August 23, 2014 by David K. Sutton
Opportunity vs. Outcome: Acknowledging Inequality Is Not ‘Resentment’
Conservatives love talking about the idea that if everyone works hard, plays by the rules, they too shall prosper. Hell, even President Obama has used this same rhetorical refrain on many occasions. And whether he believes it’s true or not, it never quite rings true for me when he says it, because it seems he’s still trying, over five years into his presidency, to win over at least a few conservatives.
And nobody here is knocking hard work, but people need to acknowledge a reality, regardless of whether this reality is favorable to their neatly prepackaged belief system. The reality is, there are millions, tens of millions of Americans, who work hard every single day and still struggle to put food on the table, let alone find a way to put their children through college.
It was Paul Ryan in 2012, when he was introduced as Mitt Romney’s VP pick, who said, “We look at one another’s success with pride, not resentment, because we know that as more Americans work hard, take risks, succeed, more people will prosper, more communities will benefit. And individual lives will be improved.” Okay, we can agree that nobody should look at someone’s success with resentment, but can we also agree that acknowledging a very real inequality is not the same as resenting success?
“America is just more than a place, though. America is an idea. It’s the only country founded on an idea. Our rights come from nature and God, not from government. That’s right. That’s who we are, that’s how we built this country. That’s who we are. That’s what made us great. That’s what made us great. We promise equal opportunity, not equal outcomes,” said Ryan in 2012.
Okay, so I’m going to call out Ryan and all conservatives who talk of equal opportunity, not equal outcome. See, conservatives love to trot this line out, take it for a scamper around the track, see how many cheers and ovations its good for. But do they really care about equal opportunity? I think most of us agree that the goal should be equal opportunity, not equal outcome, but at the same time, we should never ignore outcomes, because they matter. Outcomes can come about regardless of opportunity. It is a civil society that cares about unjust outcomes. No, we cannot fix every problem that ails us, but we will not fix any problem we willfully ignore.
I hope that by the time we’re done with our four years here, we’ll have seen to it that every young person that chooses can go to college and beyond, regardless of their economic status. – President Josiah Bartlet (The West Wing)
That quote from season 1, episode 5, of “The West Wing” got me thinking about equal opportunity vs. equal outcome. If conservatives really do believe their own rhetoric, then they must admit that we do not have equal opportunity when it comes to college education. How does a child from a poor family have equal access to education compared to a child from a wealthy family? This is an undeniable reality, that we do not have equal opportunity in this country on many fronts, the most egregious is education.
If conservatives truly believe opportunity is what matters, not outcome, then they must lay down their rhetorical arms, and propose a solution to the educational inequality in America. If they do not, then I’m afraid you must continue to endure my overwhelming skepticism in regard to their true intentions.