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The GOP’s Lies And ‘Monstrous’ Lies

In politics these days, there are lies, “monstrous lies,” and statistics. By lies I mean the mundane nonsense that dribbles out of politicians’ mouths when the facts don’t suit them or they just don’t know any better. By “monstrous lies,” if I can borrow the phrase of the moment, I refer to the grander deceptions swallowed by whole political movements, delusions and deceptions that infect larger issues of policy and worldview.

Statistics in this case, along with pesky facts, help expose and distinguish the two species of falsehood—both of which have been on dramatic display during the GOP presidential primary campaign.

Take, for example, Michele Bachmann, who is practically a walking, talking full-employment plan for journalistic fact-checkers. Appearing at last week’s Republican debate (sponsored by CNN and the Tea Party Express—does that mean that the Tea Party is now part of the lamestream media?), Bachmann repeated a favorite talking point, that the Constitution forbids states to mandate that their citizens buy health insurance, Romneycare-style. “If you believe that states can have it and that it’s constitutional, you’re not committed” to repealing the Affordable Care Act, she argued. But the conservative case against the healthcare law rests on the notion that because the Constitution does not explicitly authorize such a law, the federal government is barred from instituting one. Since the 10th Amendment reserves powers not delegated to the federal government back to the states, it is constitutional for, say, Massachusetts to require its citizens to purchase health insurance (or car insurance, for that matter). Bachmann’s stance, one blogger at the influential conservative blog Red State argued, is “either ignorance on display or dishonest pandering.”

Bachmann was even more egregious after the debate, when she went on Fox News Channel, and later the Today show, and asserted that Gardasil, the vaccine that Texas Gov. Rick Perry had tried to mandate for Texas schoolgirls, caused “mental retardation.” It’s such whole-cloth twaddle that even the likes of Rush Limbaugh (“she might have jumped the shark”) and the Weekly Standard (“Bachmann seemed to go off the deep end”) blasted her for it.

But Bachmann is literally and figuratively small potatoes, Perry’s arrival having returned her to the lower tier of GOP contenders. And she is minor league compared to Perry in the “monstrous lie” department.

The phrase of course comes from his memorable description of Social Security. “It is a Ponzi scheme to tell our kids that are 25 or 30 years old today, you’ve paid into a program that’s going to be there,” Perry said at his first presidential debate. “Anybody that’s for the status quo with Social Security today is involved with a monstrous lie to our kids, and that’s not right.” Elsewhere he has called the program “by any measure … a failure” and cited it as “by far the best example” of an extra-constitutional program “violently tossing aside any respect for our founding principles.”

It’s a catchy turn of argument, but one monstrously divorced from reality. His “failure” kept nearly 14 million seniors and 1.1 million children out of poverty last year, according to Census Bureau data. Here are the facts about Social Security: Without any modification, it will pay out full benefits for the next 24 years. Starting in 2035, its trust fund will no longer be able to pay full benefits. Instead it will pay roughly three quarters benefits through 2084, which is as foreseeable a future as anyone can peer into in these matters—a problematic future, but hardly a monstrous one and certainly not an impossible one.

Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office has produced 30 policy recommendations, some combination of which could fix the Social Security shortfall. Here’s one: Remove the payroll tax cap so that more wages are subject to the payroll tax. That would make the program solvent for the 75-year window—again, hardly a monstrous situation. (To put it another way, the Social Security shortfall figures to be roughly 0.8 percent of GDP—roughly the same as the cost of extending the Bush tax cuts over the same period.)

Social Security wasn’t the only topic this week of Texas-size Perry misinformation. Obama “had $800 billion worth of stimulus in the first round of stimulus,” Perry said. “It created zero jobs.”

This gem—a staple of GOP talking points—earned a “Pants on Fire” rating from PolitiFact, which pointed to several independent analyses that came to quite different conclusions. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the first round of stimulus created or saved between 1.3 million and 3.6 million jobs; HIS/Global Insight put the number at 2.45 million, Macroeconomic Advisers at 2.3 million, and Moody’s Economy.com at 2.5 million. The GOP may disdain jobs that come from public spending (recall Speaker John Boehner’s “so be it” comment when asked about budget cuts leading to fewer jobs), but they cannot seriously argue that the economy would be better off if the ranks of the unemployed were 2.5 million persons more swollen. So instead forgo the inconvenient truth in favor of the monstrous lie.

These lies are monstrous because they are not one-offs, but are central to the GOP case—that Social Security (except, they are quick to add, for those currently on it) and the stimulus plan don’t work. So they have real-world policy consequences—see the emerging conservative line of attack against Obama’s American Jobs Act, that it is a stimulus retread. “Four hundred-plus billion dollars in this package,” Perry concluded at the debate. “And I can do the math on that one. Half of zero jobs is going to be zero jobs.”

He may be able to do math, but his grasp on the facts is tenuous at best.

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, September 22, 2011

September 22, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Class Warfare, Conservatives, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Economy, Elections, Federal Budget, GOP, Health Care, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Medicare, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Teaparty, Voters, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

If Republicans Love States’ Rights So Much, Why Do They Want to Be President?

Whatever their differences, the leading Republican candidates all swear that they love states’ rights. If elected president, Rick Perry vows to “try to make Washington as inconsequential as I can.” Mitt Romney declares his faith in the Constitution, which, he says, declares that the government “that would deal primarily with citizens at the local level would be local and state government, not the federal government.” Michele Bachmann “respect[s] the rights of states to come up with their own answers and their own solutions to compete with one another.” With lots of help from the Tea Party, the Tenth Amendment which, not so long ago was familiar mainly to constitutional lawyers and scholars, may now be as popular as the First or the Second. But, what this resurgence of federalism overlooks is not just the historical consolidation of federal power but also the inanity of attempts to reverse it.

For most of U.S. history, the primacy of federalism was taken for granted. Except during major wars, states exerted far more power over the daily lives of their residents than did any of the three branches of a national government located in a swampy river city on the Mid-Atlantic seaboard that most Americans had never visited. In the nineteenth century, as the historian Gary Gerstle explains, states funded canals, highways, and railroads. They decided which groups could vote and which could not. Some tried to regulate working hours. Others outlawed a variety of private acts—interracial marriage, drinking, and theater-going. In 1837, Illinois even forbade “playing at ball or flying of kites” as public nuisances.

All these policies fell under the legal sanction of “the police power,” which one influential Massachusetts judge in 1851 defined broadly as insuring the “good and welfare of the Commonwealth.” For its part, the Supreme Court, until after World War I, rather consistently ruled that the celebrated protections of the Bill of Rights—from the freedom of speech and the press to the right to a speedy trial—applied only to acts by the federal government and not to those of the states.

But, by the middle of the twentieth century, this arrangement no longer served the needs or desires of most Americans. During the Great Depression, state revenues, based mainly on property taxes, plummeted. The federal government stepped in to provide relief, and citizens everywhere began to count on Washington to keep the economy afloat and their Social Security checks arriving promptly. Then World War II and the cold war bound Americans to a national-security state that financed education for veterans and interstate highways as well as aircraft carriers and nuclear weapons. In the 1960s and ’70s, Congress passed laws to safeguard the civil and voting rights of every citizen, regardless of where he or she might live. Policies to protect the environment and regulate hazards at the workplace further diminished the sway of state governments. The Supreme Court, even with a conservative majority, has done little to reverse these changes.

Yet, states’ rights never lost its appeal to that minority of Americans who are ideologically committed to lambasting the federal state as both overweening and ineffective. (It should come as no surprise that these conservatives were so alarmed at the emergency measures taken by the Bush and Obama administrations to address the financial meltdown of 2008: the formation and rapid growth of the Tea Party was the predictable result.) However, any Republican elected to the White House in 2012 will find it impossible to lead a headlong charge back to the past, and not just because of the difficulty of undoing a half-century of tradition and Supreme Court precedent.

Voters unhappy with the inability of the federal government to restore prosperity may like the sound of “states’ rights.” But how many would trust their governors and state legislators to pay their Medicare and Social Security checks on time and at current or higher levels? How many really want 50 separate immigration policies or 50 different standards for what constitutes clean air and clean water? Or the possibility that state, seeking to lure business away from its neighbors, could cut the minimum wage in half and not requiring employers to pay for overtime?

When you look more broadly at their promises, the GOP hopefuls reveal the emptiness of their own rhetoric. Bachmann, never a paragon of consistency, supports a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, as well as the right of individual states to legalize it. In 2007, before Romney got in trouble for his Massachusetts health care law, he predicted, “that all these states … who follow the path that we pursued will find it’s the best path, and we’ll end up with a nation that’s taken a mandate approach.” Rick Perry favors federal action to stop gay marriage and restrict abortion—and, last month, asked President Obama to speed up aid to stop wildfires from burning up whole sections of his vast state. Like a lot of other Americans, these ambitious conservatives like to rail against Washington in the abstract but cannot imagine how the nation would operate without a strong central government. And the specifics of their smaller hypocrisies are underscored by one giant irony: They’re all running for president.

The U.S. has long ceased to be a country in which most people look to their state instead of to the national government to address and solve their most vital problems. State pride is pretty rare these days, except for residents and alumni who dress in the old-school colors and root hard for a college football or basketball team from a major public university.

Of course, state governments still perform a vital role in education and economic development and can still be “laboratories of democracy,” sites for testing out new policies that aren’t yet ready for national consumption. Progressives who cheered when New York legalized gay marriage and look forward to the day when Vermont begins operating the single-payer health care system it passed this spring can hardly object, at least in principle, when red states pass laws they abhor. But, as an alternative philosophy of governance in a modern nation, states’ rights is very wrong. In fact, it’s ridiculous.

By: Michael Kazin, The New Republic, September 20, 2011

September 21, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Democracy, Economy, Education, Elections, GOP, Government, Ideology, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Voters | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recovering The Constitution From Conservatives

Tea Party types and other conservatives talk about how they’d like their country back.

I’d like my Constitution back.

The rise of these self-proclaimed constitutional conservatives is an ominous development that has received too little notice — and too little push-back.

Until now. Under the banner of “Constitutional Progressives,” a coalition of liberal groups has begun making an important, two-part argument: first, that a progressive government agenda is consistent with constitutional values; and second, that the constitutional conservative approach represents a dangerous retrenchment of the government’s role.

This bid to “rebut the constitutional fairy tales being peddled by the Tea Party,” as Douglas Kendall of the Constitutional Accountability Center put it, could not be more timely, with the dizzying rise of Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R).

The constitutional conservative critique, as articulated by Perry, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and others, goes far beyond the familiar laments about activist judges. It is, at bottom, an argument against the 20th century — specifically against the notion that the Constitution envisions and empowers a muscular federal government able to ensure that its citizens have clean air, healthy food and safe workplaces.

To grasp the radical nature of the constitutional conservative approach, consider the record of every Republican president since the New Deal.

Richard Nixon ran on the pledge of appointing “strict constructionist” judges, but he created the Environmental Protection Agency, telling Congress that “our national government today is not structured to make a coordinated attack on the pollutants which debase the air we breathe, the water we drink and the land that grows our food.” Nixon didn’t doubt — as do the modern constitutional conservatives — that environmental regulation was an appropriate and constitutional role for the federal government.

Likewise, George W. Bush inveighed against judges “legislating from the bench.” Yet he presided over the largest expansion of Medicare — the addition of a prescription drug benefit — in the history of the program and oversaw a sweeping new role for the federal government in assuring quality education by local schools. Bush didn’t question — as do the constitutional conservatives — whether these were permissible activities for the federal government.

The constitutional conservative vision is dramatically different. It sees a hobbled federal government limited to a few basic activities, such as national defense and immigration. The 10th Amendment, reserving to states the powers not granted to the federal government, would be put on steroids. The commerce clause, giving the federal government the authority to regulate commerce among the states, would be drastically diminished.

Certainly, there’s a legitimate debate about the proper role of the federal government and the scope of federal vs. state power. But that is a different argument than the one long thought settled during the New Deal: that the Constitution grants the federal government power to regulate a broad array of activities in the national interest.

The danger posed by the constitutional conservative approach is to attempt to lash together debates about what the federal government should do and what the Constitution allows it to do.

A white paper by the liberal Center for American Progress spells out the potential consequences of the constitutional conservative vision. Programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid would be deemed to exceed the federal government’s enumerated powers.

The federal government would cease to have any role in education, eliminating funding for public schools and college financial aid, and in combating poverty, ending food stamps and unemployment insurance. Laws on everything from child labor to food safety would be overturned.

None of this is likely to happen, of course, for the simple reason that most Americans don’t want it to. When Perry was pushed during a debate about the implications of his views on the constitutionality of Social Security, for example, he waved off the question as an interesting intellectual exercise.

But the emergence of the constitutional conservative argument has real-world consequences — even without a constitutional conservative in the White House. It shifts the legal debate significantly rightward, energizing and empowering conservative judges and justices. And it changes the nature of the political debate as well by narrowing the turf on which, at least in the view of some lawmakers, the federal government is deemed authorized to operate.

“This is a way to weaponize the Constitution to prevent a real debate about how the government can solve national problems,” Kendall told me.

Strong words, but the constitutional conservative vision is too extreme to continue to ignore it in the hope that it will fade on its own.

By Ruth Marcus, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 18, 2011

September 19, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Commerce Clause, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Democracy, Democrats, Economy, Education, Elections, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Medicaid, Medicare, Middle Class, Politics, Public, Regulations, Republicans, Right Wing, Social Security, States, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Yearning For A Whiter America: Michele Bachmann’s Misplaced Immigration Nostalgia

In both of this month’s Republican presidential debates, Rep. Michele Bachmann hailed what she evidently believes was the golden age of American immigration — the period before the mid-1960s when, she said, “immigration law worked beautifully.”

Ms. Bachmann’s nostalgia is touching but misplaced, unless she really pines for a return to laws that explicitly favored white immigrants from a handful of Northern European countries while excluding or disadvantaging Jews, Asians, Africans and practically everyone else.

Ms. Bachmann didn’t frame it that way, of course. She blamed “liberal members of Congress” for upsetting a system that she characterized as requiring immigrants to have money, sponsors, and clean health and criminal records. In Ms. Bachmann’s world, those immigrants would learn American history and to speak English.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 fundamentally changed the system of immigration in this country but not in the way Ms. Bachmann evidently imagines. That law, pushed by Democrats including Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. Emanuel Celler (D-N.Y.), threw out four decades of immigration quotas whose explicit goal was to emulate America’s ethnic balance as it stood in the year 1890, when the country remained overwhelmingly white.

Specifically, the 1965 measure ended a legal regime dating from the early 1920s that generally shut out Asians (especially Japanese) and capped immigration from Latin America, Eastern and Southern Europe, and other areas at very low levels. The effect was to overhaul that hidebound, exclusive quota system. The new system, whose cornerstone gave preference to family reunification and job skills, broadened what had been a narrow pool of immigrants to include soaring numbers of newcomers from Asia and Latin America.

The shift has contributed to the nation’s diversity, dynamism and rich cultural kaleidoscope even as it challenged society, especially schools, to accommodate waves of new Americans whose looks, language and customs were unfamiliar to their neighbors.

By talking about sponsorship, English-language competency and the like, Ms. Bachmann is either confused or deliberately misleading. Most legal immigrants are still required to have family or employer sponsors, as they did in the gauzy past she idealizes. As for learning English, American history and the like, those were, and remain, requirements for citizenship, not immigration.

Ms. Bachmann, whose campaign did not respond to a request for comment, may not care for the changes and effects wrought by the 1965 bill; many other critics on the right do not. Patrick Buchanan, for example, has blamed the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech on the immigration overhaul, noting that the gunman “was among the 864,000 Koreans here as a result of the Immigration Act of 1965, which threw the nation’s doors open to the greatest invasion in history, an invasion opposed by a majority of our people.” If Ms. Bachmann shares such views, let her address the issue honestly and head on, not in code.

 

By: Editorial Board, The Washington Post, September 15, 2011

September 17, 2011 Posted by | Bigotry, Birthers, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Democracy, Democrats, Education, Elections, Equal Rights, GOP, Government, Human Rights, Ideologues, Ideology, Immigrants, Immigration, Liberty, Politics, Racism, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself”: Where Are The Compassionate Conservatives?

We heard plenty of contradictions, distortions and untruths at the Republican candidates’ Tea Party debate, but we heard shockingly little compassion —  and almost no acknowledgement that political and economic policy choices have a moral dimension.

The lowest point of the evening — and perhaps of the political season — came when moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul a hypothetical question about a young man who elects not to purchase health insurance. The man has a medical crisis, goes into a coma and needs expensive care. “Who pays?” Blitzer asked.

“That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks,” Paul answered. “This whole idea that you have to prepare and take care of everybody. . . .”

Blitzer interrupted: “But Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?”

There were enthusiastic shouts of “Yeah!” from the crowd. You’d think one of the other candidates might jump in with a word about Christian kindness. Not a peep.

Paul, a physician, went on to say that, no, the hypothetical comatose man should not be allowed to die. But in Paul’s vision of America, “our neighbors, our friends, our churches” would choose to assume the man’s care — with government bearing no responsibility and playing no role.

Blitzer turned to Michele Bachmann, whose popularity with evangelical Christian voters stems, at least in part, from her own professed born-again faith. Asked what she would do about the man in the coma, Bachmann ignored the question and launched into a canned explanation of why she wants to repeal President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told the Pharisees that God commands us to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” There is no asterisk making this obligation null and void if circumstances require its fulfillment via government.

Bachmann knows a lot about compassion. She makes much of the fact that she and her husband took in 23 foster children over the years. But what of the orphaned or troubled children who are not lucky enough to find a wealthy family to take them in? What of the boys and girls who have stable homes but do not regularly see a doctor because their parents lack health insurance?

Government can reach them. But according to today’s Republican dogma, it must not.

Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Bachmann, Paul and the others onstage in Tampa all had the same prescription for the economy: Cut spending, cut taxes and let the wealth that results trickle down to the less fortunate.

They betrayed no empathy for, or even curiosity about, the Americans who depend on the spending that would be cut. They had no kind words — in fact, no words at all — for teachers, firefighters and police officers who will lose their jobs unless cash-strapped state and local government receive federal aid. Public servants, the GOP candidates imply, don’t hold “real” jobs. I wonder: Do Republicans even consider them “real” people?

Government is more than a machine for collecting and spending money, more than an instrument of war, a book of laws or a shield to guarantee and protect individual rights. Government is also an expression of our collective values and aspirations. There’s a reason  the Constitution begins “We the people . . .” rather than “We the unconnected individuals who couldn’t care less about one another . . . .”

I believe the Republican candidates’ pinched, crabby view of government’s nature and role is immoral. I believe the fact that poverty has risen sharply over the past decade — as shown by new census data — while the richest Americans have seen their incomes soar is unacceptable. I believe that writing off whole classes of citizens — the long-term unemployed whose skills are becoming out of date, thousands of former offenders who have paid their debt to society, millions of low-income youth ill-served by inadequate schools — is unconscionable.

Perry, who is leading in the polls, wants to make the federal government “inconsequential.” He thinks Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme” and a “monstrous lie.” He doesn’t much like Medicare, either.

But there was a fascinating moment in the debate when Perry defended Texas legislation that allows children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state universities. “We were clearly sending a message to young people, regardless of what the sound of their last name is, that we believe in you,” Perry said.

The other candidates bashed him with anti-immigrant rhetoric until the evening’s only glimmer of moral responsibility was snuffed out.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 15, 2011

September 17, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Democracy, Democrats, Economy, Federal Budget, Freedom, GOP, Government, Health Care, Human Rights, Ideologues, Ideology, Immigration, Lawmakers, Liberty, Middle Class, Politics, Public Employees, Religion, Republicans, Right Wing, Teachers, Teaparty, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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