Posts Tagged ‘Investors Business Daily’

Right Wing Mythology

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

My normal tack — when seeing a political cartoon like this that is so clearly off-base — is to “Fact-Check” it.

For example, the cartoon might lead you to believe that there was no unemployment compensation in 1950 — but unemployment compensation began in in 1935.

It’s not clear under what program the rich banker is paying for the unhygienic poor man’s mortgage either now or then. Federal housing policy offers tax subsidies to anyone paying a mortgage — which means the man on the right probably receives a bigger subsidy.

The health care point is likewise odd. In the 1950s, there was no Medicaid for the very poor. But everyone who received health insurance from their employer received a tax subsidy [pdf] both then and now.

In terms of subsidizing car ownership — federal and state policies began encouraging car ownership in the 1950s — from zoning laws requiring large amounts of parking to bailouts given to the auto industry to the construction of the federal highway system. The artificially low price of gasoline is another subsidy — as the cost of pollution and of a foreign policy of ensuring stability in the Middle East is borne by the public at large and not factored into the price. As everyone pays for pollution cleanup and foreign policy, this is a redistribution of wealth from those who minimize their use of gas to those who use more than the average. However, the complaint of cartoonist seems to be a tax subsidy given to those who purchase hybrid cars that use less gasoline. Which — though significantly less than the various other subsidies — is apparently the real obscenity.

And of course, the biggest thing the cartoonist is missing between the man on the right in 1950 and the man on the right in 2010: In 1950, the top marginal tax rate was 91%. In 2010, it was 35%. And that 35% doesn’t include all of the tax subsidies that surely would be used to lower the rich man’s tax rate — from tax subsidies for his employer-provided health insurance to any interest on mortgages or student loans or the myriad of other exemptions someone with a good accountant can find. And of course any profits from investments would be taxed at a lower rate– of 15%. Which is why today, the billionaire Warren Buffett pays a lower percentage of his income in taxes than does his secretary.

All of this makes the cartoon all the more revealing — not of the facts, which it does not reflect — but of right-wing mythology. Why does the cartoonist choose 1950 — rather than a time such when his points would have been true such as 1920 or 1890? The answer is simply that no one wants to go back those eras. Those were periods of economic growth, but inherently unstable times — an instability created by the enormous inequality between the top-most and the bottom-most parts of society. Those periods of history are remembered for the top and the bottom. The 1950s though was the era of the great middle class — robust, strong, stable. In the contemporary conservative mythology, the era personifies the American values of family and hard work. Much of the conservative intelligensia’s opposition to the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement, the sexual revolution, the feminist movement, and the gay rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s came because they saw these movements as a threat to the stability of this status quo.

But the right wing was supported by forces equally opposed to the status quo — who sought a change every bit as dramatic as the radicals of the 1960s sought. Rather than free love, they sought free trade and deregulation. Rather than rights for gays and women, they sought favors for the financial industry. Rather than civil rights for people, they sought corporate rights to influence the political process. Rather than the naive dream of destroying bigotry, they sought the more practical dream of destroying the labor unions.

Since these twin political revolutions, the stability and the strong middle class of the 1950s are remembered with fondness — by mythologists of both the left and right. The conservative argument used to be that radicalism of Civil Rights for women, blacks, gays, and other minorities was what caused the unraveling of this mythological utopia. It has now evolved to blaming the government for redistributing too much to the poor and holding back business with taxes and regulation. The only problem with this story is that the past 60 years have seen a government retreat — with regulations being repealed and failing to keep up with changing times, with taxes having been more than halved, with the rich getting more and more of the wealth and power in the country and the poor less and less.

Which is how you can get a political cartoon such as this — harking back to a flatly false view of an era lost that never was.

The Smearing of Britain’s National Health Service

Friday, August 14th, 2009

Alex Massie is probably right that there are “two essential truths in international health policy,” namely that:

No-one sees fit to copy the National Health Service and no-one sees fit to copy the American system.

But even given this, the right wingers have taken smearing Britain’s National Health Service too far. Chuck Grassley claimed, for example, that “Sen. Edward M. Kennedy would be refused treatment for his brain tumor in England.” As Matt Yglesias pointed out:

[T]here’s actually a two-fold lie here. First Grassley falsely implies that congressional Democrats are proposing to create an NHS-like system. Second, he lies about how the NHS operates. And he pays no price for it.

And despite what Cassandra over at Villainous Company has to say, Grassley is lying. Calling Yglesias an “evil-monger” and saying that “Google is not Matt Yglesias’s friend,” she claims that the drug Senator Kennedy is being prescribed for his tumor is prohibited by the National Health Service. Her source? An “expert” quoted by NewsMax – who forgets to mention that the drug – Temodar – was invented in Britain and has been prescribed by the National Health Service since 2007 2005. The “expert” also claims, the drug would be “available to every American.” Which is true. Every American who can pay for it. And the same was true in Britain even when the National Health Service did refuse to prescribe the drug. Now, of course, in Britain, the drug is actually available to everyone in that country – whether they have the money to spare or not.

This two-fold lie about the National Health Service  is one of the pillars of the right wing smears against the proposed Democratic health care plan – most disasterously used of course by the Investors Business Daily in discussing Stephen Hawking. Hawking later told the Guardian:

I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the NHS,

But that’s still not the point. This whole conversation about Britain’s National Health Service is a distraction. Very few Democrats or liberals or progressives want anything resembling the British system. What is at issue is a plan to improve upon the system we currently have – modest steps. Though, as Ezra Klein explains, the modesty and popularity of what the Democrats are proposing is the reason Cassandra, Senator Grassley, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and other right wingers are pretending the Democrats have proposed something else:

In part, that’s why the debate has had to move toward fear-mongering and lies: There just aren’t that many scary elements in the bills, because the legislation is oriented toward preserving the existing system and avoiding points of controversy.

And so, we face this unhinged debate about totalitarianism – a fearful fantasy – instead of a reality-based discussion of the system we have and how it can be improved upon. Which is why the right wingers spreading these lies and smears and distractions just so they can achieve a political victory and slingshot their way back into power as they did in 1994 should be ashamed.

Right-Wing Editorial FAIL!

Monday, August 10th, 2009

The rabidly right-wing yet still influential Investors Business Daily opines against health care reform saying:

People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.

Of course, Stephen Hawking is and always has been British – having lived and worked and been taken care of by this system.

All this is to say nothing of the various other canards raised – namely that any of the current plans being debated bear any resemblance to the British single-payer and entirely government-run system.

The editorial also explains:

The British have succeeded in putting a price tag on human life, as we are about to.

Matt Yglesias nicely parries this point:

[A]s with all anti-rationing talk you really have to wonder what rightwingers think happens in a free market system. In a pure market, your life is worth what you’re able to pay. The way the free market works, if an indigent woman gives birth to a premature infant you let the infant die. Thankfully, no country—not even the US of A—is actually sufficiently committed to free market principles to let infants die like that.

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Leave It To Beaver Socialism

Friday, October 17th, 2008

Following up on this post

All in all – there’s a lot of talk about socialism these days – driven by a fear, especially among the financial elite, that a blowback is coming. At the same time, after the better part of four decades of Republican rule, the Republicans need to scare people out of voting for the charismatic candidate who’s offering to help them in this time of crisis. And certainly this ongoing financial crisis has demonstrated to many the insufficiency of the Republican approach to regulation and governance and the limitations of the market. (Though not to Republicans and free-market ideologues who continue to insist that the problems that have spiraled out of control in the shadow banking system were the result of too much government in the more stable, regulated banking system.) I could easily see a populist candidate gain power today by railing against the big money elites. But Obama is not this candidate, let alone an advocate for socialism, class warfare, or any similar ideology. (In fact, McCain’s rhetoric comes closer to populist demagoguery of Wall Street.)

Obama’s economic plan is not about socialism or revolution or any such radicalism. He’s not that type of politician. The goal of his Obamanomics (if you will) is not a socialist paradise or a European-style market socialism but a restoration of the economic justice that made 1950s and 1960s America so stable. Unless you think Leave It To Beaver took place in a socialist nation, then Obama’s economic plans shouldn’t strike you as far left. As Andrew Sullivan pointed out while thoroughly debunking the right-wing spin that Obama is “far left,” Obama is to Richard Nixon’s right on taxes, which you would never guess from the ads Senator McCain has been running. Even the “code words” that the Investors Business Daily finds to be so fraught with meaning – “economic justice” – which they insist is just code for socialism – are from1950s era American thinkers Kelso and Adler. They were the authors of the 1958 Capitalist Manifesto, a book which sought to figure out how to make American capitalism more just – while acknowledging that “capitalism [is] the only just form of economic life.”

Barack Obama’s economic plan falls well within the mainstream of American economic history.

Alexander Hamilton – that first budding capitalist of a new nation – believed that government must create and maintain infrastructure, encourage industry, and maintain financial stability through central banks and financial regulation. Henry Clay promoted (and Abraham Lincoln supported) what he called “the American system” – which included various government interventions to build up American industry. After the Civil War, industry gained more and more power – and by the time the Panic of 1873 gave way to the Gilded Age, extreme capitalism had taken over America – with extreme concentrations of wealth and vast amounts of power concentrated in the hands of a few magnates.

McCain’s hero, Teddy Roosevelt, believed that we needed to protect essential institutions and elements of society from extreme capitalism – and focused on environmental conservation, on breaking up monopolies and other concentrations of power, on increasing regulations and beginning government’s role as a protector of consumer rights. This conservatism of Teddy Roosevelt’s resembled that of William F. Buckley – who defined conservatism as a man standing athwart history, yelling, “Stop!”1

As a result of Teddy Roosevelt’s reforms, and then the turmoil of the Great Depression, World War II, Hoover, FDR, and Truman – America had reached a point of social and economic stability. This stability of the 1950s and 1960s came at the expense of tamping down certain social and economic forces. The social stability was torn apart by the Civil Rights movement, feminism, free love, and the later radicalisms of the late 1960s and early 1970s. This culture war has been dominating politics since then.

The economic stability of this period was destroyed by the forces of extreme capitalism, greed, deregulation, and other economic radicalisms of the 1970s and early 1980s – as labor unions were undermined, executive compensation grew exponentially, social mobility was impeded, and economic power concentrated in a handful of large corporations.

The excesses of the social radicalism of the 1960s have been cataloged by the conservative movement – and many of the worst excesses have been reversed – while other elements have become accepted by the vast majority of Americans. There has been no similar concentrated political effort to moderate the other radicalism that destroyed the status quo of the 1950s and 1960s America, extreme capitalism. Just as the social radicalism of the 1960s produced great good – from the Civil Rights Movement to women’s rights – and the mainstream opposition today accepts these progressive strides forward, so the economic radicalism introduced market forces, encouraged competition, and has elevated many people in Third World nations from abject poverty as it’s mainstream opposition today accepts these positive effects of the market.

Obama belongs in this camp of mainstream opponents of extreme capitalism. His agenda stems from an understanding of the middle class best encapsulated in this clip from West Wing, which though it aired ten years ago, seems eerily relevant today:

Obama’s economic plan is a response to this wish to make things “just a little bit easier.” It is an attempt to temper the forces of globalization and extreme capitalism that have wreaked havoc in our society and position us to compete in a globalized marketplace. Like Teddy Roosevelt, he’s attempting to protect the core values of our society from economic radicalism; like Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln, and Americans throughout history – he is proposing investments in our infrastructure and incentives for industry. Obama’s plan isn’t perfect – it’s just a start. It’s just tinkering – which is how that sage Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes “the best we can do” to improve our condition. It’s an attempt to make things “just a little bit easier.”

When Obama talks about “economic justice” he is not referring to some obscure Communist codeword – he is calling us to remember the world of Leave It To Beaver - a world where firemen and bankers, lawyers and plumbers, could all live in the same neighborhood. Obama doesn’t pretend he can bring back this past – but he believes we must stop the forces of extreme capitalism from destroying this American ideal and that we must take pro-active steps to reduce the destabilizing effects of globalization and capitalism while protecting our core values as a society.

This isn’t socialism – this is common sense – and it has been the American system since our founding. The radicals are those who propose we do nothing in the face of attacks on our way of life and in the face of economic calamity – the nihilists among the House Republicans and the Hooverites and those who continue to favor deregulation and oppose sensible  government intervention in the markets. The radicals are those who believe the free market will cure all ills and will heal itself.

Those who claim that Barack Obama would be the most liberal president in history must have skipped the American history classes covering the period before 1980. Those who claim he is a socialist are just plain wrong.

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  1. Of course, Buckley came to distance himself from contemporary conservatism – which dropped this moderate approach with preemption and prevention. []

Barack Obama Is Not a Socialist!

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

Data Points

  • My dad emailed me an editorial from Investor’s Business Daily – whose editorial page was described by the snarky, center-left online magazine Slate as veering “to the outer reaches of the right, making even the Journal‘s trademark business-friendly editorial line seem moderate.” The article my dad sent me stated that Obama is a “stealth socialist,” a kind of sleeper-agent for socialism, ready to unleash the forces of Marxism when he reaches the White House. (The same accusations flew around Bill Clinton in 1992.) The editorial alleges that Obama speaks in code to like-minded audiences, specifically citing the scary term, “economic justice.”
  • A friend of mine writes in his Facebook feed, “WAKE UP EVERYONE! HE IS A SOCIALIST!” including this picture of Stalin (a Communist.)

    I think he would have done better to include something like this picture. I thought of responding to this silly idea by pointing out that Palin and Stalin have most of the same letters in much the same order.
  • I’ve been having a long-running conversation with another friend – an “independent” voter who has been a supporter of McCain since 2000 – but who is very suspicious of the “far left” and “creeping socialism.” He believes that while Obama is not a socialist, he will allow those “far lefties” to gain influence and take away America’s freedom.
  • Sarah Palin, in her debate with Joe Biden, brought up the specter of socialist health care and then quoted Ronald Reagan saying that “freedom is always just one generation away from extinction” – a phrase he used to attack the very popular Medicare program as socialist (as Paul Krugman pointed out in a recent column).
  • The bailout and the various other proposals and actions by the Bush administration have been described in the pages of the financial journals as “socialism for the rich,” and there is a great deal of justifiable concern about the amount of leverage and power the government will have in the marketplace after this crisis has passed.

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