It has been almost 20 years, two full decades, since Del the Funkee Homosapien and Dan the Automator released Deltron 3030, a hip-hop concept album about mech warriors with rap powers battling dystopia in the far future. Since you are reading these words sometimes in or after 2019, much of the oddity of this might escape you. In 1999, anime and manga were still niche fields of interest for comic book fans, let alone for the general public. Today, when comic book movies routinely make a billion dollars and when anime is something that everyone under 25 grew up with, the idea of a manga and cyberpunk hip-hop concept album might not seem at all far-fetched.
And indeed, even knowing this, Del's science-fiction trappings seem less important than the personal story he tells, the story of trying to find value in art in a world that is often corrupt. In the song, "Madness", reflecting on his privilege to be making good money in a music business that he realizes is corrupted, Del says "My Sponsors are Monsters", and a few lines later concludes the song by saying that only his love of music keeps him from suicide. It is a line that counterparts the album's more adventurous tales of battling aliens of living shadows using rap-infused unibeams.
But I am not here to talk about Deltron. I am here to talk about Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and Elizabeth Warren, Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, and both current candidates for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States. A few weeks ago, they had an exchange of views about each other's past work. Pete Buttigieg had previously worked for McKinsey, a consulting firm, and his client list was under a Non-Disclosure Agreement. Elizabeth Warren was a lawyer, and along with teaching at Harvard Law School, sometimes worked for private clients. Both of them made discrete attacks against the other, before Buttigieg released his client list, and Warren released hers. Apparently, Buttigieg represented a number of clients, including The National Resource Defense Council, The Environmental Protection Agency, and Loblaws, a Canadian firm that was, at a separate time, implicated in a scandal for price fixing of bread. On her part, Elizabeth Warren, who specialized in bankruptcy law, consulted for a number of large companies, making around 2 million dollars doing so, over the last 30 years.
The obvious connection here is that everyone has worked for someone who they might have ethical, moral, or just temperamental differences with. Del's line about "monsters" might be going a bit far, but for a subset of voters, especially primary voters, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg are both sell-outs and hypocrites for their corporate backgrounds. Even though nothing that they did was particularly scandalous. Pete Buttigieg did some consulting for a Canadian grocery store that at another time was involved in price-fixing. He did some efficiency analysis for Blue Cross in Michigan before they laid off workers. From what I call tell about Elizabeth Warren, what she did was mostly in a very technical field of law, and the money she made for it was hardly a windfall: 2 million dollars over 30 years is hardly a lot of money, unless you are Dr. Evil.
Which is not to say that Buttigieg's employer, and Warren's clients, haven't done morally questionable things in the past. But the problem with that criteria is, pretty much every business in the United States has done morally questionably are just plain BAD things, and pretty much everyone has worked for one of those businesses. And the only people who have never had to do so, the only people who have never had to put up with bullshit in order to do things that might at some point be productive to themselves or others, are people who somehow had enough money and opportunities that they had to deal with the real world. I spent most my 20s working for a radically decentralized non-profit, but I did that because I got at least some money from my family. Where is the dream candidate who never did anything involving a corporation come from? Where is the lawyer who worked for decades and never defended a client other than nuns and orphans? Progressives are self-inflicting the same charge on themselves that a section of scoffing conservatives have been making for years: "Oh yeah, well, you have an iPhone, so capitalism has to be perfect". The basic charge is that anyone who lives within a system can't criticize it, and while not totally baseless, it is an easy criticism to run out of control, as we start a circular firing squad against anyone who has ever worked outside of a totally non-problematic non-profit job.
This isn't to say that I think either Pete Buttigieg or Elizabeth Warren is perfect, or even good. I have doubts about both of them as far as policy and temperament go, but the fact that they have both had the type of jobs that many middle class Americans have had isn't one of them. And, it has to be mentioned that whatever scandal can be squeezed out of Buttigieg making spreadsheets for a Canadian grocery store, the current president still has a mysterious and complicated financial relationship with DuetschBank and Russian organized crime.
I guess for me, the question isn't about what type of world we grew up in and what has happened until now. The question for me is what happens next. In four days, we start a new decade, and we get to decide what it will be like. I am more interested in the future, than in the past, at this point. That the world is full of badness isn't a question for me, the question is what we do next.