouts, the bailouts of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the original bank bailouts, which he blamed on Obama. [Note: The bank bailouts occurred in October 2008, before Obama was sworn into office, or elected.]
In addition, Toomey said Obama would not know “fairness” if it “were written in bold on his TelePrompTer.” [Note: Toomey read his speech from paper, which is apparently different?]
And only, he said, free enterprise systems have these benefits. Everyone is free to their own happiness, he said. The only ones who don’t agree with this assessment of hard capitalism? “The green energy executives, and the union bosses and the lobbyists and the trial lawyers and the government bureaucrats.”
Coincidentally enough, other Republican politicians have gotten this memo. As The Nation notes, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, who’s written the Republicans’ latest budget, has used similar language, invoking morality and dignity to sell welfare cuts to the poor and undo healthcare. The argument, if the Toomey rhetoric sticks, is no longer “We need to do this because it makes fiscal sense, and here are the numbers to prove it,” but “We need to cut welfare spending and up our defense because it’s the moral thing to do.”
I now understand why Toomey is a popular Pennsylvania politician, and that he’s already had a significant impact in Washington: On stage, while he speaks, he’s just great. He looks smart, he’s in control. He doesn’t miss a beat, tremble, think about what’s he’s about to say or give you the slightest indication he’s unsure of anything about himself. His jokes are funny and well-delivered. But he’s serious when he needs to be; dude is polished. Like the vast majority of the room, I found his speech fantastic. But then I went back to my hotel room to transcribe it. This actually isn’t great at all, I thought. It’s tired rhetoric from a guy who ran an advocacy group for really, really rich people. And he couldn’t stay five extra minutes to take a single question, and still won’t make an endorsement or slight decision in the presidential race.