Last night’s memorial service for Bernard Rapoport at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington brought together hundreds of his family members, friends, and colleagues. Everyone in attendance treasured his enthusiasm, generosity, and thirst for economic justice and fairness. “B,” as he was affectionately known, founded American Income Life Insurance and was one of EPI’s longest-serving board members. I was privileged to attend a service that mixed politics, religion, and humor in a celebration of a life well lived.
President Bill Clinton topped a list of past and current Democratic politicians who spoke of B’s loyalty, persistence, and progressive values. As Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa) remarked, B was the rare political donor who pushed politicians and the government to demand more from the rich, rather than to cater to them. B was born poor (unlike most rich people), yet he never deluded himself into thinking that he was a self-made man. He knew that the government and our system of laws, the education he received, and his employees were all critical to his success.
Despite being a millionaire and a CEO, B never bought into the notion that as a “job creator” he was entitled to a lower tax rate than the folks who worked for him. He never thought that the government owed him anything. He also vehemently rejected the belief that the nation would be better off if the rich got continually richer at the expense of the many. As President Clinton said, B never tuned in to the message of greed and egotism that has characterized the last 35 years of politics in Washington.
Instead, B learned and subsequently taught a very different lesson: “As I grew up I realized when too few have too much and too many have too little, we do not have a sustainable society.”