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The Atlantic published an article on Tuesday by Mischa Fisher arguing that, Republicans have been unfairly characterized as “anti-science.” The piece begins with the lofty assertion that, “Republicans, conservatives, and the religious are no more uniquely “anti-science” than any other demographic or political group. It’s just that “anti-science” has been defined using a limited set of issues that make the right wing and religious look relatively worse.”

It’s another faux-moderate piece where “everyone is to blame,” for underfunding and misunderstanding science. Fisher calls himself a “centrist” which is hard to square with his bio: “Mischa Fisher is a former Republican science-policy staffer and legislative director in the House of Representatives.”

But let’s look at the case. Fisher starts with global warming, arguing that “the vast majority” of Republicans accept anthropomorphic climate change, the problem is, “Conservatives believe many of the policies put forward to address the problem will lead to unacceptable levels of economic hardship. It’s not inherently anti-scientific to oppose cap and trade or carbon taxes.” This statement is dubious on three grounds.

First, it’s not true. As ThinkProgress notes, “almost 58 percent — of congressional Republicans refuse to accept it [global warming].” Second, global warming entails vast andunequal economic consequences, meaning that if we have to sacrifice some economic growth today for more in the future, that is a reasonable decision. And third, Republicans have opposed every Democratic-lead initiative to fight climate change, from Waxman-Markey, to carbon taxes to regulation through the EPA (that were based on the estimated cost per ton of carbon dioxide). If Fisher really wants to argue that Republicans understand the science of global warming, he needs to prove they’ve done something other than oppose every effort to stop global warming on the dubious grounds that it will harm economic growth.

The next argument is classic. Fisher argues that for every right-wing denial of science, there’s a hippie lefty denial:

Left-wing ideologues also frequently espouse an irrational fear of nuclear power, genetic modification, and industrial and agricultural chemistry—even though all of these scientific breakthroughs have enriched lives, lengthened lifespans, and produced substantial economic growth over the last century.
This argument rests on a false equivalence. The science of global warming is accepted by 97 percent of climatologists.  In contrast, nuclear energy is still a very alive debate withinthe scientific community. I would happily debate Fisher on the merits of nuclear power (I’m still undecided) but it’s misleading to compare the two. Fisher also neglects the fact that many Democratic politicians are behind nuclear power (including Obama…), so the point is moot, anyhow. As for GMOs, I’m unaware of any bills ever introduced by Congressional Democrats to ban their use (the bill Fisher cites is about labelling – and it was bipartisan), and it certainly isn’t in the Democratic platform — while the 2012 Republican platform explicitly dismisses climate science and any attempts to curtail global warming.There certainly is an anti-scientific left, but it hasn’t gained control of the Democratic party. The practicality of organic farming, like the nuclear power issue, remains a live debate in scientific circles (again, certainly not at the threshold of universal acceptance that global warming has reached).

For good measure, Fisher throws in a Solyndra reference:

Yet at the same time, billions of stimulus dollars were being lost on failed investments in the alternative-energy sector. Just the failed loans to Solyndra and Abound Solar would have kept the Tevatron operating for a decade.
First off, this is a question of politics and economics, not science. Alternative energy is an important part of Obama’s all-of-the-above strategy (which, remember, includes the nuclear power Fisher is so excited about) and stimulus spending was justified because of the recession. Scientific research is an important part of what the Congress does, but its not stimulative. So it would be absurd for the stimulus package to include money to keep the Tevatron open. Instead the stimulus package invested in energy efficiency ($29 b), renewable energy ($21 b), high speed railway ($18 b), research into carbon capture ($3 b) among other investments.

Solyndra was one of many investments, and it’s expected that some of the companies that received a loan guarantee would fail, but the number of bankrupt firms has actually been rather low. As it happens, often research projects fail to produce results, but we don’t stop performing research. Fisher’s argument here appears to be that Obama should look into the future and determine which investments and research projects will reap rewards.

Fisher argues that it is not Republicans, but rather Obama (!) who is underfunding the basic sciences (with another Solyndra reference!):

For every cheap shot a Republican member of Congress like Senator Tom Coburn has taken at National Science Foundation grants (see the unfairly maligned robo-squirrel), there are areas where Obama has undercut American leadership in basic science by favoring loan guarantees and industrial subsidies to the alternative-energy industry at the expense of science elsewhere.

We’ve seen this in his proposed cuts to high-energy physics, nuclear physics, planetary science, and other areas of research. Even in the much-maligned “Tea Party-dominated” House of Representatives, the GOP budget proposals provided more funding for the NSF than those of the Senate Democrats for the current 2013 fiscal year.”

Again we have the (entirely unfounded) assertion that the stimulus package investments in green jobs came at the expense of “science elsewhere.” This is a policy/economics question, not a science denial question. Many scientists support a move towards a greener economy, and alternative energy is a necessary investment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and move away from fossil fuels. But, if we are talking politics, Obama has fought to get rid of the sequestration cuts that are decimating research. His budgetsregularly include far more money for science research than the Republican budgets do. In contrast, Republicans are working to cut science spending. Reuters reports that, “The Republican [2014] proposals also would cut NASA’s budget by $928 million compared to last year, cut another $198 million from the Department of Commerce and $259 million from the National Science Foundation, which funds an array of scientific research projects.”

Here’s how Science magazine reported on the sequestration:

The science committee of the U.S. House of Representatives has a long history of expressing bipartisan support for research. But science lobbyists have grumbled that the panel has become highly partisan in recent years, stacked with conservative Republicans who don’t necessarily believe that research spending is a high priority.
It’s ironic that Fisher is bringing up the NSF (National Science Foundation) now, since six days before his article was published, Nature reported that, “calling for the National Science Foundation (NSF) to justify every grant it awards as being in the ‘national interest’… scientists raised concerns that ‘national interest’ was defined much too narrowly.”

Throughout the article Fisher throws in snipes like: “Set aside the fact that twice as many Democrats as Republicans believe in astrology, a pseudoscientific medieval farce.” Great, but the argument is about policy and policymakers, and when a Democrat goes on Meet The Press to advocate for teaching astrology in the schools, I’ll happily concede the point. But right now, it’s Republicans spinning crazy anti-scientific theories about birth control,stem-cell researchabortion and creationism and trying to enshrine them as policy.

Towards the end of the essay, Fisher makes a surprising concession:

Supporters of federal science funding, a group of which I am a card-carrying member, can ill afford to lose Republican support for science. But if it is perceived as a partisan litmus test, it will not continue to exist in its current state as the government’s other financial obligations continue to grow. This may be stupid or petty and perhaps it ought not to matter whether or not it’s perceived as a partisan issue, but I’ve been on the Hill and this is how politics works.
Translation: if we don’t all close our eyes and pretend the Republicans are playing fair, we’ll lose it all. This is essentially the same argument Very Serious People are making on tax reform, immigration reform, gun control and deficits – pretend the Republicans are moderates, or else you don’t get anything.

The last paragraph is positively bonkers,

So if you count yourself a supporter of NASA, a supporter of the National Science Foundation, a supporter of the NIH, or a supporter of the Department of Energy’s science facilities and particle accelerators, don’t be goaded into a false dichotomy between those who support science and who oppose it. As Thomas Huxley said, “Science commits suicide when it adopts a creed.”
What is the false dichotomy between those who support science and those who oppose it? Scientists should actively war with any administration or politicians who opposes science. The Bush administration, for instance, happily filled up federal bureaucracies with partisans, and 60 scientists (including 20 Nobel Laureates) wrote a letter criticizing him for “distorting and suppressing findings that contradict administration policies, stacking panels with like-minded and underqualified scientists with ties to industry, and eliminating some advisory committees altogether.” In contrast, the Obama administration has poured money into mapping the brain and political capital into fighting climate change (perhaps one reason 68 Nobel-Prize winning scientists signed a letter endorsing Obama).

There is a real dichotomy between those who support science and those who don’t — and those who don’t are generally on the Republican side. 131 members of the Republican caucus deny the science behind climate change. A disturbing 17 of those Republican members are on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. As to the Huxley quote, scientists need to treat themselves like any other lobby, and support candidates and policies that promote their profession and research. That means supporting Democrats, as most of them do (only 6 percent of scientists identify as Republicans). The false equivalence that blames both parties for the cuts to science funding, the lack of research and our inadequate response to global warming will only make it harder to shame the party responsible for its intransigence.  The idea that Republicans are anti-science isn’t it a caricature. It’s a sad fact.



Conservative and libertarian arguments about social spending are rooted in the discredited Social Darwinism of Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner.

Social Darwinism was the intellectual vogue of early 19th century sociology. The movement, led by Herbert Spencer, who coined the term, “survival of the fittest.” purported to apply Darwinian principles to the working of society. The attempt was doomed from the start because Spencer also relied on the discredited theories of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, who believed that traits acquired during an organism's lifetime could be passed down to offspring. Spencer also assumed that society was subject to “natural laws,” rather than being an artificial construction as prominent sociologist Lester Ward argued.

Spencer’s work suited conservatives, because he argued against social reform to help the poor because their poverty was to due to weakness. They were unfit and should be eliminated. He argued against all state intervention, which would impede the natural development and progression of society.

William Graham Sumner became a leading proponent of Social Darwinism, arguing that the wealthy were rich because of natural selection and argued that their wealth was a social service. Sumner argued that hereditary wealth allowed the fittest to pass on their virtues to children. He argued, “Let it be understood that we cannot go outside this alternative: liberty, inequality, survival of the fittest; not-liberty, equality, survival of the unfittest. The former carries society forward and favors all its best members; the latter carries society downwards and favors all its worst members.” That is, people are not shaped by society, but rather have intrinsic qualities and the market should filter out the weak from the strong.

In Sinclair Lewis’s, Babbitt, George Babbitt describes the tenants of social Darwinism,

The first thing you got to understand is that all this uplift and flipflop and settlement-work and recreation is nothing in God's world but the entering wedge for socialism. The sooner a man learns he isn't going to be coddled, and he needn't expect a lot of free grub and, uh, all these free classes and flipflop and doodads for his kids unless he earns 'em, why, the sooner he'll get on the job and produce—produce—produce! That's what the country needs, and not all this fancy stuff that just enfeebles the will-power of the working man and gives his kids a lot of notions above their class.

Social Darwinism assumes that markets are efficient and the only just way to allocate resources in a society and that any deviation from the market outcome would stunt society’s development by “coddling” the poor. This sanctification of the market became untenable for most Americans in the wake of the Great Depression.

The backlash against Social Darwinism eventually ushered in a progressive era. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thorstein Veblen exposed the fallacy that the wealthiest had superior scrupules or a strong work ethic. Henry George noted that, “Mr. Spencer is like one who might insist that each should swim for himself in crossing a river, ignoring the fact that some had been artificially provided with corks and other artificially loaded with lead.” Peter Kropotkin, noted that the biological world was rife with interspecies co-operation and that this cooperation in the face of environmental struggle drove progress. The progressive era brought about programs to increase opportunity, shared sacrifice and the social safety net.

In the 1980s, Social Darwinism re-emerged in the form of supply-side economics - the theory that the rich drive society and the poor hang along for the ride. As J.K. Galbraith noted of Reagan’s economic program,

Let us take supply-side theory at its face value, however modest that may be. It holds that the work habits of the American people are tied irrevocably to their income, though in a curiously perverse way. The poor do not work because they have too much income; the rich do not work because they do not have enough income. You expand and revitalize the economy by giving the poor less, the rich more.

The most prominent proponent of the new Social Darwinism was Charles Murray, whoseLosing Ground provided key support for anti-welfare crusaders by arguing that the social safety net has made the poor lazy and that society is splitting in two, between the hard-working and justly rich and the lazy poor. In his essay, "The Coming White Underclass," Murray exemplifies the hands-off conservatism and “survival of the fittest” mentality of social darwinism:

To restore the rewards and penalties of marriage does not require social engineering. Rather, it requires that the state stop interfering with the natural forces that have done the job quite effectively for millennia… Restoring economic penalties translates into the first and central policy prescription: to end all economic support for single mothers. The AFDC (Aid to Families With Dependent Children) payment goes to zero. Single mothers are not eligible for subsidized housing or for food stamps. An assortment of other subsidies and in-kind benefits disappear… From society's perspective, to have a baby that you cannot care for yourself is profoundly irresponsible, and the government will no longer subsidize it. (Italics Added)

More recently, Social Darwinism has been embraced by the Conservative wunderkid, Paul Ryan who worries that,

We don't want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into complacency and dependence.

Paul Ryan’s “maker vs. taker” narrative is also resurrected Social Darwinism, where the poor are lazy and the rich are virtuous and all government intervention makes the poor lazier and robs the rich of their deserved rewards.

Although Richard Hofstadter declared social Darwinism dead in the early 20th century, he warned that “A resurgence of social Darwinism… is always a possibility as long as there is a strong element of predacity in society.” With inequality tearing at the social bonds necessary to maintain the welfare state, old Spencerian arguments are being used to justify cuts to the minimum wagefood stamps and Medicaid spending. As the famous Johnson ad goes, “poverty is not a trait of character, it is created anew in each generation, but not by heredity, by circumstances.”

The Affordable Care Act isn't a perfect law. It's not even a good law. But it's better than what we had before and it's worth fighting for.

The law has not worked as well as expected. Three of the problems with the ACA roll-out were not to due to the law itself, but rather, Republican intransigence. First, the Medicaid expansion was hurt by the Supreme Court ruling that made the expansion optional for states. Twenty-five governors (almost all Republican) have refused to push forward with the expansion, even though it will be paid for almost entirely with federal funds. This leaves millions of poor Americans without health insurance (and will likely end up costing the states more money). Second, many of those same governors refused to set up health care exchanges, meaning that the HHS had to for them. The HHS requested an additional $1 billion (far below the $5 billlion the CBO estimated would be needed) to set up the exchanges, which congressional Republicans denied. Third, right-wing organizations have been attempting to persuade young people to opt-out of the program, claiming that they will be better off without health care. This is bad for both the young people and the system. The young people will still be treated (just like the poor without Medicaid), but their treatment will place an expensive burden on the system and because they aren't paying for premiums, meaning the cost of other plans on the exchange may rise.

Even with Republican support, the bill would have trouble. Obama, being a conservative, has tried to modify the system rather than overthrow it. He has followed the advice of Burke, who cautioned legislators to "approach to the faults of the state as to the wounds of a father, with pious awe and trembling solicitude."

But conservatives are pretending that the bill is a radical overthrow of the health care system, rather than a few minor incremental changes which it is. The bill leaves the health insurance system largely intact, expands already existing programs and implements a collection of pilot projects that can easily be expanded.

Conservatives argue that the failure of proves that the government can't do anything. That strikes me as a little absurd. The argument is that the government that sent a man to the moon, built the Hoover dam and National Highway System, rebuilt Europe, runs the wildly successful and efficient SNAP program and has become the most successful military in the world has lost its legitimacy because of a glitchy website. If anything, the government should be doing more projects in-house and avoiding the costly contractors who screwed up the whole program.

The Human Genome Project cost the government$3.8 billion dollars but generated $796 billion in economic games. The project is expected to bring about returns of 140 to 1 to the public. Research by Kenneth Flam finds that, "eighteen of the twenty five most important breakthroughs in computer technology between 1950 and 1962 were funded by the government, and in many cases the first buyer of the technology was also the government."

In every other country, government-run systems produce far better results for far cheaper. The United States spends twice as much of its GDP on health care than the OECD average. The U.S. gets little in return; Britain pays 40 percent less for slightly better outcomes. The U.S. health care system leads the industrialized world in administrative costs and wastes an estimated $750 billion dollars each year due to unnecessary procedures, inflated prices, excess administrative costs and poor delivery systems. The system also leaves 40 million people uninsured, which is unique among developed countries.

The fact that the failure of has garnered so much press is quite frankly shameful. Especially when there has been so much good news from the program: the rate of uninsured people in Oregon has dropped 10 percent, the recent Medicaid expansion in Ohio will give 273,000 people access to health insurance, manystate-run exchanges are working fine and there is evidence that Obamacare is slowing down the growth of health care costs. Guys, even a Fox News contributor  has admitted the programs is working!

So don't be fooled by all the horror stories. Obamacare is far more than merely a website; the NHS survived for decades before the invention of the internet. The program has already chalked up some important success and will continue to in the future. The hullabaloo about the website is just a reflection of the media cycle. The good parts get ignored while the minor failure of a website becomes front page news. Man bites dog and all.

The conventional wisdom right now is that, although there appears to be a rift in the Republican party, it’s not going to break-up. The Slatepitchy proposition is that Republicans disagree about “tactics not goals.” To quote Jonathan Chait,

Mainstream Republicans and the tea party have fallen out almost entirely over political tactics. Tea partiers and conventional Republicans alike want to abolish Obamacare, cut taxes, eliminate Dodd-Frank, stop any regulation of carbon emissions, and impose cuts to social programs for the poor.

Matthew Yglesias writes in Slate essentially the same thing as Bernstein in Salon, “The tensions between Ted Cruz and John Boehner and Peter King and Mitch McConnell and whomever are all about tactics.”

But this overstates the case: the Tea Party is a nationalistic fringe right-wing party and will inevitably have to split with the GOP.

I realize the World Net Daily is a crazy website, but I think this op-ed by Joseph Farrah summarizes my argument here, and provides definitive proof that the Tea Party and GOP are never, ever, ever getting back together:

There are groups and individuals who would like to constrict the tea-party movement to fiscal issues.

That would be a huge mistake.

It’s not just about government spending, even though it was government spending that precipitated the unprecedented, spontaneous, grass-roots uprising.

More precisely, it’s about the law of the land and the will of the people.

It’s about a nation whose government has lost its moorings.

Remember the list of policies that Yglesias and Chait think the Tea Party and Moderate Republicans agree on? Maybe they should consult where these fifteen non-negotiables are dilineated:

1. Illegal aliens are here illegally.

2. Pro-domestic employment is indispensable.

3. A strong military is essential.

4. Special interests must be eliminated.

5. Gun ownership is sacred.

6. Government must be downsized.

7. The national budget must be balanced.

8. Deficit spending must end.

9. Bailout and stimulus plans are illegal.

10. Reducing personal income taxes is a must.

11. Reducing business income taxes is mandatory.

12. Political offices must be available to average citizens.

13. Intrusive government must be stopped.

14. English as our core language is required.

15. Traditional family values are encouraged.

Those goals aren’t at all in line with the policies pushed forward by the GOP. They are not the goals of a major political party, but rather a fringe nationalistic movement. In fact, similar nationalist movements are cropping up all over Europe, fueled by the influx of immigration, especially of Muslims.  Such movements are not historically unique either.

We can see a similar movement in Britain in the 1960s. when Britain’s Conservative Party faced the same struggle the GOP face today. In 1964, Peter Griffiths, a Tory, won a seat with the slogan: "If you want a n*gger for a neighbour, vote Labour." In 1966, when the moderate Conservative party lost, A.K. Chesterton (winner of the creepiest lips award), along with John Tyndall decided that they would be better off splitting off from the Tories and forming their own National Front, which later evolved into the BNP.

The Conservatives worked to create a more center-rightparty and worked, haltingly, to rid itself of racist past and towards a more centrist agenda. In contrast, the BNP is pro-life, pro-capital punishment,  a strictly anti-immigration pose, reject any government spending that doesn’t serve British interests, teach the British heritage in schools, support stand your ground laws and believe all races are equal, but they just shouldn’t mingle. Sound familiar? Try to see if you can tell the difference between a Tea Party manifesto and the BNP manifesto.

Viewed in the light or the BNP, the Tea Party’s odd desire to maintain farm subsidies while cutting aid to the poor makes sense: any government program which supports the “other” is bad. Programs to support middle-class (read: white) farmers or homeowners are fine, supporting the poor hispanic and black population is terrible. The goal isn’t to shrink government, it’s to cleanse government. This also helps explain the Tea Party fascination with birtherism,strange theories about neo-colonialism, and they are absolutely terrified of the U.N.

The Tea Party has all of the hallmarks of a nationalist xenophobic (dare I say Fascist) movement:  89% white, 58% keep a gun in their house,a faction believe that violence  against the government is justified, most believe America is a country in decline, they are anti-immigrant, authoritarian, opposed to social progress, anti-gay and anti-abortion. overwhelmingly support the death penalty, really dislike Muslims, very much dislike immigrants (to the point of militarizing the border) and they’re really, really racist. Obviously, the Tea Party is not a single cohesive group, but it’s clear that the anti-immigrant wing holds major influencein the coalition of crazy. Sinclair Lewis summed up the situation a century ago, "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."

While the “Tea Party” sentiment has existed for a long time in the Republican party, but it has remained dormant, largely placated by the race-baiting language of Republican candidates. Reagan promised to cut benefits for the welfare queens (black women) and imprison crack addicts (black men). The recent rise of the Tea Party was ignited by three things:

1. The failure of the George Bush Presidency

The Republican has courted racial votes for a long-time, but recently has failed to deliver what they desire. George Bush’s push for immigration reform, his pivot toward India and China, embrace of compassionate conservatism and focus towards nation-building abroad all frustrated the nationalist right.

2. The election of Barack Obama

The election of Obama and his re-election provided both racial animus (s is it any wonder that the enemy of the Tea Party is not a liberal, but rather an immigrant black Muslim), but also the hopelessness of trusting the establishment. The reason for the National Front splitting with the Tories is disturbingly prescient: A.K. Chesterton was convinced that a purer party would  more successfully compete in national elections.

3. The destruction of the Middle Class

The middle class got screwed in 2008, and they saw their government support the wealthiest and the poorest and leave the middle-class out in the cold. If you look at the economic policies of the Tea Party, it’s broadly similar to that of the BNP - government support isn’t inherently bad, it’s bad if it goes to support immigrants, poor or blacks. Thus, the bailout of banks was not bad but the bailout of poor homeowners (who were, in the Conservative narrative, because of the Community Reinvestment Act were primarily minority) ignited the anger and fear.

If America was a parliamentary democracy (as it should be), the current split would have happened a long time ago. We would have four parties: a nationalistic “Tea Party,” a center-right “Rockefeller Republican” party, a center-left “New Democratic” party and a green party. Instead, we have two parties that . On the left, the green party has been so terrified of the right it grasped for the Clintons,  and Kerrys (and the center-lefties sat through McGovern and Dukakis). The right has had to grapple with something far more difficult. Middle-class and working-class nationalists have watched Republican presidents work towards immigration reform (to win the votes of Hispanics), send jobs overseas, work tirelessly to export American ideas to the Middle East and give up the fight on social issues. Now, they also have something else none of the other far-right movements in America have had, the mobilization capacity to shut down the government. The GOP has tried to placate the Tea Party while also bringing the party into the 21st century. How long will it be until the Tea Party decides, like A.K. Chesterton, that they’d be better off on their own? How far will the GOP go to win over the votes of disenchanted Southerners, afraid of the increase of secularism, the infiltration of foreign peoples and races into their society and the decline of the white middle class? To quote the Gospel of Mark, “A house is divided against itself cannot stand.”


Wed Oct 16, 2013 at 06:13 PM PDT

How the Media Caused the Shutdown

by Sean McElwee

Conspicuously absent from the media discussion of the government shutdown and debt-ceiling fiasco has been, unsurprisingly, the media’s responsibility for the whole sordid affair. By sacrificing truth on the altar of “objectivity,” creating narratives and bowing to any “authority” with a suit, the media has become a slave to the elite and done a disservice to the nation’s people.

Part of the media’s problem is its blind adherence to “objectivity.” When I interned at a news organization my boss would proudly announce, “we know we did the story right, because we got both the left and right wing crazies angry at us.” That’s right comrades, accuracy is not determined by objective facts, but whether the subjective reaction of various demagogues are equally feverish.

That’s why a government shutdown brought on and explicitly desired by one party finally occurred, both parties are “responsible.” When Paul Ryan puts together an absurd and radically right-wing list of Democratic concessions and calls it “bipartisan,” our slavish news parrots declare it to be “bipartisan.” If Ted Yoho claims breaching the debt ceiling wouldn’t be so bad but Jack Lew (and logic and lots of economists) say it would be awful, it’s time to sit down and have a “debate.”

There is no denying that the media creates and then perpetrates absurd narratives that serve to narrow the field to two corporate friendly establishment candidates. Any candidates that don’t fit within this narrative (say, a Dennis Kucinich, Howard Dean, Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren) will be quickly written off as unelectable.

Don’t believe me? Here is how you end a politician’s Presidential ambitious without discussing his merits:

Howard Dean, off a disappointing showing in the Iowa caucuses, let loose with a primal scream Monday night that seems to have inspired a generation.

None of these articles even mention a single policy proposal from Dean.

We live in a sad Orwellian world in which, “Political language... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

As Gore Vidal noted shortly before his death:

Our only political party has two right wings, one called Republican, the other Democratic.  But Henry Adams figured all that out back in the 1890s.  'We have a single system,' he wrote, and 'in that system the only question is the price at which the proletariat is to be bought and sold, the bread and circuses.’

The government shutdown should be seen as a “bread and circuses” affair, one which the media is cynically drawing in viewers while exploiting the suffering of millions of Americans.

Anyone who has been paying attention should note how coverage of sports and politics have converged, each borrowing strategies and tactics from each other. Veteran football stars graduate to ESPN where they pontificate and debate. Veteran politicians graduate to Fox News and CNN to do the same. Having watched a debate on ESPN about Tony Romo’s performance and a Crossfire debate about the government shutdown I can say, without irony that the ESPN debate contained more statistics, fewer soundbytes and less cynically fallacious thinking. Pundits can lie when they talk about healthcare, but dare not bullshit when discussing football.

Investigative journalism is a dead art. Studios realized long ago that it’s far cheaper to sit four overweight and undereducated “pundits” around the table and have them don tin-foil hats and spew vile bullshit then send a journalist overseas to “investigate” about the “truth.” Journalists who do leave the country to go to a warzone tour through Potemkin villages fabricated to obscure any sense of reality. Journalists, who are certainly educated enough to know what is going on simply prance around like trained seals waiting for whatever scraps of fish their trainers toss them.

After years of voraciously gobbling up any press release flung to them, they have lost all power of critical thinking. They can’t discern facts or truths or evaluate logic or arguments. They see only Ph.Ds, fancy resumes and billfolds (being British doesn’t hurt). This may explain why Niall Ferguson is still taken seriously even though he’s entirely full ofshit. As it happens, they could save money by just letting Niall Ferguson debate himself.

Journalists have treated the possibility of default the way Puritanical housewives treat an illegitimate pregnancy - a horror certainly, and one that should be discussed frequently but without any positive action. How long would Cruz & Company hold out if they knew the press would actually do its job and report on the families that are sufferingwhile Republicans play politics. The press has abrogated every sense of duty or morality it ever possessed.

It may be hard to remember (I certainly don’t) but I’ve been told on good authority that anchors used to actually call out politicians on their bullshit. The debt ceiling debate could be over tomorrow if a news anchor had the balls to stand up to Ted Cruz the way Edward R. Murrow stood up to Joe McCarthy.I’ve even written up a script, based on the Murrow reporting (okay, I just replaced McCarthy with Cruz, easy as pie):

This is no time for men who oppose Senator Cruz's methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.

The actions of the junior Senator from Texas have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn't create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it -- and rather successfully. Cassius was right. "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

Good night, and good luck.


Although most polls indicate that Americans are putting the blame on Republicans for the government shutdown in terms of actual politics, the Republicans are winning. The government shutdown/debt ceiling is a quintessential example of the failure of leftism under both the Obama and Clinton administrations.

Obama has lost Waxman-Markey (climate change), Manchin-Toomey (gun control and the Gang of Eight (Immigration). Dodd-Frank (finance reform) has been dismantled and hasn’t even begun to correct the damage wrecked by Gramm-Leach-Bliley (which repealed Glass-Steagall) and the Commodities Modernization Act (deregulating derivatives).

Obama’s healthcare reform was supposed to include a public option, universal Medicaid expansion and exclude the Cadillac tax (which will hurt union workers who negotiated good healthcare plans). Ideally, of course, we would move to single-payer or socialized medicine, but this is America! We’re exceptional! In 2008 Obama mocked the idea of an individual mandate: “I mean, if a mandate was the solution, we can try that to solve homelessness by mandating everybody to buy a house.” His agenda has been so decimated that he’s literally having to pass of old moderate Republican ideas as genuine leftism, and he’s still being called a commie!

Obama has been negotiating with sociopaths for the last five years. He came in ready to bargain, but has instead met a party immune to compromise. Obama has gained almost nil in revenue, while spending has been cut drastically (and foolishly). Now, he’s being asked to give up his major (only?) legislative victory for absolutely nothing in return. In fact, the Democrats position right now is to beg for a “clean-CR” that would cut spending below Paul Ryan’s first budget and basically to the level he proposed for 2014. That’s right, the current Democratic position is to cut funding roughly to the level of what the psychotic Rand Acolyte/Republican “idea” man is asking for.Dear readers, let me restate this one more time. The Democratic position right now is to keep in place a law based around a Republican idea and cut spending below what Republicans wanted in 2010.

The Republican quest to cut spending and taxes while not actually doing anything hasn’t been stalled by the fact that they lost the presidency, the senate and got fewer votes in the House than the Democrats.They’ve so dramatically shifted the conversation that they are still winning.

The truth is, Republicans have been winning since the 80s and haven’t stopped. The Clinton/Obama domestic agenda is right of Nixon/Eisenhower. There is no left in America. Democrats would qualify as center-right in any other country, while the Republicans would constitute a fringe right-wing nationalist party that generally takes in 10% of unemployed alcoholic racists with free time to come up with crazy conspiracy theories. The Tea Party patriots would be bunkered underground prepping for a coming apocalypse. In America, they are a major national party, holding the government hostage for even more draconian spending cuts (and maybe some tax giveaways for their rich friends). As long as they keep gerrymandering districts, make sure blacks don’t get to vote and take a never-compromise position, Republicans will keep winning.

The left in America needs revival, and there is certainly hope. Young people,according to Pew Research Center, actually have a slightly positive view of socialism (+3) and a slightly negative view of capitalism (-1). Poor Americans also grown disenchanted with capitalism (-8), as have blacks (-10) and hispanics (-23). There is a large untapped reserve of populist fervor that will quickly turn to disillusionment as the corporate and finance controlled neo-liberal arm of the Democratic party fails to address the issues that matter to them: environmental degradation, rampant inequality, the rise of greed and the lack of empathy in our society.

But all of this populist energy will remain under the surface as long as money drives the political system, there is no way for a leftist movement to foment - there will be no Koch-like donors supporting an anti-corporate pro-environment movement. To quote Marx: "The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of their dominance.”

Martin Giles and Larry Bartels have both done extensive research on the political system’s responsiveness to poor voters. The results are not good. In 2005, Larry Bartels examined how responsive Senators were in the 101st, 102nd and 103rd congress to the preferences of various constituents. His findings are summarized in the chart below.

While neither party is particularly responsive to the needs of poor Americans (the number is negative, meaning that if poor Americans desire the policy, it’s actually less likely to happen), Democrats are marginally better than Republicans at responding to the desires of the middle class. Even after controlling for political knowledge and voting behaviour, the results held, indicating that wealth, not education or political activism, is what makes politicians respond. Martin Giles has developed such research into a book, Affluence and Influence,which records similar findings.

Frederick Solt researched political responsiveness and participation internationally and found that higher levels of inequality decreased voter turnout and narrowed the political discussion, with poor and middle class voters becoming disenchanted.

The best way to revive the left is to focus on two key issues: economic equality and political access. Economic equality, while it garners lip from the left has never been the center of a real legislative agenda since the Great Society. That’s because, although improving access to education and providing universal health care are all small steps towards alleviating inequality, the only way to truly make a difference would be a stronger, more vibrant union movement, an increased minimum wage and higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

Economists Steve Temin and Peter Levy argue in Inequality and Institutions in 20th Century America that the decline in unions was an institutional phenomenon, one driven by politics, not an inevitable consequence of the changing economy. David Blanchflower and Richard B. Freeman point to Canada as a country where labor has remained strong because of favorable public policy:

Canadian labor law substantially limits what management can do to oppose unions… Canada does not permit management to engage in the massive union prevention campaigns that pervade the United States… and the two major provinces, Ontario and Quebec, have gone a long way to protect unions as institutions.

This decline in unions has been disastrous for American workers. Bruce Western and Jake Rosenfeld find that, “the decline in organized labor explains a fifth to a third of the growth in inequality—an effect comparable to the growing stratification of wages by education.” There is a correlation between union representation and inequality within the U.S. and internationally.

The effort to end inequality can also be aided by higher levels of redistributionary taxes. U.S. tax rates are low by international standards and research from Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez shows how progressivity has declined in the U.S. tax system.

Researchsuggests that tax rates have to be around 60 - 70% before there is any impact on economic growth (the highest marginal tax bracket right now is 40%). The U.S. could easily increase tax rates and distribute more money downward, thereby reducing inequality. Increasing the minimum wage would also put downward pressure on inequality and give workers more dignity.

The second aim of the left will be even tougher than alleviating inequality: getting money out of politics. The Roberts court has dealt numerous blows to the U.S. campaign finance regime and may again this year.A system of stricter campaign finance would free candidates from the demands of corporations and the financial sector. Part of the reason Democrats are wary of limiting corporate power and the influence of finance may be the fact that their campaigns are bankrolled by these donors. Powerful corporate lobby groups like ALEC, the Chamber of Commerce and the various “astroturf” groups push the domestic agenda to the right.

With a rigorous system of campaign finance reform, a reinvigorated left would actually have a chance to mobilize. This recovery has been drastically unequal: Emmanuel Saezfinds that 93% of the gains over the past 2 years have accrued to the richest 1 percent of Americans. There’s certainly room for a new left movement, the question is whether it will happen.

Mon Oct 14, 2013 at 12:08 PM PDT

The Case Against Clinton 2016

by Sean McElwee

It’s three years away, but the punditocracy is already discussing 2016 candidates, and while the Republican field is already loaded with possible candidates (Rubio, Cruz (!), Paul, Walker, Bush III (!!) and Jindal) the Democratic field is apparently sealed: Hillary Clinton. RealClearPolitics finds Hillary getting 61 percent of the vote in a Democratic primary against Biden (11), Warren (7), Cuomo (2), Warner (1) and O’Malley (0). There is a SuperPac (with 1,000,000+ Facebook “likes”) designed to lay the groundwork for a Clinton presidential run.

There is certainly a strategic reason for Democrats to play down Clinton: three more years under press scrutiny will only make her less appealing. But there are other reasons to question whether America needs another Clinton presidency.

I remember asking a Republican friend over dinner to name a single policy of Bill Clinton that they opposed and seeing them stumble (oral sex in the oval office isn’t a policy). The left has far more to despise about Bill than Republicans: he deregulated the banks, thereby setting the stage for the financial crisis; he passed the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, shredding the social safety net and forcing many poor women into the workforce; he signed into law economy-crushing free-trade agreements without environmental or labor protections; he escalated the War on Drugs, flooding American prisons with poor blacks and funneling billions to law enforcement agencies that abandoned practical policing in favor of SWAT-like tactics.

Hillary, is not her husband, but there is reason to fear her Presidency would devolve into the same govern-by-polls center-right market-friendly neoliberal toxic sludge her husband dumped on the left.

The left must ask itself some crucial questions: Could Clinton really tackle inequality by strengthening unions, raising the minimum wage and instituting a highly progressive tax system? Could the a member of the family who rented out the Lincoln bedroom to donors really tackle campaign finance reform? Could the woman who made the case for Iraq keep us from the next neo-con fraud? Will Clinton work undermine the overwhelming power of corporations and regulate the big banks that have financed her campaigns? I’m skeptical. America doesn’t need more establishment candidates; we need a fearless leader who will turn us away from the greedy consumerism that is tearing apart our society in a favor of empathy and sustainability.

This isn’t to say that Hillary Clinton would make a bad President. I’m just not sure she would be more than a repeat of the establishment. Democrats used to stand against big banks and big corporations and stand for the little guy. Democrats used to talk about expanding social security, not cutting it. Democrats used to regulate big banks, not suck up to them for campaign cash. George McGovern may have gotten “trounced,” but at least he knew a shitty war when he saw one. Michael Dukakis may have lost to H.W. Bush but at least he defended the rights of prisoners.

Has the left been so castrated that we run directly into the arms of the most banal corporate candidate without even considering the possibility of a Warren, Sanders or, dare I say it, Kucinich run? The first has fought tirelessly for a higher minimum wage and a new Glass-Steagall. The second has spent decades tacking on amendments to bills and the Constitution (among his goals: protect undocumented workers, undermine the Patriot Act, and strip corporations of First Amendment rights).The final drew opprobrium from the mainstream press for his plan to build a “Department of Peace” and a healthcare plan that should make any true liberal ecstatic.  All would have passed a financial reform bill with actual teeth and guaranteed a public option.

It’s time to move away from the “New Democrat”/Third way-style of governing. Americans are thirsty for real change. Dukakis and McGovern lost because they tried to sell peace to a war-hungry society. Now Clinton and Obama are selling Neo-conservatism to an America ready to cede control to the international arena. With blacks, Latinos and Millennials (to use that dreadful word) preferring “socialism” to “capitalism” it may time to move from the neo-liberalism that brought us the financial crisis toward a kinder, gentler society. We need a new New Deal, with full employment, strong unions and a powerful role for government. We need to question whether brutal free-market capitalism will erode liberal democracy, whether the short-termism of greed should be replaced by a sustainable economy. I don’t think Clinton can legitimately foment such a radical re-envisioning of American society.

Democrats can be fairly certain that they’ll win the Oval Office in 2016; the only question is which Democrat will hold that office. Should it be the establishment candidate to the right of Obama or someone truly revolutionary, a new left candidate the nation needs?

I’ll conclude with the words of the always blunt Christopher Hitchens, “Indifferent to truth, willing to use police-state tactics and vulgar libels against inconvenient witnesses, hopeless on health care, and flippant and fast and loose with national security: The case against Hillary Clinton for president is open-and-shut.”
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