“Inequality And Self-Righteousness”: President Obama Challenges The Emotional Heart Of Conservative Politics
Here’s a passage from the president’s speech at CAP yesterday, which was a bit of a watershed, consolidating his varying perspectives on inequality and government’s role in the economy:
[W]e need to set aside the belief that government cannot do anything about reducing inequality. It’s true that government cannot prevent all the downsides of the technological change and global competition that are out there right now — and some of those forces are also some of the things that are helping us grow. And it’s also true that some programs in the past, like welfare before it was reformed, were sometimes poorly designed, created disincentives to work, but we’ve also seen how government action time and again can make an enormous difference in increasing opportunity and bolstering ladders into the middle class. Investments in education, laws establishing collective bargaining and a minimum wage — (applause) — these all contributed to rising standards of living for massive numbers of Americans.
Likewise, when previous generations declared that every citizen of this country deserved a basic measure of security, a floor through which they could not fall, we helped millions of Americans live in dignity and gave millions more the confidence to aspire to something better by taking a risk on a great idea. Without Social Security nearly half of seniors would be living in poverty — half. Today fewer than 1 in 10 do. Before Medicare, only half of all seniors had some form of health insurance. Today virtually all do. And because we’ve strengthened that safety net and expanded pro-work and pro- family tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit, a recent study found that the poverty rate has fallen by 40 percent since the 1960s.
What he’s doing here is challenging the idea that you can defend the “good” government interventions in the economy that are now part of the national landscape while opposing contemporary efforts to expand opportunity and reduce inequality. This strikes directly at the politics of selfishness and self-righteousness that is at the emotional heart of conservative politics at present.
The opportunity gap in America is now as much about class as it is about race. And that gap is growing. So if we’re going to take on growing inequality and try to improve upward mobility for all people, we’ve got to move beyond the false notion that this is an issue exclusively of minority concern. And we have to reject a politics that suggests any effort to address it in a meaningful way somehow pits the interests of a deserving middle class against those of an undeserving poor in search of handouts.
This can’t be said too often.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 5, 2013
“Reporters Aren’t Above The Law”: The Media Shouldn’t Have Freer Speech Or Special Immunities From Investigation
Secret government investigations into speech protected by the First Amendment should alarm all of us. But we all have the same First Amendment rights; reporters don’t have freer speech. And giving reporters a special privilege to withhold evidence too often leads to lazy reporting in which nameless “official sources” get to make false accusations against innocent people without any accountability for either the government or the press. Instead of lobbying for a special privilege, reporters should consistently fight for more liberty for all Americans, including greater freedom of speech and greater freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.
The Associated Press is understandably outraged that the government used secret subpoenas to get phone records that might reveal who leaked classified information to the news wire. But the real problem is not that the government is investigating the AP; it is that the government is investigating speech about government operations. That would be just as troubling if the targets were non-journalists.
The government claims the AP’s reporting contained classified information, but that’s hard to avoid when so much of what the government does is classified. The temptation to overclassify and underdisclose must be very powerful; each administration promises greater transparency, yet each turns out to be worse than the last. That frustrates the control we’re supposed to have over our government.
Media companies think the answer is to give their employees special immunities from investigation. But reporters aren’t always right, either. Sometimes they team up with government leakers to wreck the lives of innocent men and women whom the leakers want to disparage publicly, like Steven Hatfill, Wen Ho Lee or Richard Jewell. When that happens, the victims have rights too. Reporters (like everyone else) have a duty to provide the evidence necessary to do justice. No one should be above the law.
A better answer is to tighten the rules for when government can act in secret and provide more protections for whistleblowers. That gives us the benefit of more public discourse about public policy without giving the press a license to smear.
Our government does too many things in the dark, and the press is often at its best when it shines a light on previously unknown programs or policies that we ought to debate publicly. We need laws that help the press shine a light on government actions, not laws that permit reporters to join government officials in the shadows.
By: Mark Grannis, Debate Club, U. S. News and World Report, May 16, 2013
Do conservatives still believe in American greatness?
The question is not intended to discourage the healthy debate being pushed by Rand Paul and his allies over whether Republicans in the George W. Bush years were too eager to deploy our country’s armed forces overseas. After the steep costs of the Iraq war, it is a very necessary discussion.
But Paul has inadvertently called our attention to a deep contradiction within American conservatism.
Those who share Paul’s philosophical orientation are quite right in seeing the rise of American power in the world as closely linked to the rise of the New Deal-Great Society state at home. But this means that those who want the United States to play a strong role in global affairs need to ask themselves if their attitudes toward government’s role in our country, which are similar to Paul’s, are consistent with their vision of American influence abroad.
After World War II, there was a rough consensus in America, confirmed during Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency in the 1950s, in favor of an energetic national government.
We emerged from the war as a global power that had learned lessons from the Great Depression. Government action could lessen the likelihood of another disastrous economic downturn and build a more just and prosperous society at home by investing in our people and our future.
Thus did the Marshall Plan and the GI Bill go hand in hand. The Marshall Plan eased Western Europe’s recovery from the devastation of war, thereby protecting friendly governments and opening new markets for American goods. The GI Bill educated a generation of veterans, spurring prosperity from the bottom up by enabling millions to join a growing middle class.
Eisenhower built on these achievements by creating the first college loan program and launching the interstate highway system. It’s no accident that the former was established by the National Defense Education Act while the latter was known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act.
Lyndon Johnson operated in the same tradition. It’s worth remembering that passage of the landmark civil rights acts was helped along by our competition with the Soviet Union. We realized we could not appeal to the nonwhite, nonaligned parts of the world if we practiced racism at home.
And we fought poverty — for moral reasons but also because we wanted to show the world that we could combine our market system with economic justice. We forget that we succeeded. A strengthened Social Security system combined with Medicare slashed poverty rates among the elderly. Food stamps dealt with a real problem of hunger in our nation while Medicaid brought regular health care to millions who did not have it before.
Through it all, Keynesian economics kept our economy humming while widely shared prosperity created the sense of national solidarity that a world role required.
Paul and his allies deserve credit for consistency. They are against the entire deal.
“As government grows, liberty becomes marginalized,” Paul declared at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which announced Saturday that the libertarian senator from Kentucky had placed first in its 2016 presidential straw poll. I think the evidence of all the years since World War II proves Paul flatly wrong. But then I am not a conservative.
But what of conservatives who endorse continued American global leadership but would drastically reduce government’s investments in our citizens and our infrastructure, in economic security and in health care?
Do they honestly think voters will endorse the military spending they seek even as they throw 40 million to 50 million of our fellow citizens off health insurance and weaken health coverage for our elderly? Can they continue to deny that their goal of an internationally influential America demands more revenue than they currently seem willing to provide? Have conservatives on the Supreme Court pondered what eviscerating the Voting Rights Act would do to the image of our democracy around the globe?
And do conservatives who say they favor American greatness think they are strengthening our nation and its ability to shape events abroad with an ongoing budget stalemate created by their refusal to reach agreement with President Obama on a deal that combines spending cuts and new taxes? Would they rather waste the next three years than make any further concessions to a president the voters just reelected?
Rand Paul is very clear on the country he seeks. Conservatives who reject his approach to foreign policy need to consider where the strong America they honor came from in the first place.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 17, 2013
FDR placed the needs of the American people above petty budgetary concerns, but today’s leaders lack his courage and vision.
In 1933 we reversed the policy of the previous Administration. For the first time since the depression you had a Congress and an Administration in Washington which had the courage to provide the necessary resources which private interests no longer had or no longer dared to risk.
This cost money. We knew, and you knew, in March, 1933, that it would cost money. We knew, and you knew, that it would cost money for several years to come. The people understood that in 1933. They understood it in 1934, when they gave the Administration a full endorsement of its policy. They knew in 1935, and they know in 1936, that the plan is working.—FDR, 1936
Eighty years ago this month, at the height of the worst economic crisis in our nation’s history, Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered on his promise to launch a New Deal for the American people. Not wedded to any one program, idea, or ideology, the New Deal was founded on the very simple premise that when the free market failed to provide basic economic security for the average American, government had a responsibility to provide that security. In Roosevelt’s day, this meant imposing the first-ever meaningful regulation of the stock market, shoring up the nation’s financial system by guaranteeing private deposits and separating commercial from investment banking, and providing jobs to the millions of unemployed through government expenditures on infrastructure. The Roosevelt administration also launched the country’s first nationwide program of unemployment insurance to help the unemployed bridge the gap between jobs as well as Social Security to ensure that the elderly, after years of work and toil, would not suddenly find themselves utterly destitute.
Conservative critics of FDR’s polices say that these programs did not work—that unemployment remained high throughout the 1930s and that it was only World War II that brought us out of the Great Depression. As such, these same critics continually argue that the deficit spending that fueled the New Deal was the root cause of its inability to bring the unemployment rate down to acceptable levels. In short, they argue that government spending and government programs do not work, and that only the free market can provide the economic stimulus necessary to get the economy back on its feet again.
But as is the case today with the naysayers on climate change, the empirical evidence suggests that nothing could be further from the truth. During FDR’s first term, for example, the average annual growth rate for the U.S. economy was 11 percent. Compare that to the paltry 0.8 percent we witnessed in the first term of the Obama administration. The nationwide unemployment rate also fell, from its all-time high of 25 percent in 1933 to 14 percent by 1935, which at the time represented the largest and fastest drop in unemployment in our nation’s history.
But far more damning to the conservative critique is the argument that tries to invalidate the New Deal by positing that it was World War II and not the relief programs of the 1930s that brought us out of the Great Depression. Conservatives love to trumpet this fact and often use it as part of their argument against deficit spending, never stopping for a moment to consider that government expenditures—and deficits—in World War II made the New Deal look like small potatoes. In fact, deficit spending in the New Deal never topped 6 percent of GNP, while in World War II it ran as high as 28 percent. In other words, World War II was the New Deal on steroids. Viewed from this perspective, it is FDR’s critics on the left—not the right—who possess the stronger argument. The problem with the New Deal was that it did not go far enough. In other words, the government should have spent more money, not less, if it was going to be successful in bringing the economic crisis to an end.
All this is not to say that free enterprise is incapable of producing economic growth—it most certainly is. But there are times when capitalism, left to its own devices, can fail. Franklin Roosevelt was willing to acknowledge this, and he spent the better part of his tenure in office trying to put in place programs that would make capitalism work for the average American, not just those at the top. Hence, his agenda was not to subvert or destroy the free market system, but rather to save it.
It took vision and courage to launch the New Deal—the vision to understand that when the free market systems falls short or fails, government has a responsibility to take direct measures to get the economy moving again, and the courage to engage in deficit spending at a time when orthodox economic theory argued that the only proper response to an economic recession or depression was to slash government spending and balance the budget.
Unfortunately, the leadership we possess in Washington today lacks the vision and the courage to follow FDR’s example and put in place the sort of common-sense programs that would stimulate the economy and put people back to work. Instead of providing jobs for millions by spending money on our failing infrastructure—now ranked 24th in the world—or investing in programs that would reverse the falling education rates of our children, or providing greater federal support for the basic scientific research that may unlock untold benefits for future generations, we instead speak of nothing but the deficit and the sequester, as if cutting spending in the midst of recession is the magic bullet that will lead us out of our economic malaise.
Franklin Roosevelt faced similar critics, who, much like today’s deficit hawks, insisted that he must cut spending and balance the budget no matter what the consequences for the average American. But FDR would have none of this. “To balance our budget in 1933 or 1934 or 1935,” he said,
would have been a crime against the American people. To do so we should either have had to make a capital levy that would have been confiscatory, or we should have had to set our face against human suffering with callous indifference. When Americans suffered, we refused to pass by on the other side. Humanity came first.
As it turns out, FDR’s decision to put “humanity first” was not only the right moral decision, it was also the right economic decision. For the deficit spending that he finally unleashed in World War II, coupled with the social and economic reforms put in place during the New Deal, led to one of the longest periods of economic prosperity in America’s history and the birth of the modern American middle class.
Sadly, all of the evidence to date suggests that our leaders in Washington are quite happy “to pass by on the other side” and let the sequester proceed without so much as a fight. With roughly 16 million people across the country still unemployed, this is surely “a crime against the American people.”
By: David Woolner, The National Memo, March 3, 2013
Check out what the loopy Ayn Randroids are up to now. In long-suffering Detroit, a libertarian real estate developer wants to buy a civic crown jewel, Belle Isle, the 982-acre park designed by Frederick Law Olmstead—think the Motor City’s Central Park—and turn it into an independent nation, selling citizenships at $300,000 per. Not, mind you, out of any mercenary motives, says would-be founder Rodney Lockwood—but just “to provide an economic and social laboratory for a society which effectively addresses some of the most important problems of American, and the western world.” (Sic.)
Address how? Well, let’s say I’ve never seen a document that better reveals the extent to which, for libertarians, “liberty” means the opposite of liberty—at least since Rick Santorum held up the company town in which his grandpa was entombed as a beacon of freedom.
An aspiring Ayn Rand himself, Lockwood has set out his vision in a “novel,” poetically titled Belle Isle: Detroit’s Game Changer. Although he’s actually done the master one better, by imagining he can get his utopia built. Last week he presented the plan, alongside a retired Chrysler executive, a charter school entrepreneur (who apparently enjoys a cameo in the novel running one of the island’s two K-12 schools) and a senior economist at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, to what The Detroit News called “a select group of movers and shakers at the tony Detroit Athletic Club,” who included the president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Never let it be said Rod Lockwood (perfect pornstar name? You be the judge) hasn’t thought this thing through. The plan is foolproof: “Belle Isle is sold by the City of Detroit to a group of investors for $1 billion. The island is then developed into a city-state of 35,000 people, with its own laws, customs and currency, under United States supervision as a Commonwealth.” Relations with neighboring, impoverished Detroit will be naught but copacetic, and not exploitative at all: “Plants will be built across the Detroit River…. with the engineering and management functions on Belle Isle. Companies from all over the world will locate on Belle Isle, bringing in massive amounts of capital and GDP.” (Because, you know, tax-dodging international financiers of the sort a scheme like this attracts are just desperate to open and operate factories.) Government will be limited to ten percent or less of GDP, “by constitutional dictate. The social safety net is operated charities, which are highly encouraged and supported by the government.”
Although, on Belle Isle, “the word ‘Government’ is discouraged and replaced with the word ‘Service’ in the name of buildings.” Note the verb-tense slippage between present and future throughout. Lockwood is a realist.
He says what he imagines is a “Midwest Tiger”—helpfully explaining that his self-bestowed nickname is “a play on the label given Singapore as the ‘Asian Tiger.’ Singapore, in recent decades, has transformed itself into the most dynamic economy in the world, through low regulation, low taxes and business-friendly practices.”
Singapore. You know: that libertarian paradise where chewing gum is banned; thousands of people each year are sentenced to whippings with rattan canes for such offenses as overstaying visas and spray-painting buildings; the punishment for littering can be $1,000, a term of forced labor and being required to wear a sign reading “I am a litter lout”; and where pornography, criticizing religion, connecting to an unsecured Wi-Fi hotspot and (yes!) over-exuberant hugging are all banned. Freedom!
What are the Commonwealth’s other inspirations, you ask? “The country of Liechtenstein, which, although a monarchy, has a very effective government.”
And indeed, just like little Liechtenstein, Belle Islanders will enjoy protection from America’s security umbrella: “As a Commonwealth of the United States…Belle Isle pays its share of the U.S. defense budget, based on its population. It amounts to about $2,000 per person per year.” In fact Belle Islanders can expect nothing but fiscal gratitude from citizens of the United States. Yes, “a citizen who lives on Belle Isle who operates an investment fund with world-wide customers will pay no income taxes” to the United States. “Won’t the US lose a lot of tax revenue?” Oh, ye of little libertarian faith. “It will probably gain revenue…. Entrepreneurs from around the world will locate on Belle Isle and headquarter there, but often have their plant operations in the US because the island is so small. Businesses producing products in the U.S. will still be taxed at US corporate rates…. the influx of capital and jobs will be staggering…. Detroiters will see this vision as the answer to their prayers, and how could the federal government deny Detroit a chance to turn itself around, accelerate its re-birth, all at no cost to the taxpayer? How could they deny this long standing population of over 700,000 their first real shot at the American dream.” (Sic.)
Want in? Three requirements. First, of course, you need to come up with $300,000. “Will the citizenship fee pay for the purchase of any land for homes or businesses on Belle Isle?” “No—that will be an additional cost.” But look what that $300,000 buys you: “One of the core values” of the new nation, Lockwood writes, “is respect for all its citizens, no matter their station in life.”
Second: approval by the “citizenship board.” (Freedom!) Third step: “a command of English.” Because nothing says “respect for all its citizens” like “funny-talkers need not apply.”
And yes, it’s true, Lockwood proposes the “Rand” as the name of Belle Isle’s currency. But I’m sure he means Rand as in “Ayn Rand,” not, you know, Rand as in “South Africa,” the former home of a social system that functioned by surrounding minority enclaves of affluent whites with a reserve army of impoverished and disenfranchised blacks. Not like that at all.
What could go wrong? What’s the downside? After all, writes Lockwood in the section of his FAQ asking, ‘What is Bell Isle used for currently?”, “It is uninhabited and functions as a public park.” Just like that dead zone between 59th and 110th Streets in Manhattan.
You can sign up for updates on the project here. Although, take note, in order do so you have to give the organizers your phone number. Because, you know… freedom.
By: Rick Perlstein, The Nation, January 28, 2013