The Eclectic One

…Because labels are a poor substitute for thinking

Posts Tagged ‘socialism’

The Alternative Reality of the Right

Posted by Bill Nance on April 24, 2010

Anonymous Liberal just posted an article that’s so completely descriptive of the complete abdication of any reality-based arguments on the right that I thought I should re-post it in toto here.

This is the first post I’ve written since last November. Part of what drove me to take a break from writing about politics was a growing realization that the Great Conversation in this country had completely ceased, that the various sides were no longer speaking the same language, like dialects that have–over time–drifted so far apart that they are no longer mutually intelligible. Watching Fox News and Tea Party rallies, it became apparent to me that the right wing in this country had severed the few remaining ties it had to the world I live in, the empirical world.

In its place, the Right has constructed its own Bubble World, a sort of political Truman Show complete with its own facts and rules (albeit facts and rules that are constantly changing based on political expediency). The writers, directors, and actors in this conservative version of Seahaven are the legions of GOP politicians, operatives, and conservative media outlets that relentlessly push this politically expedient alternative reality, and the Trumans are the millions of regular Americans who don’t realize the joke is on them.

In this Bubble World, it is an accepted truth that our President is a bumbling ignoramus who can only string together a coherent sentence if he uses a teleprompter (which, apparently, other politicians don’t use). I can understand a world in which Obama’s political opponents mock him as a being too professorial or out-of-touch or arrogant. But unintelligent? Inarticulate? I don’t know how to deal with that. It’s like mocking John Boehner for being pale.

Similarly, it is an accepted fact in the Bubble World that Obama is an extreme liberal, if not an outright socialist or communist. According to Newt Gingrich, Obama is “the most radical president in American history.” Again, I just don’t know how to deal with that. This is a guy who, at every point in his political career, has gone out of his way to position himself as a moderate, as a pragmatic technocrat. Since taking office, he has not, as far as I can tell, made a single policy decision that can fairly be described as liberal, much less radical. The only significant pieces of legislation he’s passed are a stimulus package that nearly every economist endorsed and a health care reform bill modeled on Romney-care (which, while better than nothing, is nowhere close to the kind of bill most liberals–much less a communists or socialists–would have crafted).

In Bubble World, there is a movement known as the Tea Party, whose members are simultaneously incensed about the size of the deficit and the fact that they have to pay taxes (even though they have the lowest tax rates in the free world and just got significant tax cuts–from Obama–in the past year). Moreover, they’re not angry at the party that built the deficit–by starting wars and giving massive tax cuts to people who are much richer than them–or that presided, just recently, over the near collapse of the economy. But they are furious at the party that just recently took the reins, inheriting both a crumbling economy and massive deficit. And if they had their way, they would put back in power a party whose only policy idea is, that’s right, cutting taxes; which, of course, would only make the deficit much worse.

But not in Bubble World. In Bubble World, cutting taxes actually raises revenue. In Bubble World, “the market” will magically solve all of our health care problems and true “freedom” is defined by one’s ability to be denied health coverage for pre-existing conditions. And in Bubble World, a set of sensible and long-overdue financial regulations designed to prevent another meltdown of the economy and foreclose any future taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street is actually a “permanent bailout bill.”

In this alternative universe, the facts are literally whatever the political consultants say they should be. Whatever resonates with the focus group. If you’re working on behalf of Wall Street lobbyists to kill a bill that would impose more accountability on Wall Street, you simply accuse those who support the bill of doing Wall Street’s bidding. It doesn’t matter that this is the opposite of the truth and is, in fact, exactly what you’re doing. While these facts might matter to people in the empirical world, the facts in Bubble World are whatever the right wing wants them to be. In Bubble World, Mitch McConnell is bravely protecting the people from the Wall Street bigwigs, not doing the bidding of Wall Street lobbyists.

And that sad reality goes a long way toward explaining why I haven’t been blogging lately. We’ve reached a point where the right wing in this country has achieved complete epistemic closure. Aided by their extensive and growing media apparatus and a traditional media that is uninterested in playing umpire, the Right has managed to escape entirely from the gravitational pull of the empirical world, and in fact, has a created a world of its own, one with a rapidly growing gravitational field that, everyday, pulls in more and more of the unsuspecting and uninformed.

From the comfort of this Bubble World, people like Mitch McConnell can simply say whatever the hell they want to say, no matter how ludicrous, and trust that much of the country will readily accept it as true. As Christof famously says in the Truman Show, “we accept the reality with which we are presented.” And that’s particularly true when that reality is one that is focus-grouped tested to conform with our pre-existing biases and hammered home repeatedly by the folks we rely on to keep us informed (which, for a scary number of people these days, means Fox News and Rush Limbaugh).

From my perch back in the empirical world, I’m just not sure know to deal with this. How do you begin to make your case when there aren’t any mutually accepted facts? How do you convince someone that the people they trust are liars and charlatans? Writing posts trying to correct the record and dispel misinformation can at times feel about as pointless as trying to bail water out of the ocean.

I had high hopes after the thumping the Republicans took in 2006 and 2008 that we had finally turned a corner, that the cracks were beginning to show in Bubble World and the empirical world was slowly re-exerting its influence. I got the feeling that more and more people who had been stuck in the bubble were beginning to sense that something just wasn’t right.

But I was wrong. Freed from the burden of any actual governing responsibility, the GOP has been free to devote all of its efforts to reconstructing their Bubble World. And they’ve been largely successful. An entire movement has formed that is based, almost entirely, on confusion and mis-directed anger, a movement that sees the world only through the lens of Fox News and other right wing outlets. The Tea Party is an army of Trumans, a movement of people who have whole-heartedly embraced the false reality with which they’ve been presented.

The central dilemma for those us left in the empirical world is how to puncture the bubble. What can we do to make facts once again relevant? What can be done to dis-incentivize the kind of lying and reality denial that has become the hallmark of the modern conservative movement? I can’t say that I have answers to these questions, but I’m pretty confident that these are THE questions that we should be asking. Policy debates are great, but only when they take place in the empirical world. If a majority of Americans aren’t living in that world, then such debates risk becoming purely academic exercises.

One would be hard-pressed to find a better better description of what’s been going on with the right wing in this country over the last 18 months.


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Socialism my ass

Posted by Bill Nance on October 21, 2008

For as long as I’ve been following U.S. elections (From Carter/Ford to present) Republicans have been screaming Socialism and attributing semi (and not so semi) communist sympathies to the Democrats.

First, a definition: “Socialism: -A broad set of economic theories of social organization advocating state or collective ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.”

The claim that the Democrats, as a party, represent socialism is as silly as the claim that the Republicans, as a party, support totalitarianism.¬†Are there honest-to-god communists in the Democratic Party? I’m sure there are many. I’m equally sure there are just as many Republicans who are in the KKK or the John Birch Society. Despite the lame attempts to define each other by their fringe-kook members, the vast majority of the people in both parties have always been centrist capitalists of one stripe or another.

Now as far as Socialism goes, there has never been an even remotely serious attempt on the part of the Democrats to socialize the means of production. In fact, the only actual nationalizations in the nation’s history have been either temporary war-effort nationalizations (railroads in WWI), the nationalizations of of the TVA(1939), airport security nationalization (2001), and of course the recent bailouts.

Other nationalizations have been subsidies of failed infrastructure projects, notably AMTRAK, which were judged (by both political parties) too important to allow to fail completely.

Now of course the claims of Socialism from the Republicans (and it’s always the Republicans) also center around social programs and “wealth redistribution.” There might have been some truth to this claim in 1980 and 1992. The U.S. government was in both cases bloated, tax policies skewed and welfare programs running amok. But when you actually look at the numbers, it’s not the poor who have ever been on the receiving end of the lion’s share of wealth redistribution. The largest recipients of welfare have always been giant corporate interests, whether it’s been oil companies, agri-business, defense contractors or lately, health insurance and drug companies.

Such “welfare” programs have been in the forms of both direct subsidies and also in the form of tax breaks which essentially mean the corporations pay little or no tax whatever. John McCain can talk about top marginal rates until he’s blue in the face. There is hardly a single large company that’s actually paying those rates. They all have so many loopholes and special breaks that the actual rate of taxes paid is tiny.

Ask yourself: How many U.S. companies have actually relocated completely outside the United States? Remember that capital always acts in it’s own interests. If actual tax rates were ruinously high, there wouldn’t be many giant corporations left in America. They haven’t gone anywhere because the taxes they actually pay are much smaller than they would pay elsewhere.

Republicans love to talk about the wonders of Capitalism. But they always fail to note that actual laissez faire capitalism hasn’t existed since at least 1863 when the U.S. Government created the national banking system.

Hundreds, even thousands of limits on capital have existed in the United States for a century or more, most of which the vast majority of Americans support wholeheartedly. I don’t see a widespread movement to do away with social security or medicare for instance, nor to dis-establish the Federal Reserve or remove work-place safety laws or wage and hour laws. Nor have any of these things been in a Republican Party Platform in my adult lifetime.

Every one of these things can be labeled socialism. The regulation of private capital.

Socialist government structures exist in many forms in many different ostensibly capitalist countries, including the United States. No reputable, serious person is talking about doing away with them. At most people talk about reforming them or making them work better. Usually regulation (which Republicans have been calling “socialism” since 1913) results from problems arising from failures of capitalism.

Free-market economics works and works well; better by far than any known alternative. But it doesn’t work for all things in all circumstances. The Federal Reserve was created to stop the boom and bust cycles in the economy that hurt everyone except the very wealthy and the very lucky. Social Security was created because every successful society in history has had some way of protecting it’s elders from the worst of poverty. Regulations on workplace conditions were created because given no regulations, workers were being maimed and killed because it was cheaper to hire new workers than to fix unnecessarily dangerous working conditions.

When the Republicans scream about the evils of socialism, they are lying. They are every bit as much “wealth redistributors” as the Democrats. They just want to “share the wealth” in a different direction.

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