Media Determined to Make Jeb Bush a Moderate

Jeb BushEric Boehlert wrote a great article over at Media Matters the other day, Are Media Crowning Jeb Bush A “Moderate,” The Same Way They Promoted George W Bush As A “Compassionate Conservative”? As everyone should know, Jeb Bush is extremely conservative. You might even call him a fascist — I certainly do. But Boehlert links to many in the “liberal media” who are all on about what a “moderate” Bush is and how he plans to run as a “centrist.” If Bush is a moderate and a centrist, then those words have no meaning.

This is entirely by design of the American conservative movement. The idea is to push totally loony ideas so that their normal — extremely conservative — ideas are seen as “moderate” and “reasonable.” A competent press would not allow this kind of “working the refers” and allowing expectations to be so badly distorted. The situation is such that there is no substantive difference between the conservative freaks and the conservative establishment. It is all about style. When it comes down to it, Bush is a “moderate” because he talks nice. Louie Gohmert is a “freak” because he doesn’t.

But it wouldn’t matter which man lived in the White House. They both would appoint judges that would repeal Roe v Wade. They both would sign budgets that cut food stamps for the poor and lowered taxes on the rich. And they would both be itching to go to war with any of “those people.” For the majority of Americans, there should be no difference between these men. But because of what the mainstream media think, Bush is an acceptable candidate and Gohmert is not.

Of course, for well established reasons, the Democrats do not do the same thing on the left. This is especially interesting, considering that economic populism is extremely popular — on both the left and the right. But as a result, the effective hard left in this nation is just standard policy — stuff that is to the right of what Democrats believed in the 1940s. And that means that the media have no problem assigning someone like Elizabeth Warren as an extremist, even though there aren’t many voters in the United States who would disagree with her economic agenda.

The conservatives can be taken seriously while pushing an extremely unpopular economic vision. The only problem that they face is that they’ve developed a base that doesn’t much care about the policy. And for good reason! Does some retired truck driver really care about cutting the corporate tax rate? No. He’s not a conservative for the reasons that the elites are. He’s a conservative because he’s mad as hell. And the conservative movement has a very simple and compelling narrative to explain why his life has been so unfulfilling: “those people.” You name it: minorities, feminists, environmentalists, socialists, young people, Hollywood, college professors. This guy will accept George Bush but what he wants is the red meat that spews out of Louie Gohmert’s mouth.

If it weren’t for the Louie Gohmerts of the Republican Party, it is quite possible that our retired truck driver would not vote for Jeb Bush and the seemingly endless stream of Republican establishment-bots like him. He might even be open to the economic agenda of Elizabeth Warren. But that can’t be allowed to happen! It is frightening to the power elite. And so the establishment in both parties sees that it doesn’t happen.

You may remember the wars in Nineteen Eighty-Four. They are constantly going on and the sides are all equally matched. So no country ever gets much of an advantage. And they are only fighting over a small bit of useless land anyway. This reminds me of how the Democrats and Republicans compete. At this point, they are really only fighting over social issues. Under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the working class does anywhere for mediocre to poor. And the power elite just get richer and more powerful.

Assuming this is not a conspiracy, then the people we have to blame are those in the mainstream media. They are the ones who define the far left as anything a Democrat (And many a Republican!) ever proposed before 1992. And they only define the far right as people who push fascist ideas using the wrong words. Fascist ideas that are well spoken are “center right” and “moderate.” The problem is not our politicians. It is our media. And that means it is us. Because we are the ones who keep listening to this claptrap.

Taxing the Wealthy Promotes Economic Growth

Mark ThomaOne of the fiercely debated issues in the last presidential election was taxation of the wealthy, and Republican proposals similar to those Romney made when he ran against Obama — lowering or eliminating the taxes on capital gains, interest, dividends, and inheritances — will undoubtedly arise again. I expect Republicans will throw a few bones to the middle class in an attempt to get the support of this important constituency, but I also expect the thrust of the proposals to be the same old supply-side policies favoring the wealthy that we have seen in the past.

What I want to focus on, however, is the economic arguments that are made to support the ideological goal of low taxes. The main argument is that taxes cause distortions that lead us away from the best allocation of our resources, and this reduces economic growth. A particular type of distortion — that taxes reduce the reward from innovative, job creating, growth enhancing economic activity and this reduces the effort that the wealthy are willing to devote to it — is often at the forefront of these arguments…

Wealth gives some people advantages over others who are equally talented and meritorious, advantages they did nothing to deserve except having the right parents. The wealthy have access to better education, highly valuable social networks, more educational opportunities outside the classroom, and so on…

Wealth that is earned rather than inherited is more defensible; though there are legitimate questions about how much of this wealth is truly the result of an individual’s effort rather than from luck, the help of society, and political and economic power that distorts the flow of income. A meritocracy is undermined when workers are not paid what they are worth — when the income workers have earned through hard work is misdirected to those at the top. Hence, there are legitimate questions about how much of the income and wealth of those at the top should be reclaimed and redistributed through taxation…

It’s time to do away with the myth that taxing the wealthy always reduces our economic potential, a myth that serves the ideology of the right. A tax system that reduces inequality of the type that diminishes economic growth reclaims income that should have flowed to workers in the first place, and helps to move us toward the meritocracy that underlies our national identity and fuels our economic system is in our collective interest.

We should not allow ideological arguments dressed up as economic facts, arguments that serve wealthy interests but have little foundation, to deter us from pursuing what’s best for the vast majority of Americans.

—Mark Thoma
Taxing the Wealthy Promotes Economic Growth

Republican Set Answers to All Questions

Reverse Robin HoodEd Kilgore wrote a great article over at Talking Points Memo last week, Our Economic Problems Keep Changing, but the GOP’s Answers Stay the Same. Of course, it isn’t surprising that I love it; it perfectly encapsulates something that I’ve been writing about for years. The ideological rigidity of the conservative movement only allows them a couple of tools, and so they apply those tools to every problem they come upon. It is pathetic.

Put bluntly and broadly, the tools are (1) take money away from the poor; and (2) give money to the rich. My favorite example of this is the Republican Party mainstay “tort reform.” This is something that Republicans hate in all cases because they don’t like the idea that poor people could sue rich people and corporations for harm done. But it takes on its greatest form as “healthcare reform.” The idea is that doctors are over treating patients because they are so afraid of being sued. As a result, healthcare costs are high because doctors are covering their behinds with a bunch of unnecessary tests.

The reality is rather different. It turns out that doctors over-treat patients (if you want to put it that way) because — Here’s a shocker! — they actually care about patients getting better. Studies have found that reducing malpractice damages has little to no effect on this so called defensive medicine. Thus, “tort reform” would not make medicine more cost effective. It would, however, keep money in the hands of the rich and out of the hands of the poor. And since that is the ultimate goal of the Republican Party, no amount of evidence about their supposed justifications is going to change their thinking on the matter.

Kilgore put it well:

The legend of Gertrude Stein’s final words is that her partner Alice B. Toklas despairingly asked her on her deathbed: “What is the answer?” And Gertrude responded: “What is the question?”

Ironic as it may seem that an expat Jewish lesbian avant-garde writer famous in the 1920s could articulate the operating principle of the Republican Party nearly a century later, it sort of does sum it all up. For today’s ideologically rigid GOP, the “answers” to national challenges are clear; the trick is to adapt them to different “questions.”

This is most obvious with economic and fiscal policy, where the conservative movement and the Republican Party have embraced a largely static agenda of deregulation, top-end personal and business tax cuts and sharp reductions in domestic spending, with periodic attacks on New Deal and Great Society entitlement programs, with “devolution” as an instrument for “reform,” for well over thirty years, or about halfway back to Gertrude Stein’s death in 1946. There has been a “minority report” on taxes among conservatives favoring a consumption tax—the “Fair Tax” promoted by Mike Huckabee and many others being the most popular contemporary iteration—but the distributional thrust is the same or even more regressive. And there has also been persistent interest among social conservatives in “family-friendly” tax policies, usually a big boost in the child tax credit. But it’s pretty much a regular menu with the occasional refresh.

What’s fascinating, though, is how these policies are offered again and again as an agenda for all seasons and all circumstances—good times (like the late 1990s), bad times (like the last few years), budget surpluses (in 2001, when George W. Bush marketed his huge package of tax cuts as a “rebate”), budget deficits (the 1980s through the early 1990s, and again since 2009), and just about every climate in between the extremes.

This relates to another political myth: Republicans are for small government. What’s so awful about this myth is that the kinds of government that Republicans want is exactly the kind of government that most oppresses people. As I’m fond of pointing out to people, it isn’t the public library that limits freedom. It is rather institutions like the police, the military, spying agencies.

Of course, conservatives counter that it is unnecessary taxation that enslaves people. But this clearly isn’t the case. Paying a high tax rate might be unpleasant, but it isn’t oppression. And that argument really sounds hollow for a group that thinks that the 20% of our federal budget spent on military — representing almost half of all the military spending in the world — isn’t enough. This is also the group that seems to think that no level of oppression is unjust if it is applied to a pregnant woman — including penalizing her for not living a healthy enough life.

This is why it is best to think of the Republican Party in the way I mentioned above: they believe in impoverishing the poor and enriching the rich. So I’m sure that the Republicans will eventually come up with some new ideas. If any conservative wonk comes up with a new way to take from the rich and give to the poor, the Republicans will be right on it. Otherwise, it will be the tried and true methods. The United States government has a proven record of helping the rich and the expense of the rest. And given that it works so well, who needs new ideas?

A Hopeful Theory of King v Burwell

Linda GreenhouseLinda Greenhouse wrote a great summary of what’s going on with King v Burwell, Overturning Obamacare Would Change the Nature of the Supreme Court. Among other things, she showed that statements and findings of even the most conservative justices show that they should find for the government and put an end to this attack on the federal healthcare exchanges once and for all. But Greenhouse is hardly assured. She ended the article by noting that she thinks the justices who decided to take this case probably think of it as a second chance to destroy Obamacare. And her article is an attempt to alert them to the fact that doing this would have huge consequences for the court itself.

I am probably naive, but I’ve been harboring a more positive scenario. Couldn’t it be that the Supreme Court is trying to send a signal to the conservative movement that it needs to move on? I know if I were a conservative, I would find King v Burwell extremely embarrassing. The idea of the challenge is that Obamacare is so horrible that it is okay to screw over middle class people — most of them in Republican dominate states. And this is not to repeal Obamacare; it is just to maybe move the politics in a slightly better direction for a future repeal. What’s more, it wouldn’t just be bad for the middle class. It would also be terrible for doctors and hospitals. Even if you really want to repeal Obamacare, this is not the way.

So it isn’t ridiculous to think that smart conservatives might want to crush this nonsense. And a solid 9-0 decision would not only stop this case but would likely stop the whole “destroy Obamacare in the courts” industry. It would signal that the Supreme Court is really not interested in this and that if the law is to be repealed, it needs to be done democratically through legislation. This is what I really want to believe.

Sadly, I fear that I am being naive. If there is anything that has become clear watching the Supreme Court over the last three decades, it is that justices are anything but objective. They come to quick decisions and then justify them. And the more a justice claims that he is just following the law, the more subjective his process is. So I have no doubt that Antonin Scalia will be able to justify whatever it is he wants to believe. After all, Scalia didn’t have a problem using “equal protection” for that one time in George W Bush’s case. And Samuel Alito is arguably worse. And after Anthony Kennedy’s behavior during the previous Obamacare case, I wouldn’t put anything past him. I actually have a bit more respect for Clarence Thomas, and think he is more likely to be consistent. But you never know.

I think it is a good thing that Linda Greenhouse is trying to make a preemptive strike against the Supreme Court embarrassing itself again. But we know from things Scalia said that he won’t see anything published in The New York Times. Maybe if we can get Rush Limbaugh to cover it, some of it might get to him. But Greenhouse was overstating things when she wrote:

To those justices, I offer the same advice I give my despairing friends: Read the briefs. If you do, and you proceed to destroy the Affordable Care Act nonetheless, you will have a great deal of explaining to do — not to me, but to history.

But if the conservatives on the Supreme Court cared about the verdict of history, they would have acted very differently up until now. The only conservative who really seems to care about history is Roberts himself. But he’s facing a bleak entry in the history books. If King v Burwell comes down to another 5-4 decision, people are going to say that the Roberts Court finished the destruction started by the Rehnquist Court. If Roberts is going to save his legacy, he ought to be praying for some fatal heart attacks among the conservatives on the Supreme Court.

But I still hope that the conservatives are just tired of all these Obamacare cases and want to see them end. But I expect a 5-4 decision one way or the other.

Thomas Paine

Thomas PaineOn this day in 1737, the great writer and political theorist Thomas Paine was born. He is best know for having written Common Sense, which remains the biggest selling book in American history relative to the size of the population. But it isn’t for this that we ought to remember him. The Age of Reason, his attack against organized religion, and Christianity specifically, is even more relevant today than it was then. It is especially because of his article “Agrarian Justice” that I most admire him. In it, he argues for a guaranteed income—an idea so radical that even today it is considered beyond the pale. Nonetheless, I now see it is a necessary salve to the institutional inequality of modern economies.

Another thing I like about him is that he was so good at getting into trouble. Even Common Sense had its domestic detractors. John Adams, who agreed with the conclusions of the pamphlet, said it was “without any restraint or even an attempt at any equilibrium or counter poise, that it must produce confusion and every evil work.” Rights of Man was largely an attack on Edmund Burke and the very idea of hereditary rule. It would have gotten Paine hanged had he ever returned to England. And then after narrowly escaping getting his head chopped off in France, he only made it back into America thanks to then President Jefferson. By that time, the religious people hated him for obvious reasons and now the Federalists hated him for Common Sense, even though the existence of the country was doubtful if not for how the book galvanized the people.

It bothers me that conservatives try to appropriate Paine. Glenn Beck even published his own version of Common Sense (Glenn Beck’s Common Sense), with the subtitle, “The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine.” This is nonsense. Paine wasn’t against government; he was against government that didn’t work for the people. He would have been appalled at the conservative view of government where its only purpose is to help the rich. That wasn’t Paine.

Of course, mostly Paine is just ignored. In grammar school, I was taught about Common Sense and then Paine was never mentioned again. Now all we know are the the presidents: Washington, Adams, Jefferson. Not one of them was the man that Paine was. Two of them were major slave owners. And the other was a royalist. It’s almost as though we were an aristocracy, the way we honor only men who had such ostentation power. No person from the Revolutionary War era stands as such a great example of our country’s ideals. There ought to be a day named after him.

Happy birthday Thomas Paine!

This article is a minor revision of an article I wrote last year, The Only Founding Father Who Matters.