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“Tiresome Assertions”: More Revisionist History About Clinton And Obama

I briefly mentioned Michael Gerson’s “Are Democrats Stuck in 1979?” column yesterday, but wasn’t in a big hurry to smack it down. It’s precisely Gerson’s history as the rare conservative willing on occasion to criticize his party’s extremism that probably makes this sort of claim that the other side is even more extreme inevitable.

But some editor or maybe even a history-conscious intern might have warned Gerson that choosing 1979 as the mythical apogee of Democratic liberalism was a bad idea. That’s a year in which a Democratic president began to prepare for a re-election campaign by pushing for a balanced budget and a big increase in defense spending, even as liberal icon Ted Kennedy headed for a humiliating defeat in the primaries.

In any event, here’s the tiresome assertion that really annoys me as a veteran of the New Democrat thing:

President Obama has now effectively undone everything that Clinton and the New Democrats did in the 1980s and ’90s.

Gerson’s not real specific about this claim, though I assume part of his argument would involve resuscitating the Romney-Ryan campaign’s lie that Obama had “gutted” welfare reform. But what else?

Since Gerson appears to assume that Clinton was strictly about appropriating conservative themes, I guess he cannot come to grips with the fact that the Affordable Care Act was based on the “managed competition” model that a lot of New Democrats preferred to Clinton’s own health care proposal, or that Obama’s “cap-and-trade” proposal was relentlessly and redundantly promoted by the New Democratic think tank the Progressive Policy Institute. Just about everything Obama has proposed on tax policy, education policy, infrastructure policy, trade policy and even national security policy has been right out of the Clintonian playbook. Has Gerson noticed that Obama’s not real popular with people on the left wing of the Democratic Party?

Well, never mind; I guess the Obama-the-lefty construct, threadbare as it is, was necessary for Gerson to set up the heads-we-win tails-you-lose proposition that HRC needs to move the Democratic Party to the right or accept that “the political achievements of her husband [have] been washed away.” I do believe Obama was the first Democrat since FDR to be elected twice with a majority of the popular vote; that ought to count for something.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, January 7, 2014

January 9, 2015 Posted by | Bill Clinton, Conservatives, President Obama | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Midterms Rewarded Personal Irresponsibility”: The Moral Hazard Created By The Republican Midterm Victory

One of the hardiest of conservative memes over the last few decades has been about the moral hazard created by The Welfare State: Helping people who are poor or sick may have some social benefits, but they are far outweighed by the dangers of rewarding personal irresponsibility, you see. People–and sadly, their children–need to suffer visibly and painfully for their failure to achieve success in this, the greatest country in the history of the world, where anyone with some initiative and persistence can do well. Then they’ll shape up or perish, and others will be warned.

This has always been more than a little self-serving for those who thereby celebrate their own righteousness, while often confusing privilege and luck with virtue. But I do see their point a bit better today in thinking about the moral hazard created by the Republican midterm victory of 2014. Paul Krugman crystallized it perfectly:

the biggest secret of the Republican triumph surely lies in the discovery that obstructionism bordering on sabotage is a winning political strategy. From Day 1 of the Obama administration, Mr. McConnell and his colleagues have done everything they could to undermine effective policy, in particular blocking every effort to do the obvious thing — boost infrastructure spending — in a time of low interest rates and high unemployment.

This was, it turned out, bad for America but good for Republicans. Most voters don’t know much about policy details, nor do they understand the legislative process. So all they saw was that the man in the White House wasn’t delivering prosperity — and they punished his party.

You’d better believe that if Republicans are ever in the position Democrats were in when McConnell and company decided on this scorched-earth strategy, this lesson of 2014 will be remembered–because after all, personal irresponsibility was rewarded.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, November 7, 2014

November 8, 2014 Posted by | Midterm Elections, Personal Responsibility, Republicans | , , , , | 1 Comment

“High Plains Moochers”: They’re Actually Welfare Queens Of The Purple Sage

It is, in a way, too bad that Cliven Bundy — the rancher who became a right-wing hero after refusing to pay fees for grazing his animals on federal land, and bringing in armed men to support his defiance — has turned out to be a crude racist. Why? Because his ranting has given conservatives an easy out, a way to dissociate themselves from his actions without facing up to the terrible wrong turn their movement has taken.

For at the heart of the standoff was a perversion of the concept of freedom, which for too much of the right has come to mean the freedom of the wealthy to do whatever they want, without regard to the consequences for others.

Start with the narrow issue of land use. For historical reasons, the federal government owns a lot of land in the West; some of that land is open to ranching, mining and so on. Like any landowner, the Bureau of Land Management charges fees for the use of its property. The only difference from private ownership is that by all accounts the government charges too little — that is, it doesn’t collect as much money as it could, and in many cases doesn’t even charge enough to cover the costs that these private activities impose. In effect, the government is using its ownership of land to subsidize ranchers and mining companies at taxpayers’ expense.

It’s true that some of the people profiting from implicit taxpayer subsidies manage, all the same, to convince themselves and others that they are rugged individualists. But they’re actually welfare queens of the purple sage.

And this in turn means that treating Mr. Bundy as some kind of libertarian hero is, not to put too fine a point on it, crazy. Suppose he had been grazing his cattle on land belonging to one of his neighbors, and had refused to pay for the privilege. That would clearly have been theft — and brandishing guns when someone tried to stop the theft would have turned it into armed robbery. The fact that in this case the public owns the land shouldn’t make any difference.

So what were people like Sean Hannity of Fox News, who went all in on Mr. Bundy’s behalf, thinking? Partly, no doubt, it was the general demonization of government — if someone looks as if he is defying Washington, he’s a hero, never mind the details. Partly, one suspects, it was also about race — not Mr. Bundy’s blatant racism, but the general notion that government takes money from hard-working Americans and gives it to Those People. White people who wear cowboy hats while profiting from government subsidies just don’t fit the stereotype.

Most of all, however — or at least that’s how it seems to me — the Bundy fiasco was a byproduct of the dumbing down that seems ever more central to the way America’s right operates.

American conservatism used to have room for fairly sophisticated views about the role of government. Its economic patron saint used to be Milton Friedman, who advocated aggressive money-printing, if necessary, to avoid depressions. It used to include environmentalists who took pollution seriously but advocated market-based solutions like cap-and-trade or emissions taxes rather than rigid rules.

But today’s conservative leaders were raised on Ayn Rand’s novels and Ronald Reagan’s speeches (as opposed to his actual governance, which was a lot more flexible than the legend). They insist that the rights of private property are absolute, and that government is always the problem, never the solution.

The trouble is that such beliefs are fundamentally indefensible in the modern world, which is rife with what economists call externalities — costs that private actions impose on others, but which people have no financial incentive to avoid. You might want, for example, to declare that what a farmer does on his own land is entirely his own business; but what if he uses pesticides that contaminate the water supply, or antibiotics that speed the evolution of drug-resistant microbes? You might want to declare that government intervention never helps; but who else can deal with such problems?

Well, one answer is denial — insistence that such problems aren’t real, that they’re invented by elitists who want to take away our freedom. And along with this anti-intellectualism goes a general dumbing-down, an exaltation of supposedly ordinary folks who don’t hold with this kind of stuff. Think of it as the right’s duck-dynastic moment.

You can see how Mr. Bundy, who came across as a straight-talking Marlboro Man, fit right into that mind-set. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a bit more straight-talking than expected.

I’d like to think that the whole Bundy affair will cause at least some of the people who backed him to engage in self-reflection, and ask how they ended up lending support, even briefly, to someone like that. But I don’t expect it to happen.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, April 27, 2014

April 28, 2014 Posted by | Cliven Bundy, Racism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Why Are Conservatives Condemning Cliven Bundy?”: Yikes! He’s Openly Espousing Long Held Conservative Principles

Republicans who praised Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy for standing up to the tyranny of the federal government are sprinting away from him following Bundy’s remarks suggesting blacks were better off under slavery “picking cotton.”

“I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?” Bundy said in remarks first reported by the New York Times. “They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

Bundy recently became a hero to some on the right after officials from the Bureau of Land Management confiscated some of his cattle, because for 20 years he’s refused to pay fees for grazing his herd on land owned by the federal government. Hundreds of gun-toting supporters rallied to Bundy’s side, and a stand-off with federal officials ended with the feds releasing his cattle. Fox News has devoted nearly five hours of effusive prime time coverage to Bundy, pundits at conservative publications like National Review likened him to George Washington and Mahatma Gandhi. Praise was not unanimous, some conservative outlets like the Weekly Standard called him lawless.

It’s perfectly consistent to believe the federal government owns too much land and also believe Bundy’s remarks are offensive. Nevertheless, Bundy’s central point – that black poverty is less a legacy of two hundred years of slavery and institutionalized racism than the welfare state – is a notion conservative speakers have espoused and conservative audiences have applauded for years.

Former Florida Republican Rep. Allen West wrote in his recent book that “the Great Society has left a legacy of economic dependence, a new form of slavery, and to me, a far more dangerous one, because it destroys the will and determination to excel.” Aging former rock star and Republican campaign surrogate Ted Nugent once wrote that “President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society” would do “more damage, cause more harm and become responsible for more destruction to black America than the evils of slavery and the KKK combined.” Conservative columnist Thomas Sowell wrote that ”The black family, which had survived centuries of slavery and discrimination, began rapidly disintegrating in the liberal welfare state that subsidized unwed pregnancy and changed welfare from an emergency rescue to a way of life.”

Sometimes the Jim Crow South is substituted for slavery, like when Duck Dynasty star and last year’s conservative pop culture martyr Phil Robertson said that ”Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

This all trickles down from somewhere. Slavery analogies are common among conservative figures like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, and it’s one of the reasons many conservatives have fallen in love with Ben Carson. In Washington, the critique of the welfare state is finessed into a more sophisticated argument that lacks references to slavery, and where race is usually discussed through euphemism or not at all. That’s when we begin to hear things like Rep. Paul Ryan speaking of “generations of men” in “inner cities” who don’t know “the value and the culture of work.” Then again, sometimes you have multimillionaire former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney railing against the “gifts” Barack Obama promised to “the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people.”

At best, these kinds of statements combine a genuine desire to sympathize with the black poor with many conservatives’ pre-existing ideological views about government. At worst, they reflect ancient myths about black people that predate the welfare state and reassure white conservative audiences of their own innocence when it comes to racial disparities–not to mention a startling blindness about the brutal realities of chattel slavery.

Bundy has absorbed the conservative critique of the welfare state and combined it with his own perceptions about black people. But it’s no small irony that Bundy is freeloading on public land while railing against goodies the federal government doles out to shiftless blacks.Though Bundy himself may not realize it, he’s exemplifying one of the eternal paradoxes of the American welfare state – that government assistance is only a mark of shame and indolence when other people get it, especially if those “other people” are born into poverty rather than wealth. Naturally, it doesn’t occur to Bundy that two decades of grazing his herd for free on land he doesn’t own hasn’t turned him into someone who can’t work for a living.

Even as white people enjoyed an explicitly privileged status in the U.S. from the nation’s birth until the civil rights act in 1964 and the voting rights act in 1965, somehow they found a way to make do even with all the extra help.

In fact, before the modern welfare state even existed, there were white people who complained about black people being reliant on it.

As historian Eric Foner writes in Reconstruction,  when radical Republicans in Congress considered redistributing land owned by defeated Confederates to former slaves, their more moderate comrades offered arguments like “for the government to give blacks land would be an act of ‘mistaken kindness’ that would prevent them from learning ‘the habits of free workingmen.” Freedmen were begging for land so they could work it for themselves instead of being forced to work the land of their former masters for pitiable wages–former masters who had grown wealthy on generations of slaves’ uncompensated labor. Still, opponents of land redistribution believed this would make blacks lazy.

Officials at the Freedmen’s Bureau, charged with managing the aftermath of emancipation in the South, held an “assumption that blacks wished to be dependent on the government” that “persisted in the face of evidence that the black community itself, wherever possible, shouldered the task of caring for orphans, the aged, and the destitute, or the fact that in many localities more whites than blacks received Bureau aid.”

The conservative critique of the welfare state on the merits is severable from ancient racist assumptions about black people. But while Republicans are rushing to condemn Bundy for his remarks, they might take a moment to consider why, exactly, he put them together so comfortably.


By: Adam Serwer, MSNBC Blog, April 25, 2014

April 28, 2014 Posted by | Cliven Bundy, Conservatives, Racism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Meet The Poverty Liars”: GOP Peddles More Garbage In War On The Poor

As we observe the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson declaring the “War on Poverty” this week, it’s worth remembering the way Ronald Reagan wrote its history, and its epitaph, with a soothing nine-word bromide: “We fought a war on poverty, and poverty won.”

It’s worth remembering, because as Republicans scramble to appear as though they care about the poor, circulating memos teaching how to seem “compassionate” and digging “anti-poverty plans” out of dusty file folders from the 1980s, all they’re doing is updating Reagan for the 21st century. And Reagan was dead wrong the first time around.

It’s almost impossible to exaggerate the effect of Reagan’s War on Poverty lies, especially as they’re warmed over by Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Paul Ryan as they dream about 2016. Even though Reagan began his Republican political career as a race-baiter and anti-welfare demagogue, by the 1980 campaign and his presidency, he’d softened some. He didn’t rail as much against “welfare queens” and “young bucks” buying T-bone steaks with food stamps. Now he projected concern for the poor: He wanted to help them, and poverty programs hurt them.

Of course, we can’t forget the racial component of Reagan’s anti-welfare animus. Racial division is what doomed Johnson’s War on Poverty, almost as soon as it began. I was riveted by Slate’s feature on the actual woman behind Reagan’s race-baiting “welfare queen” stereotype. Reagan didn’t invent her, as many people thought over the years; his anecdote was based on Linda Taylor, a Chicago woman who did in fact use multiple identities to commit welfare fraud.

But my takeaway from Josh Levin’s mind-blowing piece had nothing to do with government poverty programs: Linda Taylor was a scary sociopath, a serial identity-switcher credibly accused of multiple cases of kidnapping and murder. Yet politicians and the media focused on the welfare fraud charges. It was the Chicago Tribune, not Reagan, that dubbed her the “welfare queen.” The Chicago police officer responsible for investigating her actual crimes was aghast at the focus on her welfare-grifting rather than her more far serious crimes. She went down in history as a symbol of a “welfare cheat,” not the kind of shrewd but deadly con artist and criminal that comes in every color and gender. And she got away with everything except the welfare fraud.

There weren’t neighborhoods full of Linda Taylors; there was one. But she’s the person Reagan chose to represent the millions of mothers – the vast majority of them white, by the way — struggling to feed their children on welfare aid that in many states might not bring them over the poverty line. And too many Americans chose to believe him.

Later, they believed his lyrical lie about welfare. Reagan revolutionized the poverty game for Republicans: You didn’t have to be angry and Nixonian, or an Archie Bunker type, to be against welfare anymore; instead you could project compassion. White middle-class folks didn’t have to worry that they were indulging resentment, or God forbid racism, by opposing poverty programs. Those programs hurt the poor; Reagan said so.

And here we are again. On the one hand, it’s a slight relief to see some in the GOP abandoning their ugly narrative about “makers” and “takers,” their demonization of the “47 percent” who “just won’t take care and responsibility for their lives,” in Mitt Romney’s campaign-killing words. House Republican leaders are now coaching members to show “compassion” for the unemployed, making sure they reflect that it’s a “personal crisis” and that they will give “proper consideration” to an extension of benefits — as long as Democrats cut other programs, of course — instead of rejecting it out of hand as they did last month.

Meanwhile Sen. Marco Rubio made a whole video to channel Reagan’s ideas about poverty programs. (Is it just me, or is anyone else waiting for him to lurch for a nearby bottle of water and take a slug?) Sleepy-eyed and absolutely unconvincing, Rubio asks: “After 50 years, isn’t it time to declare big government’s war on poverty a failure?” Not surprisingly, his cheesy video offers absolutely no policy agenda to fight poverty.

Rubio’s efforts are being met by well-deserved cynicism in the media and among Republicans. Not so for Paul Ryan’s claims that he’ll develop a bold new anti-poverty agenda. Yet so far, the notions Ryan has floated sound like warmed over Enterprise Zones, the failed 1980s GOP prescription for urban neighborhoods that cut taxes and created other incentives for employers to hire poor residents. Not to be outdone, Sen. Rand Paul is advocating “enterprise zones on steroids,” what he calls “economic freedom zones” in places like Detroit with high unemployment.

Of course, every reputable study of enterprise zones has found their impact on urban poverty “negligible” to nonexistent. “Enterprise zones are not especially effective at increasing overall economic activity or raising incomes for the poor,” Len Burman of the Urban/Brookings Tax Policy Center told Politico recently. “They just seem to move the locus of activity across the zone’s boundary — reducing activity outside the zone and increasing it inside.”

Criticizing GOP flim-flam on poverty shouldn’t obscure the fact that the War on Poverty didn’t do all that its sponsors hoped. That’s not because we did too much, but because we did too little. It’s true that in the immediate wake of the war’s launch, poverty fell from roughly 22 percent to 12 percent, before it began to climb again in the mid-1970s. Not surprisingly, given that establishing Medicare and expanding Social Security were its core components, Johnson’s anti-poverty push made the biggest strides in reducing poverty among the elderly.

For the rest of the poor, the program was never as ambitious – or successful. Johnson famously rejected a big public works jobs program as too expensive, especially as the Vietnam War escalated. He agreed to make “community action” a centerpiece of his anti-poverty work, but he had very different ideas about what that meant than some of the people who implemented the program. To kick it off, Johnson called Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and told him, “Get your planning and development people busy right now to see what you do for the crummiest place in town, the lowest, the bottom thing, and see what we can do about it. We’ll get our dough, and then you can have your plan ready, and we’ll move.”

But on the ground, community action organizers saw their role as organizing the poor to challenge mayors like Daley, which widened existing fissures around race and power in the Democratic Party. Federally funded anti-poverty warriors often took the side of urban insurgents – which was surely the correct side, in moral terms, but with hindsight, not the most effective way to mount a controversial and weakly bipartisan anti-poverty effort.

Finally, Democrats ran away from the War on Poverty, joining Reagan in declaring that government was too often a problem rather than a solution. Bill Clinton’s anti-poverty agenda was a stealthy one. With one hand, he ended welfare as we knew it with the 1996 reform act; with the other hand, he funneled billions to poor people by expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit – a Republican idea – as well as eligibility for food stamps and Medicaid. That lifted millions of Americans above the poverty line — but most Americans didn’t know he did it. Democrats from Jimmy Carter to Clinton to Barack Obama – at least until recently — have contributed to the belief that “we fought a war on poverty, and poverty won,” by refusing to either take credit for existing programs that fight poverty or advance a bold new agenda to update them.

That’s changing some. Obama is said to be readying a big income inequality push for his State of the Union, and he seems to have realized it must include taking aim at persistent poverty. With even Republicans conceding they can no longer demonize the poor, maybe Democrats can do something to actually help them.


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, January 8, 2014

January 9, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, GOP, Poverty | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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