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Rep. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin)
Ron Johnson is helping to revive red-baiting.
(Gage Skidmore)
Dead now for more than two decades, the Soviet Union has made a big comeback among Republicans trying to tie it in whatever twisted way possible to the Obama administration. Mitt Romney adviser John Lehman has warned about Soviet policy in the Arctic. John Boehner has labeled as "Soviet-style" the three-quarter-century-old dairy support program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And now Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, a Romney surrogate, is comparing the administration's green energy programs with policies of the Soviets, Cubans and Venezuelans.

Johnson made these red-baiting remarks Tuesday on CNN's Starting Point in an interview with Soledad O'Brien:

“President Obama simply doesn’t understand that it’s the free enterprise systems, the private sector, the productive sector, not the government sector that creates long-term self-sustaining jobs,” Johnson declared. “Take a look at the Soviet Union, Venezuela’s economic basket case, and is anybody moving to the island paradise of Cuba?”

O’BRIEN: You’re surely not suggesting that the idea and the concept behind Solyndra and other green energies like Solyndra is comparable to the Soviet Union and Cuba, right?

JOHNSON: No, I am suggesting that, because when you take taxpayer money and you invest that into businesses, that’s the taxpayer money put at risk. And let’s face it, the lesson of the Soviet Union and other socialist nations is that governments are very poor allocators of capital. It’s an economic model that doesn’t work.

O’BRIEN: Didn’t it work in Massachusetts? Isn’t that exactly what Governor Romney did in Massachusetts in green energy when he was the governor of Massachusetts?

JOHNSON: Listen, the path we need to take this country on is with free enterprise system, the private sector that creates long term self-sustaining jobs and that’s exactly what Governor Romney would do as President Romney.

Johnson is clearly unfamiliar with exactly how private enterprise has operated in tandem with government since the United States became a nation. Take three examples from long before the Soviet Union was a gleam in anybody's eye highlighted by William Lazonick:

The United States gave away more than 5 percent of the nation (an area the size of California) to the railroads under the Pacific Railroads Act of the 1860s. The companies could sell this land or use it as collateral for loans. Today dozens of companies continue to hold hundreds of thousands of acres of land from these grants, clear-cutting them, digging coal out of them, pumping oil and gas from them.

Subsidies under the Contract Air Mail Act of 1925 provided nascent airline companies with the wherewithal to develop new airplane bodies, leading within a few years to the all-metal, two-engine planes that allowed passenger air travel to grow so rapidly.

Funding a Revolution: Government Support for Computing Research stated in 1999: "Federal funding not only financed development of most of the nation's early digital computers, but also has continued to enable breakthroughs in areas as wide ranging as computer time-sharing, the Internet, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality as the industry has matured."

There's more, including the Interstate Highway System, government's heavy subsidies to the nuclear power industry, the industries that have grown up around GPS, and on and on, as the Breakthrough Institute has pointed out.

Rep. Johnson and the rest of the brigade that makes these comparisons of U.S. government investment ignore our own history as well as the history of nations like Korea, Japan and Taiwan who became economic powerhouses without any kowtowing to Soviet economics.

It's tempting to label as ignoramuses Johnson and Boehner and others using this tack. But they know full well what they're doing. For these guys and all their Rovian buddies, if you can get "Soviet" and "Obama" into the same sentence, it's a win.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 09:34 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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