Last week, I posted a piece, suggesting that the current crisis was really about us and the lack of a movement, not about Obama. A number of people reacted, in emails to me, particularly about the Three Grand Myths--and, over the weekend, I heard yet more nonsense on the Three Grand Myths theme. So, I thought I'd re-post the myths as a distinct piece.
Three Grand Myths
Myth #1: The Debt and Deficit “Crisis”
I share the anger at the Administration for buying and promoting the phony “crisis” frame (not the least of which was the president’s decision to set-up the goofy Simpson-Bowles Commission).
But, the real problem is this: virtually every policy group, and many leaders and “progressive” media organs, on our side—all well-intentioned people—strengthened the narrative of the “crisis”. Instead of making the argument that there is no crisis and that we have to spend far more money on the real crisis—jobs—to heal the economic crisis that has built over 30 years, they enhanced the phony debate by putting out their own plans on how to “solve” the “crisis”. Rather than be clear that there is no debt or deficit crisis, many of the people, who are viewed as intellectual and movement leaders, advanced the same framing.
That has been a huge error.
Here is one of those frankly, idiotic and self-defeating statements—this from the mouth of a director of an organization that bills itself “progressive”. In a press release incomprehensibly titled, “Conrad’s 50-50 Proposal Is A Good Sign,” the “progressive” leader praises Sen. Kent Conrad—one of the leading purveyors of the phony deficit crisis—for a proposal that would cut critical government services by hundreds of billions of dollars: “The Conrad proposal is the first strong Democratic proposal that has come out of these negotiations.”
The statement is full of self-delusion—that is, that a “50-50 proposal” could cut $2 trillion from the budget but, the statement demands, the proposal has to be one in which, “No deal that takes more out of the programs for middle income and poor Americans than it takes from tax breaks, loopholes and havens for the rich and the big corporations, and no deal that undermines the economic recovery.”
The statement promotes and endorses the immoral framing of “shared sacrifice”—that people who have already paid dearly for the financial mess of the past years with millions of jobs lost and devastated retirement funds, should give even more to repair damage they had no hand in creating.
I believe that the capitulation is typical: a bunch of people want to have their invitation to the cocktail party—see below—and you can’t be part of the clique of the Smart and Powerful People if you don’t mouth the mainstream accepted chatter. Worse, it shows a fundamental misunderstanding about the roots of our crisis.
But, accepting this myth has had its effect. We have a foolish obsession about the debt and deficit—and we have put at risk what is left of a frayed societal network.
Myth #2: The “Good Years” of the Clinton Administration
We continually recycle the nostalgic desire to return to the days of Bill Clinton because, boy, were those great years for the economy.
Really? I suppose people yearn for those days in comparison to the ruinous Bush Administration years that followed. But, we should not.
The Clinton “good years” were built on two massive financial and technology speculative bubbles—not broad, lasting, wage-driven prosperity and power for people.
The Clinton “good years” were right smack in the middle of a 30-year decline in wages compared to productivity.
The Clinton “good years” were led by a president, and supported by a Secretary of Labor (Robert Reich), who were enthusiastic supporters of NAFTA and its clones—the trade strategy that has, at its core, the lowering of wages.
The Clinton “good years” were a high-water mark for mindless deregulation that put the entire country’s democracy and economic security at risk by increasing the power of two of the most influential industries in the country and the world—the media industry (thanks to the 1996 Telecommunications Act) and the financial world (thanks, among other things, to the repeal of Glass Steagall--see the gleeful pic below--in favor of the Orwellian-sounding Financial Services Modernization Act—we know how that worked out).
In the “good years”, Clinton, Reich, and the whole lot of them only used the word “union” when they needed the labor movement—usually to write a check for some political campaign.
In the Clinton “good years”, we allowed workers to feel like they were stupid because the president and his Secretary of Labor (the latter using his entirely goofy “symbolic analyst” phrase) kept telling people they had to be better educated to make a decent wage—even though the actual FACTS showed that the biggest growth in jobs were coming in places where college-level education was irrelevant.
Neither the president, Reich and other Serious People had the spine or the inclination to say very clearly: corporate interests were robbing America and driving down wages (As an aside, I am in awe of Reich: he is one of the country’s great self-promoting, Zelig-like observers of what is intellectually “hot”. He escapes any responsibility as he hops from one sketchy idea to another and has now re-branded himself—again—into a new posture, this time as a defender of working people, a group of people he will drop like a plague when something “hotter” comes along. Breathtaking.).
The Clinton “good years” raised to an art form the selling of our political institutions and electoral system to the highest corporate bidder or hedge fund manager who was willing to write a check to fund the Clinton political machine—an art form that cascaded throughout the Democratic Party, particularly to people who sat on Banking and Finance Committees.
And, last but not least, the Clinton “good years” reinforced the fundamental dynamics of the so-called “free market”, which has robbed working Americans.
Until we stop the foolish praising of the Clinton “good years” we aren’t going to be able to speak coherently about how we got into the mess we are in and how to get out.
Myth #3: “We Have The Best Workers in the World”
It’s hard to find an article of faith that is more racist and, at the same time, politically acceptable than the idea that “we have the best workers in the world”. And it is a concept that is repeated, often, by political leaders across the spectrum, “liberal” thinkers and, yes, labor leaders.
You can hear these words spoken a lot, whether they are wrapped cleverly in bizarre ideas like “symbolic analysts” or mindless chest-thumping about how American workers can kick anyone’s ass—if they are just given a “level playing field”.
Consider what would happen to any candidate running for election if she or he said the following: “Our country does not have the smartest and best workers. We have very hard-working and bright people but so does every country around the world”. Those two sentences alone would, overnight, be a YouTube sensation and engender immediate calls for the candidate to drop out of the race because of his or her lack of patriotism and faith in America.
And it isn’t true. By repeating this, we never make headway in building a broad movement to take on class warfare here and around the globe.
Why do we repeat these myths, and other similar, nonsensical, factually incorrect arguments?
Political elected leaders—the good people— do so because most of them just are astonishingly not curious individuals. They don’t read. They don’t challenge what they hear in their own circles.
To get elected, they lapse into the same way of thinking about challenges we face. To be accepted in the party machine, they regurgitate memes without even thinking what they mean (I call it the “we honor the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform” widget). And those are the GOOD people.
Many just don’t live the crisis: the people who pocket most of the foundation money that keeps them going, or those who have been anointed “leaders”, enjoy a personal comfort and station in life enjoyed by very few of the people they profess to represent. At the end of the day, they return to their homes in Adams Morgan or the suburbs, or on the Upper West or East Sides of Manhattan, feeling none of the pain or threats faced by the rest of the country.
They also deeply value, as one person astutely put it to me, the invitation to the cocktail party—an invitation that became even more valued in 2008 when Barack Obama entered the White House. No one wants to threaten that invite. And, so, it is dangerous to be seen as too “radical” or talking about “class warfare” because you might not be credible—credible means being accepted into the circles of the policy wonks, being able to raise money from rich liberals and/or liberal foundations, and, perhaps most crucial, getting THE invitation: the cocktail party invitation to The White House (or the Easter egg roll or the Hanukkah party).
The drift can be very subtle and gradual.
One day, you are a leader, usually young and energetic, who sees clearly that the system is rotten. And, then, years later, without even seeing the change, self-censorship sets it: a foundation gives you a little money to produce reports or organize a conference and, then, the organization gets addicted to that money. To get it again, you have to satisfy the predilections of the foundation program officer or board chair—and those inclinations are rarely about changing the system and usually about showing how many times the organization was quoted in the traditional press.
There is also virtually no accountability inside the movement. If you are incompetent or, at best, you simply don’t make waves, you are continually rewarded with new jobs and new posts. If you are an organization that makes foundations or wealthy people comfortable, you just keep on thriving because the system is gamed.
Almost no one asks: what has this person, or organization, done lately that is new, or that challenges what has been done and repeated year after year? Success is almost an after thought.
11:39 AM PT: BTW, on the road so I may find it hard to respond, in a timely fashion, to feedback. My sincere apologies.