Media Push Conservative Ideas

Paul KrugmanThere is a question that is always floating around the minds of liberals: why don’t perfectly respectable progressive policy ideas get any media attention while wacky conservative ideas get promoted like journalists are being paid by marketing companies? Earlier today, Paul Krugman posted a really great, if short, article that gives an example of this—contrasting what is considered “serious” versus what is not. Raising the Capital Gains and Estate taxes is not serious. Raising the age of eligibility for Medicare is Very Serious indeed.

But here’s the thing. Krugman looks at the total in new revenue that Obama is suggesting: $1.6 trillion over the next ten years. Raising the Medicare eligibility age would save $0.113 trillion over the next ten years. That means that the unserious Obama proposal would raise almost 15 times as much money as the Serious Republican proposal would save.

What’s going on here? Krugman says that a proposal is only considered serious if it is painful for the poor and middle classes. But I think he’s just being glib—although certainly not completely wrong. I do think there is a common mindset in America that the only way a proposal can be effective is if it is painful. This is the “no pain, no gain” philosophy. And I am with Krugman in that this is part of the story. But there is a much more important part.

The most important issue here is that the media are just too cynical to accept that any plan that makes demands of the rich is politically viable. Like everyone else, they are so used to a system that is overwhelmingly tilted toward the rich, that they can’t imagine that things could be any other way. Thus, when presented with a budget proposal that would do much good but demands sacrifice from the rich, it is labeled a non-starter. (See, for example, the People’s Budget.) But a budget proposal that does little good while harming the poorer classes? They’ve seen that before! They know that’s definitely a possibility.

Of course, the media have been completely corrupted. Conservatives have been so successful playing the media, that they no longer even need to call foul—the media will do it for them. And this is what we get from even smart pundits like Ezra Klein who claimed that Obama’s proposal wasn’t serious. C.A. Rotwang in Cliff Notes, offers up what a truly progressive budget proposal would look like. What Obama offered is what would be called a moderate (centrist) proposal in any other developed nation. Here of course, it “unserious” and a “non-starter.”

This is the legacy of our media: only slightly less infatuated with power than fearful of being called “liberal.” The right has done an amazing job with the mainstream media. There are dictators all around the world who dream of such a “free” press. And this is perhaps the biggest reason that Washington continues to pass laws that are more conservative than what the vast majority of the voters want.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Media Push Conservative Ideas

  1. (Danger, Will Robinson! Long essay-length rant ahead! Divided in two chunks.)

    OK. Vis-a-vis why right-wing economic ideas are presented as "reasonable," and leftist ideas not, there are several responses. The first, as suggested in your post, is pure insanity; destroying the basis of what makes a market viable.

    After all, what economic growth America has ever had came from a few basic things. Slavery and robbing natives of productive land/resources were very lucrative. But so too was the era where workers got paid and could afford to buy consumer goods.

    Ford put that in a maxim, and he HATED unions — he believed in paying workers enough to buy his product so that they wouldn’t be tempted to form unions and cut into his profits. (He also pioneered integrating Black workers into his factories, on the logical assumption that this would make it harder for workers to organize; the same reason manufacturing, when we still had it, loved moving plants to the South.)

    Now, why do the modern media eschew any notion of saying, "um, people can’t afford to buy stuff, and the credit card/housing refinancing bubbles that temporarily allowed them to do so collapsed?" On the face of it, one would think the conclusion might be "we’ve tried Friedman-esque theory for 40 years, it hasn’t worked."

    Of course, there’s the fact that the media are owned and subsidized by corporate interests . . . blahblah Chomsky blahblah. A good thing to know for people just starting to learn about how fucked our system is, but not a philosophical answer.

    Why does capitalism tend to garrote itself? Why don’t more people copy the (as you observed) asshole Warren Buffet and try to save the system from its own extremes? In congressional hearings at the start of the Great Depression, Utah banker Marriner Eccles (later head of the Fed) testified that "either we solve the problem of unemployment under capitalism, or a solution will be made for us that does not involve capitalism." (I’m citing from memory, but can look up the exact quote if requested.) He was a primary figure in pimping much of the New Deal to FDR’s administration — against the stringent outcries of business interests, who had no better ideas, and whom the New Deal (and WWII subsidies) essentially saved.

    Since socialism obviously has its own problems, the question is — why do human beings routinely fuck themselves? Scandinavian countries have, or I should say had, a pretty solid social contract that guaranteed good wages, benefits, etc., which made it possible for parents to raise well-adjusted kids and take time off to train for new jobs, so on and so forth. Now when you visit there all anyone wants to talk about is those damn dirty Muslims, and many vote for politicians who promise to punish Allah by privatizing the bus lines.

  2. There seems to be something almost innate in human beings that contradicts the standard wisdom; how we supposedly are social beings yet revert to individualism when the shit hits the fan, a flight-or-fight response. I’m at the point of imagining it’s quite the reverse. That we are naturally self-centered, and it takes a major threat to awaken our social instincts and start calling for help from other cavedwellers.

    When we wake from our hermit-crab shells and call for help, this can be quite a good thing — like the New Deal, like European semi-socialism used to be, like people donating money to hurricane or tsunami relief funds.

    Or it can be a very bad thing, like European fascism in the wake of WWI, or the Khmer Rouge’s vendetta against educated people in the wake of American bombings, or Iran’s reversion to fundamentalism in the wake of our 1953 Mossadegh overthrow . . . etc, etc, etc. (Not to bag on America’s foreign policy, every other powerful country has always turded on others, we’re no better or worse (though our technology allows us to amp up the body count from, say, how many civilians Caesar needed to kill.)

    I just wonder why this is. The best, stablest route, proven many times, is a system where most people have decent lives. Obviously, you’re going to always have psychopaths who feel an urgent need to believe themselves massively superior to others, but that can be contained and made useful in a way.

    Two books I read recently dwell on this, which is why I’m bloviating about it. One, Richard Heinberg’s "The End Of Growth," argues that we’re doomed because modern society is based on leverage funding further investments, and since our current system is dependent on fossil fuels, we’re fucked. Well, everyone probably knows this.

    The other, William Pfaff’s "The Irony Of Manifest Destiny," is a concise and pertinent survey of attitudes held/espoused by conquering powers and ideologies over the last few millennia. How they’re all pretty much horseshit, but the horse doo-doo of, say, the Ottoman empire differs significantly from the equine fecal droppings of America’s Vietnam policy. I enjoyed this book immensely and plan to read it again as soon as I buy a copy (and I rarely buy books; that’s what my library taxes are for.)

    Point of rant: why doesn’t the media support (or at least give extra time to) constructive policies instead of demonstrably discredited "free-market" insensibility? Why don’t more bigwigs come out like Buffett feebly does, and why don’t many more call for further measures that would salvage this rotting system? PAYING EMPLOYEES IS GOOD, IT’S PROVEN, IT WORKS, THEY BUY YOUR CRAP.

    Maybe it’s not just corporate control of the media. Maybe we sapiens are flawed enough to fuck ourselves over time and again. I dunno. I’ve been thinking about this for years now, and I suspect and can read and think and opine about it for years to come without coming to a definitive answer.

    Love the site . . . JMF

  3. @JMF – On the issue of Ford: note that this is why having only a third of workers unionized in the 1950s was good enough: the threat of unionization is often as good as unionization itself. Now, the unions offer no threat other than campaign contributions. And even that is too much of a threat to most conservatives.

    (Also, as with others like Hershey, the whole "great man doing good" is bullshit. Both these men liked to feel they were good guys, but the moment workers demanded something, they reverted to their usual asshole selves.)

    I’ve never quite understood the conservative hatred of FDR. Do these people not see what was going on in Europe? If anything, FDR probably stopped a socialist revolution. But I guess conservatives tend to be all or nothing kinds of people. And that’s great, because they can’t have it all and I’m glad to offer them nothing.

    Thanks for the tip on [i]The Irony Of Manifest Destiny[/i]. I just requested it.

    I suspect that there are various related answers to your question. One that comes to my mind is the wish of many people to have simple (B&W) answers. It has to be that socialism is good and capitalism is bad. Or the other way around. Socialism must lead to authoritarianism and capitalism must lead to feudalism. It can’t be that both system can co-exist and temper bad aspects of the other.

    But my problem is that socialism as it is practice today [i]is[/i] that mixture. Even in the US, we have a mixed economic system. There are pretty much no people on the left who are calling for complete state control. (This isn’t because they’re brilliant, they just learned.) But there are growing numbers of people on the right who think that a capitalist utopia is possible.

    On this issue, I still think some enterprising young writer (I’m just not up to it) should write a sequel to [i]Atlas Shrugged[/i], because it is clear that their new "producer" society would be a dystopic failure.

  4. The tendency of right-wingers to embrace total dystopia is, I think, an instance of doubling down. We know the story. A gambling addict borrows from Tony Soprano, a hedge-fund manager in danger of losing investors starts over-reporting quarterly returns. At this point, safe, logical bets don’t work. You need to risk it all and win big.

    Since right-wing ideas have prevailed and failed for 35 years or so, it can’t be that they’re flawed — it’s only that we didn’t embrace them enough. Thomas Frank described how the right eerily mimic Soviet doctrine in their quest for ideological purity. One would hope that Gibney’s PBS special might consign Rand to the dustbin forever — my God, she was a creepy-looking individual. She even had Adolf’s haircut.

    I guess I answered my own question in writing my screed (which is the point of writing screeds.) I think it’s a matter of delayed feedback. You pump carbon into the atmosphere, the results take decades/centuries to be revealed. You pass the Commodity Futures Modernization Act whenever they passed it (1998 or so?) and ten years later, two presidential election cycles later, it blows up in your face.

    We aren’t wired to think of cause-and-effect in such long terms. One might hope that business leaders, who supposedly are skilled at predicting future trends, might be ahead of us and suggest structural alterations that avoid looming catastrophe. But, NOOOOOO.

    (That brings up the question of why Keynes, Galbraith, Stiglitz et al became academic theorizers instead of using their acumen to bank hard cash money. Because they had morals, or because any sane person acknowledges that the market is a huge casino and there’s no "system" guaranteed to win in it? Anyhoo . . .)

    Pfaff’s book is wonderful, but I warn you — he’s a conservative. Of the old school, when "conservative" didn’t mean "trash everything and see if it works!" He’s more "ahem, uh, I think we should go back to the treaty of Ghent." He prefers medieval crusades to modern ones, and I get the sense from his writing that he’s religious (he doesn’t pimp for it.)

    Yet his take on modern crusades is so dispassionately brilliant that I loved it. If I was abducted by aliens tomorrow, and asked to explain US foreign policy to those with absolutely no emotional involvement in human affairs, I’d tell them to read Pfaff’s book. Chomsky and Chalmers Johnson (RIP, I miss him) are angry. Pfaff isn’t happy, but he looks at our foolishness as just another example of an empire turding on itself, because empires turd on themselves.

    Spoiler alert: Page 64, where Bush calls Chirac and begs him to get France into the invasion persuasion, because the Middle East is Gog and Magog and it’s the battle for Armageddon. The source notes are iffy. Do I believe it anyway? Bet yer ass I do.

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