Free Markets, Free People
Well now we know why, at least for some, Hurricane Irene was so hyped. It gave apologists for big government a chance to spin the response into plaudits for big government and a claim it is still necessary. Missing, of course, is any context or proportion. Those, like Dana Milbank and Steve Benen, just use the opportunity to bash small government conservatives in general and the Tea Party in particular.
And they brilliantly erect giant strawmen and then just flat tear them apart.
Tea Partyers who denounce Big Government seem to have an abstract notion that government spending means welfare programs and bloated bureaucracies. Almost certainly they aren’t thinking about hurricane tracking and pre-positioning of FEMA supplies. But if they succeed in paring the government, some of these Tea Partyers (particularly those on the coasts or on the tornadic plains) may be surprised to discover that they have turned a Hurricane Irene government back into a Katrina government.
Tea Partiers have a very specific notion of what government spending means to them and it certainly isn’t just centered in the canard of “welfare programs and bloated bureaucracies.” In case Mr. Milbank hasn’t noticed, his big government now owes more in debt than our economy produces in a year. That is the problem the Tea Party has with “big government”. And, frankly, that’s a problem Milbank should have with it too. Instead he spends a column touting big government using the pretext of a natural disaster (and government’s response to it) to attack those who object to the continuing deficit spending of big government. Instead, if had in sense, he’d be leading the charge to rein it in.
Stipulated, there are things that government can do because of government’s orientation. Wage war, for instance. But that doesn’t then excuse the excesses elsewhere. Nor does it justify its intrusion in areas it has no business being in. And it certainly doesn’t justify it spending more than it takes in. Those are the Tea Party’s objections to big government’s spending, Mr. Milbank. Please try to present them properly the next time you attempt the subject.
Of course nonsense like Milbank’s above lead to absurd conclusions in order to attempt to persuade:
The other model is to have a weak federal government, without the funds to forecast storms or to launch a robust emergency response in time to do any good. You might call that the Tea Party model.
Really. Who said anything about a “weak federal government”? I believe what the Tea Party is more interested in is a Constitutionally structured federal government that does its job, stays out of areas it doesn’t belong, and spends no more than the revenue it takes in. Oh yeah, and the real pesky part – doesn’t engage in social engineering.
As for Benen he seconds Milbank:
That Tea Party model, by the way, isn’t a hypothetical scenario — congressional Republicans are not only unwilling to provide emergency disaster relief without offsetting spending cuts, they’re also eager to cut the resources NOAA needs to track storms, while also slashing the FEMA budget.
This week, federal agencies are winning generally rave reviews, but if the public expects equally competent disaster response efforts in the future, Americans will have to hope the GOP agenda is rejected.
Oh, the horror – those dastardly Republicans want to actually not spend in a deficit mode. They want to live within the revenue stream that the federal government has coming in. Imagine wanting to offset spending in one area to ensure payment in another without borrowing money? Those simple Tea Partiers! Don’t they know that sometimes you just have to spend, spend, spend?
Uh, gee Mr. Benen, isn’t that what has gotten us into this mess in the first place? The fact that the government actually got something right for a change doesn’t then justify “big government”. What it does is demonstrate nothing more than every now and then a blind squirrel will find an acorn. Lord knows the fed has had enough practice it’s certainly something it should be getting right. But then, our military has been “getting it right” on disaster relief missions outside the country for years, decades even. It’s not like there wasn’t precedent. Yes, again stipulated, sometimes it takes a big organization to do what is necessary in a disaster to provide aid where needed. That said, that doesn’t excuse “big government”, spending excesses, waste, fraud, abuse, intrusion into areas the government doesn’t belong, social engineering via the tax code and other means and bankrupting the nation.
What is it about these types of apologists for big government that they don’t seem to ever be able to quite grasp those points?
Personally I think of Steve Benen as a bit of a lightweight when it comes to political analysis. But he can be counted on to faithfully repeat the left’s talking points, or absent that, come up with some off the wall theory (sometimes involving conspiracy) to try to explain and demonize the right. A recent wig out involves a vast conspiracy of right-wingers who want to see the economy stay sickly for political purposes. And it is all because, as he implies, the right-wingers "actively dislike the United States".
NONE DARE CALL IT SABOTAGE…. Consider a thought experiment. Imagine you actively disliked the United States, and wanted to deliberately undermine its economy. What kind of positions would you take to do the most damage?
You might start with rejecting the advice of economists and oppose any kind of stimulus investments. You’d also want to cut spending and take money out of the economy, while blocking funds to states and municipalities, forcing them to lay off more workers. You’d no doubt want to cut off stimulative unemployment benefits, and identify the single most effective jobs program of the last two years (the TANF Emergency Fund) so you could kill it.
You might then take steps to stop the Federal Reserve from trying to lower the unemployment rate. You’d also no doubt want to create massive economic uncertainty by vowing to gut the national health care system, promising to re-write the rules overseeing the financial industry, vowing re-write business regulations in general, considering a government shutdown, and even weighing the possibly of sending the United States into default.
You might want to cover your tracks a bit, and say you have an economic plan that would help — a tax policy that’s already been tried — but you’d do so knowing that such a plan has already proven not to work.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Does any of it sound familiar? In the context you’ve presented it, Mr. Benen – uh, no. It sounds contrived and fanciful – a wish a political hack would love to be true so he could use it to brand the opposition as unpatriotic and evil. Not that it being untrue will stop Mr. Benen from using such implications – this article is proof of that.
But you really have to suspend disbelief and pitch logic out the window to end up where Benen is with this particular piece. Cherry pick things that support your hare-brained thesis, give them a conspiratorial twist and bingo, you’re on your way to branding the opposition with something you’ve wanted to put on them for quite some time.
Benen then brings out some supporting fire:
Budget expert Stan Collender has predicted that Republicans perceive "economic hardship as the path to election glory." Paul Krugman noted in his column yesterday that Republicans "want the economy to stay weak as long as there’s a Democrat in the White House."
Got to love the hard hitting "Republicans "perceive" economic hardship as a path to election glory." Pure unsubstantiated speculation (unsupported by anything credible – certainly not Benen’s conspiracy theory nonsense). Always fun to see a Democratic operative speaking about “Republican perceptions”, something I’m sure he’s absolutely tuned in on.
Certainly the state of the economy has worked to the detriment of the Democrats, but concluding a continuing poor economy is of value to the Republicans completely misses the message of the midterm election. And as Benen demonstrates, as does Krugman for that matter, he missed the message too. Not that anyone should be surprised. The Democratic Congress missed it as well (see lame duck legislative priorities) as did the President.
Benen also turns to Matt Yglesias, a truly objective source, to give his batty theory some legs:
…I know that tangible improvements in the economy are key to Obama’s re-election chances. And Douglas Hibbs knows that it’s key. And senior administration officials know that its key. So is it so unreasonable to think that Mitch McConnell and John Boehner may also know that it’s key? That rank and file Republicans know that it’s key? McConnell has clarified that his key goal in the Senate is to cause Barack Obama to lose in 2012 which if McConnell understands the situation correctly means doing everything in his power to reduce economic growth. Boehner has distanced himself from this theory, but many members of his caucus may agree with McConnell.
Which is just to say that specifically the White House needs to be prepared not just for rough political tactics from the opposition (what else is new?) but for a true worst case scenario of deliberate economic sabotage.
Then it time for the cherry on top – liberal commenter Jonathan Chait:
Establishing motive is always very hard to prove. What’s more, the notion of deliberate sabotage presumes a conscious awareness that doesn’t square with human psychology as I understand it. People are extraordinarily deft at making their principles — not just their stated principles, but their actual principles — comport with their interests. The old Upton Sinclair quote — "It is difficult to make a man understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it" — has a lot of wisdom to it.
I don’t think many Republicans are actually trying to stop legislation that might help the economy recover because they know that a slow economy is their best route to regaining power. I think that when they’re in power, consequences like an economic slowdown or a collapsing industry seem very dire, and policies to prevent this are going to sound compelling. When you’re out of power, arguments against such policies are going to sound more compelling.
Really? Or is it, as has been the case with most of the legislation the 111th Congress has passed or attempted to pass, just abysmally bad law? Occam’s razor, Mr. Chait. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. In the case of the legislation passed by the latest Congress, sometimes crap is just crap.
But back on point, does anyone see what’s going on here? It is "victimhood" time on the left. They will still control the Presidency and the Senate next year, but they’re already setting up the "Republicans are evil and are really in control of the government, so whatever happens isn’t our fault" meme. Benen seems to realize that the current Congress and President have done an awful job with the economy. In fact, other than quickly throwing a few trillion dollars we don’t have at it (and which has seemingly had no measurable positive effect) they’ve ignored it for their ideological agenda items. And, because of that, and the obvious probability that the economy will not be in the shape necessary to give the President and Democrats a leg up in 2012, it is time to start switching the narrative and project the blame on the usual suspects.
And what better way to do that than to start yelling conspiracy theory (well sorta, kinda) and cobbling together disparate facts and fanciful rhetoric into dubious implications for a new narrative?
Premise: The Republicans are evil, only interested in regaining power (one assumes to finally destroy the nation) and will do whatever it takes to secure that power, to include sabotaging the economy. Why? Because they “actively dislike the United States”.
This from a group of people that actively worked for eight long years to sabotage (no conjecture here, the record stands on its own) a Republican Presidency and flat had tantrums if you ever questioned their patriotism or motivation.
But, as they say, that was then and this is now. And now, of course, it’s “different”.
Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos is finishing up a book about Republicans he’s decided to entitle “American Taliban”. Yeah, no poisoning of the well there – it ought to be a real page-turner, no? One problem. He wasn’t sure what he’d written was based on anything factual. That may not come as a big surprise to most who’ve watched and read Kos over the years:
…I’m putting the finishing touches on my new book, American Taliban, which catalogues the ways in which modern-day conservatives share the same agenda as radical Jihadists in the Islamic world. But I found myself making certain claims about Republicans that I didn’t know if they could be backed up. So I thought, “why don’t we ask them directly?” And so, this massive poll, by non-partisan independent pollster Research 2000 of over 2,000 self-identified Republicans, was born.
The results are nothing short of startling.
Those startling results? Well, leave it to Steve Benen, even more clueless than Kos, to give us the “startling results” that “catalogues” (sic) “modern day conservatives” (notice the interchangability of words “conservative” and “republican”) as “shar[ing] the same agenda as radical Jihadists in the Islamic world” (notice too the rather loony premise of all “conservatives” and “republicans” being driven by radical religious beliefs).
The findings? Benen distills those most useful to the “Republicans are nutters” left (poll results here):
A plurality of rank-and-file Republicans wants to see President Obama impeached. More than a third of self-identified Republicans believe he wasn’t born in the United States. A 63% majority is convinced the president is a socialist, about a fourth believe he wants terrorists to be successful, and about a third think Obama is a racist who hates white people.
Now as I recall, the majority of the left not only wanted Bush impeached, they wanted him frog-marched before a court and tried as a “war criminal”. Most Democrats (I’m borrowing the broad brush that these two are using) believed Bush had been AWOL from his military duty and had stolen the 2000 election. A good plurality of Democrats thought (and still think) 9/11 was an inside job. And it goes without saying that a vast majority of them where convinced Bush was a tyrant, a “Nazi” and a significant number of them thought he’d declare a “national emergency” near the end of his 2nd term in order hold onto power.
And a majority of them wanted Bush to fail in Iraq and actively worked against that war – which to most people would handily translate into “they wanted the terrorists to be successful”. Racism, of course, has been a charge the left slings with impunity whenever it has nothing real to complain about. A third of Republicans think Obama’s a racist? Well if we want to play that game, I’m sure it wouldn’t be at all difficult to find a third of Democrats who think George Bush is a homophobe that hates gay people.
Does that make the Democratic party “crazy”?
Nearly a third of Republicans think contraceptive use should be outlawed.
And over two thirds don’t. But at least a third of Democrats think that abortion should be allowed in every possible situation without exception and enshrined in law too boot. So both sides want laws that the government really has no business making – what’s new?
More than three-quarters of Republicans want public schools to teach children that the book of Genesis “explains how God created the world.”
As opposed to a good majority of Democrats who already have their religion of environmentalism being taught in public schools and the have completely bought into the religious zealotry of man-made global warming even while the myth crumbles around them. Gaia is their god, Al Gore is their high priest and man is the sinner.
A third of Southern Republicans want to see their state secede from the union.
This is my favorite “startling” find (the result for “all” was 58% no/23% yes). Perfectly insignificant (a third of “Southern” Republicans), however the implied stereotype was just too useful to ignore (just as were all the others). Let me translate – “Southern” is a code word for “redneck racist religious zealots”. Thus the broad tarring of an entire region is accomplished and they can safely ignore a place they can never have electorally.
Of course, the secession claim is no different than the constant threats we heard from liberals that they’d leave the country if George Bush won the presidency. They didn’t, but I can’t imagine the usefulness of the Kos poll question that would have determined “one third of Hollywood liberals would leave the country if a Republican won the presidency” except to try cast the left in a poor light.
And that’s the point, of course. To demonize. Had Benen (and most of the left) not been so focused on trying to make the Republicans seem “crazy”, he could have said “significant majorities said they didn’t want to secede, thought openly gay men and women should be allowed to serve in the military, teach in schools and be allowed to marry and receive federal benefits. They believe sex education should be taught in schools and that marriages are equal partnerships. They don’t believe the “pill” is “abortion” but do believe that abortion is murder and they support the death penalty. They also overwhelmingly believe that women have the right to work outside the home and, as a group, are overwhelmingly Christian.”
But if Kos and Benen had said that, then they’d be hard pressed to use these results to claim Republicans are the “American Taliban” wouldn’t they? Because everyone knows that the Taliban are a bunch of gay and women’s rights supporting fellows, don’t they?
As I read the poll, it doesn’t at all support the contention clear in the title of Kos’s book. In fact, his title is hyperbole to the highest degree possible. I also find it interesting that he wrote the book based on stereotypes he’d developed and then wondered if what he wrote was true. Now, given this poll, he’s trying to try to make the results fit the premise. His problem, however, is they don’t fit at all, if, in fact, his intent is to prove the premise of the title (i.e. Republicans = Taliban). Square peg, round hole.
Result? Epic fail.
Given that, I’d say the book is a definite miss, nothing more than a poorly researched political pot boiler and most likely won’t be showing up on the reading list of many thinking people. Of course that means it will get glowing reviews from the likes of Benen and other lefty blogs. But then, that’s not unexpected at all, and we certainly don’t need a poll to know that will happen, do we?
I swear I have no idea what the left is smoking, but whatever it is, it makes them blind to reality. One of the more prominent examples of this condition is Steve Benen at Washington Monthly’s “Political Animal”.
He cites Kevin Drum who remembers what the Republicans faced when they too had both houses of Congress and the Presidency:
They wanted a revolution, but instead they got NCLB. And a wimpy stem cell compromise. And Sarbanes-Oxley. And McCain-Feingold. And a huge Medicare expansion. And complete gridlock on Social Security.
Not exactly what they signed up for.
Drum goes on to sarcastically point out that Reps did get a nice tax cut and a couple nice wars, but his point was that “Washington DC is a tough place to get anything done.” And at the time, Democrats were no small part of the reason.
Benen then adds his two cents about why Republicans found DC a tough place based on some rather dubious analysis. Then he adds this:
Obama is finding that D.C. is tough place to get anything done for entirely different reasons. The White House agenda is popular, but his obstacles are almost entirely institutional hurdles — the Senate operating as if every bill demands a supermajority, the Kennedy/Byrd illnesses, and the prevalence of center-right Dems in both chambers who look askance at the progressive agenda and who the president has no real leverage over.
A) As we’ve pointed out, the belief that the White House agenda is popular is not reflected at all in polling. Why Benen and the Democrats believe this can only be categorized as “denial”.
B) The Senate rules, something Senators agree too on their own, does require every bill have a supermajority. Benen wants those rules ignored for a simple majority that he’s sure they can squeak out. I understand his desire, but pretending that the “supermajority” is some artifice that isn’t required is BS.
C) The reason for the prevalence of center-right Dems reflects a majority center-right nation. Not a “progressive” nation. And, obviously if you pay attention to the polls, they’re not the only one’s who look askance at a “progressive agenda”.
The only thing Benen and I agree on is “the president has no real leverage” and he proves it every day.
Seriously, if George Bush hadn’t existed, the left would have had to invent him in order to have someone to blame the world’s ills on. CBS has republished a piece by Laura Secor that ran in the New Republic and calls Ahmadenijhad Iran’s “George Bush”. (This on the heels of the Bonnie Erbe piece calling for right-wingers to be rounded up before they can hurt anyone.)
Secor’s comparisons are strained at best, and are a rather simple attempt to fit a very round peg in an extremely square hole (no mention of the mullah’s control, which, of course, completely kills the comparison). Apparently Secor pins her premise on this line:
Ahmadinejad has made a mess of the economy, clamped down on political dissent and social freedoms, militarized the state, and earned the enmity of much of the world.
And in Secor’s world, that essentially makes Ahmadinejhad and Bush twins.
Of course, not to be outdone, “conservative” Andrew Sullivan manages to find even more parallels to the Bush years. If you think Secor’s attempt is strained, you’ll howl when you read Sullivan’s:
Ahmadinejad’s bag of tricks is eerily like that of Karl Rove – the constant use of fear, the exploitation of religion, the demonization of liberals, the deployment of Potemkin symbolism like Sarah Palin.
As an interesting aside, an article mostly ignored by the left has a fairly interesting take on the Bush era in the middle east. And by none other than Thomas Friedman. Even though he can’t bring himself to describe what has happened in complimentary terms, he finds he must give some credit where credit is due:
There are a million things to hate about President Bush’s costly and wrenching wars. But the fact is, in ousting Saddam in Iraq in 2003 and mobilizing the U.N. to push Syria out of Lebanon in 2005, he opened space for real democratic politics that had not existed in Iraq or Lebanon for decades. “Bush had a simple idea, that the Arabs could be democratic, and at that particular moment simple ideas were what was needed, even if he was disingenuous,” said Michael Young, the opinion editor of The Beirut Daily Star. “It was bolstered by the presence of a U.S. Army in the center of the Middle East. It created a sense that change was possible, that things did not always have to be as they were.”
In Benen’s piece today, he ends up calling Ari Fleisher a “shameless hack” (as if Benen has any room to call anyone else a “hack”) for essentially saying the very same thing Friedman said. Apparently, Benen and the left are content to believe in the fantasy that it was more likely the “Cairo speech” that determined the results in Lebanon and spurred the protest vote in Iran – because we all know that movements such as those are easily developed within a week of someone like Obama speaking.
Steve Benen is “shocked, shocked I tell you”, that some on the right are trying to hang the Iranian election shambles on Obama. He entitles his post:
“WHEN IN DOUBT, BLAME OBAMA…”
Of course, for 8 years, Benen and company made a cottage industry of substituting the name “Bush” for “Obama” while doing the very same thing. Apparently that’s gone the way of an Alzheimer patient’s memory of breakfast and they’ve awakened in a new world which began on January 20th of this year.
It would be funny if it wasn’t so insufferably hypocritical.
Much of the left, Steve Benen serving as a perfect example, are missing an essential point about the tea parties planned around the country. They aren’t about the level of taxation now. Instead, those attending them understand that with the massive spending undertaken by the federal government and the massive amounts of currency pumped into the system by the Federal Reserve, taxes aren’t going to remain anywhere near where they are now, no matter what politicians promise.
Benen uses a recent Gallup poll which says people are mostly happy with the tax rates they now have in an attempt to portray the protesters as being out of touch and out of step with the mainstream:
The latest survey from Gallup shows these assumptions don’t seem to apply right now: “A new Gallup Poll finds 48% of Americans saying the amount of federal income taxes they pay is ‘about right,’ with 46% saying ‘too high’ — one of the most positive assessments Gallup has measured since 1956. Typically, a majority of Americans say their taxes are too high, and relatively few say their taxes are too low.”
The same poll found that 61% of Americans believe the income taxes they paid this year are “fair.”
This certainly isn’t the kind of public opinion landscape Republicans were hoping for. In order for conservative talking points on the economy to be effective, Americans have to believe the current tax rates are never “about right” and anything but “fair.” Broad satisfaction with taxes leaves Republicans with very little else to say.
I beg to differ (and it isn’t just “Republicans” involved in these protests). What it says is the Bush era taxes, the ones which resulted from a tax cut, are considered “fair”. That would mean, then, than any increase in taxes would be considered something other than “fair”. And anyone with enough intelligence to make toast should realize that the spending orgy we’ve seen in the last few months is something that will have to be “paid for” either through taxation or inflation (or both).
So when Benen says the following, he whiffs completely:
Indeed, the semi-official slogan of the Tea Baggers’ events tomorrow is “T.E.A.: Taxed Enough Already.” It was hard enough to make this argument shortly after the president signed the largest middle-class tax cut in history; it’s even harder in light of poll results like these.
“Taxed Enough Already” mirrors the poll. But unlike Bennen, who attempts to pawn off the “95% of Americans will receive tax cuts” nonsense as the reason for the satisfaction, the people showing up seem to understand the economics of the situation better than he does. Someone is going to have to pay for all this fiscal profligacy, and the protesters know exactly who those people are.
Thus the protests.
UPDATE: Benen still doesn’t get it. Referencing this post, he says:
I see. So, at some point in the future (we don’t know when), some politicians (we don’t know who) might find it necessary to raise taxes. Whose taxes would be raised? It’s too soon to say. How much would taxes go up? No one knows.
It helps, if you’re going to write about this stuff, if you keep up with what’s been going on. As we pointed out in another post on the Obama budget, you don’t even have to guess “how much” or whether or not it might be “necessary”, the budget answers those questions:
Against a baseline that assumes current law tax policy is extended, S. Con. Res. 13 raises taxes by $361 billion and allows for $1.3 trillion in additional tax increases. In addition their budget paves the way for additional tax increases from a proposed cap-and-trade tax in reconciliation.
And (making the point as to how the 1.3 trillion is raised):
Deficit Neutral Reserve Funds:
The Democrat budget includes 15 “reserve funds,” which essentially “phantom spending” policy statements that allow the majority to say that they would like to fund a certain initiative. The deficit neutral requirement associated with the reserve funds typically require that taxes be raised in order to pay for the new policy initiative. If all reserve funds were to be fully enacted, total spending would increase by $1.3 trillion, financed by tax increases or spending decreases.
Maybe Benen finds that acceptable, but obviously those protesting don’t.
He concludes with:
With this in mind, I can only conclude that the Tea Parties are the most forward-thinking political events in the history of the country.
Another whiff – all you have to do is read the budget proposal that was passed by Congress, Mr. Benen. It outlines the size and scope of those future taxes fairly specifically.
You have read it haven’t you?