Medicare: The End

“Don’t get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly.”

— former Rep. Alan Grayson, commenting on the “Republican health care plan,” September, 2009

Alan Grayson was roundly condemned for his highly critical remarks during the health care reform debate, which now seems like a decade ago.  But thanks to Paul Ryan we can see that Grayson’s sin was not that he inaccurately pegged Republican philosophy, but that he was simply a little premature in doing so.

Make no mistake about it: Paul Ryan, and by extension Republicans in the House—remember that Ryan was given extraordinary power to speak for them on budget issues—are now on record as lobbying for the destruction of Medicare and Medicaid as we know them.  And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has tiptoed in and called it a “credible proposal.”

Therefore, it’s now clear just what the Republican health care philosophy is, in terms of the non-wealthy elderly, the poor, and the disabled.  But don’t take my or Alan Grayson’s word for it. Listen to Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, co-chairs of Obama’s Fiscal Responsibility Commission. 

They released a letter that criticized House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan’s plan for largely exempting defense spending—imagine that!—and for its lack of tax increases, a necessity, they said, for “broad bipartisan agreement.”  They continued:

As a result, the Chairman’s plan relies on much larger reductions in domestic discretionary spending than does the Commission proposal, while also calling for savings in some safety net programs — cuts which would place a disproportionately adverse effect on certain disadvantaged populations.

Those “certain disadvantaged populations” don’t put much jingle in the GOP collection plate, so why should they give a damn about them?

Even though we know that Paul Ryan’s plan will not become law—at least for the next two years—we do know the details of what Tea Party-drunk Republicans plan to implement if they ever do get the power they crave:

Medicare, the only thing that stands between some older folks and suffering or death, would become a voucher program, one that would leave those without adequate wealth coverage without adequate health coverage. 

Essentially, Ryan’s plan would require future senior citizens to navigate the private insurance market in search of a plan they could afford on the vouchers they are given.  If the coverage they need exceeds the voucher amount—a certainty, thanks to the way the plan is structured—tough shit. 

Of course, the wealthy need not worry.  They get the voucher and, partly thanks to Ryan’s generous tax policy for the wealthy—a reduction of the top rate to 25%—they will have plenty of dough to make up the difference between the voucher and the cost of the insurance. 

Medicaid becomes a block grant program in which states would essentially get to determine how they spend the money the federal government gives them. As Newt Gingrich admitted, this would inevitably mean that some states would short-change the poor, the elderly, and the disabled on Medicaid by making it harder to obtain benefits and by reducing those benefits.  There isn’t any doubt about that.  Just look at what Republicans in the various states are doing now in times of economic stress, times in which benefits are needed most.

Look, I don’t completely blame Ryan and other Republicans for proposing tax cuts for the wealthy while ending health care entitlements for everyone else.  That would be like blaming great white sharks for leg-munching in bloody water.  It’s what they do. 

About the Tea Party Republicans, Ryan told a reporter on Tuesday:

…you look at these people, these new people who just got here. None of them came here for a political career. They came here for a cause. This is not a budget, this is a cause.

A cause.”  Spoken like a bona fide devotee of Ayn Rand.  Rep. Ryan requires his staffers to read Atlas Shrugged, according to New York magazine, which explains a lot about his budget proposal.  Years ago, he told a group gathered to honor Rand,

The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.

To be a real Randian, as Jonathan Chait put it, one has to believe that,

the central struggle of politics is to free the successful from having the fruits of their superiority redistributed by looters and moochers.

That’s the Tea Party Republican definition of those “certain disadvantaged populations” that Bowles and Simpson mentioned.  They’re “looters and moochers.”

With the advent of the Tea Party and its hostile takeover of the Republican Party, Randian nonsense is now the dominant economic philosophy controlling the actions of GOP congressional leadership. And I suppose the final seal of approval was given to Ryan on Tuesday, when Glenn Beck said he loved Ryan. 

And, by the way, Ryan loved him back.

So, while I don’t put all the blame on Republican sharks for their unseemly ravenous carnivorism, I will blame Democrats if they don’t put the rope Ryan has given them around the necks of every single Republican in the country who won’t denounce the plan to kill Medicare and Medicaid. 

Alan Grayson may have put it somewhat indelicately, but he essentially got it right:

The Republican health care plan is, “Don’t get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly.”

Conservatives And The Myths They Tell

“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

—2 Timothy 4:3,4

Thomas Sowell, whose national columns appear regularly in the Joplin Globe, is quite good at telling local conservatives what they want to hear, or at least what they think they want to hear. 

In today’s offering, he extolls the virtues of old industrialists and inventers—”heroes”— like “Rockefeller, Edison, Ford and the Wright brothers.”  These people, Sowell says, revolutionized our lives and made America a better place to live.

And so they did.  No one—and I mean no sane person—would argue with Sowell that in so many ways such ambitiously creative and enterprising folks have enriched our lives.

But that, of course, isn’t really Sowell’s point at all.  What he really wants to do—and this is what pleases his readers—is to bash those mythical meddling liberals, who obviously hate the rich and powerful and want to punish them at any cost. He saves his obvious and typical jab for the end:

But today we seldom even know the names of those who have made these monumental contributions to human well-being. All we know is that some people have gotten “rich” and that this is to be regarded as some sort of grievance.

Many of the people we honor today are people who are skilled in the rhetoric of grievances and promises of new “rights” at someone else’s expense. But is that what is going to make a better America?

Get it? The myth that conservatives love to tell each other is this: While those virtuous John Galts are out there holding up the American sky, success-hating liberals and progressives are kicking them in the shins with their worries—”grievances,” as Sowell phrases it—about some of the obvious negative consequences of industrialization and advancement. 

In Sowell’s column today he inadvertently gives an example of what I mean.  Crediting Rockefeller for “cost-cutting innovations” he writes:

Before he came along, gasoline was considered a useless by-product that petroleum refineries often simply dumped into the nearest river. But Rockefeller decided to use it as a fuel in the refining process, which made it valuable, even before automobiles came along.

While we can all applaud Rockefeller for finding a “cost-cutting” way of using gasoline, we have to ask:  What if he hadn’t found a way of utilizing it?  Would it be okay in Sowell’s world to just keep pouring gasoline into our rivers?  Huh? 

One of those bothersome grievances brought by the liberals that Sowell and other conservative writers hate so much is industrial pollution.  I suppose we could simply let each industry pollute the air and the water until someone comes along and finds a use for the pollutants, but we would live in a much different America if we did: “Look kids! The river’s on fire again! I’ll get the marshmallows!

Now, it happens that also in today’s edition of the Globe is a story headed, “Man pleads guilty to dumping light bulbs.”   The man—a businessman—was a contractor who replaced a lighting system for another business in 2008.  Rather than dispose of the nearly 800 pounds of fluorescent tubes, the man—a businessman—simply dumped the mercury-tainted hazardous waste on land he claimed he thought was his aunt’s.  Turned out it wasn’t.

But the point is this: Should the man—a businessman—be allowed to dump 800 pounds of hazardous waste even on his own property? Should there be a “grievance” brought against him for that, or should we just wait and see if the man can find some later use for his “by-product”?

Which reminds me of a story I read in the paper earlier this month. It concerned a local and, no doubt, proud Republican legislator from Carthage, who is a member of this year’s pro-business, anti-regulatory Missouri House.  The story began this way:

CARTHAGE, Mo. — If there are persistent odor problems from a reopened Renewable Environmental Solutions plant, state Rep. Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, wants a state law on the books to respond.

I am sure Rep. Flanigan was quite eager to join his conservative Republican colleagues in Jefferson City in order to get started on making Missouri attractive to businesses—despite the fact that Republicans have practically turned the state over to business interests—but it is interesting that Mr. Flanigan has no problem with pursuing his “grievance” against polluters:

Flanigan on Thursday introduced a bill that would require a company to forfeit its state operating permit and face financial penalties if it persistently violated state air and water pollution standards.

Actually, Flanigan’s grievance against polluters is not just his grievance in this case.  He is rightfully representing the neighbors of the former RES plant (which shut down in 2009), some of whom are pursuing the matter in court and fear that an ongoing effort to reopen the plant will result in more odor problems and diminish their quality of life.  

And that’s the point.  Is Rep. Flanigan a nannyish liberal who wants to exact revenge on the rich with his anti-pollution legislation? No, he’s not.  He is merely representing his constituents, who have been aggrieved by a local business, and presumably he thinks other Missouri residents would benefit from his legislation.

In the same way, liberals and other “do-gooders” and “nannies” don’t want the government to regulate businesses because businessmen are filthy rich and don’t deserve the rewards of entrepreneurship, risk-taking, and hard work. But that’s the myth that liberal-hating Thomas Sowell and other conservatives tell and sell to their readers and listeners.

No. Liberals believe that we have a better world not just because today’s Fords and Rockefellers provide us with cars and gasoline—which undeniably add to the quality of our lives—but because they provide us such things without unnecessarily polluting our air and water.

And many of those Fords and Rockefellers wouldn’t worry much about the quality of our air and water if it weren’t for those who, in Sowell’s words, “are skilled in the rhetoric of grievances and promises of new “rights” at someone else’s expense.”

Ideas Matter, Otherwise Why Bother?

Naturally, conservatives are on the defensive.

I want to say up front that I will agree with any conservative who protests that what happened in Tucson is not directly related to anything said or done by anyone on the near or middle or even the far Right.

But as George Will demonstrated in his column published today in the Joplin Globe, conservatives have a problem with that choice of words:

On Sunday, the [New York] Times explained Tucson: “It is facile and mistaken to attribute this particular madman’s act directly to Republicans or Tea Party members. But . . .”  The “directly” is priceless.

The basis for Will’s snooty objection is that progressives, acting as charlatans and political opportunists, always use “bad sociology” to explain to superstition-riddled minds that there is a connection between ideas and behavior. 

The argument, which Will has used frequently in some form or another, goes like this (using my George Will Disgronificator, the translation is in the parentheses):

1. There exists a “timeless human craving” for “banishing randomness and the inexplicable from human experience.”  (Translation: People don’t like leaving things to chance or mysterious forces.)

2. “A characteristic of many contemporary minds is susceptibility to the superstition that all behavior can be traced to some diagnosable frame of mind that is a product of promptings from the social environment.” (Translation: Non-conservatives are gullible and believe that every single act by a human being can be traced to something in society, often something bad.  Conservatives, of course, know better.)

3. Progressives have created a “political doctrine” (“the crux of progressivism”) that exploits the above two Facts about humanity. The doctrine goes like this: “given clever social engineering, society and people can be perfected.” (Translation: Liberals tell the gullible masses that if we just get rid of all the bad stuff in society, people will stop doing bad things.)

Now, if you are a liberal or a progressive and you don’t recognize yourself as the charlatan in Will’s argument, don’t feel too bad about it.  I am a liberal and I know a lot of liberals and I don’t know one single liberal who believes what Will claims we believe. 

I’m not saying there aren’t such people; I’m just saying that I don’t know any of them.  It may be that, in the lofty world George Will inhabits, people with frontal lobes the size of watermelons say such things.  I suppose that’s possible.

But I and the liberals I know don’t think human beings can be perfected by any means here on earth.  What we do think is that we can make society a better place to live and we don’t have to leave things completely to chance, or to the Darwinian brand of conservatism in fashion today.

Indeed, Will himself has been a critic of that Darwinian brand of conservatism—libertarianism.  Early into the Age of Reagan, he said that the label “Libertarian conservative” is as self-contradictory as “promiscuous celibate.”  He wrote that a misplaced attachment to laissez-faire philosophy makes conservatives,

deeply ambivalent about government, and reluctant to use it as an instrument of conservative values, tempering and directing social dynamism… Real conservatism is about balancing many competing values… and always requires resistance to libertarianism (the doctrine of maximum freedom for private appetites) because libertarianism is a recipe for the dissolution of public authority, social and religious traditions, and other restraints needed to prevent license from replacing durable, disciplined liberty.”

This was, of course, long before the rise of the anti-government Tea Party and a revival of Ayn Rand’s ideas of dog-eat-dog capitalism, but it demonstrates, as does Will’s 1983 book, Statecraft as Soulcraft: What Government Does, that once George Will understood that in any society ideas have consequences, although it is often hard to measure with precision the exact causes and effects.

No, conservatives or libertarians or libertarian-conservatives or Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck didn’t directly cause the massacre in Tucson.  And it is entirely possible that the anti-government propaganda shouted night and day on television and radio by people on the Right—aided and abetted by Republican politicians—had no indirect effect either. 

But it is unworthy of an intellectual spokesman of the Right—who makes a living by sharing his ideas—to argue that liberals are charlatans who exploit the superstition of the masses because we take seriously the notion that cultural ideas do have cultural consequences, as hard as they are to measure.  And it is folly to criticize us because we also take seriously the notion that we may be able to avoid the bad cultural consequences by countering the bad ideas.

As Edmund Burke, one of George Will’s heroes, said,

The effect of liberty to individuals is that they may do what they please; we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations.

Ron Paul And A Quick Lesson About The Tea Party

Lawrence O’Donnell is a unique interviewer, although you would need to see him do it a few times before you would know what I mean. 

Last night on The Last Word, during an interview with Libertarian-Republican-Tea Partier Ron Paul, he had a strange exchange with him regarding Medicare, and by strange I mean strange in the way Paul danced around the question, “You would abolish Medicare, wouldn’t you?” 

Paul just couldn’t bring himself to say the words, but it is clear what he wants to do.  As outspoken as Paul has been in his career, why couldn’t he bring himself to say the words, “I want to abolish Medicare“?  Of course, we all know why.

And O’Donnell ask him about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Paul’s comment that,

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not improve race relations or enhance freedom.

Even better than the job Rachel Maddow did on Rand Paul, O’Donnell hammered him on this point, as Ron Paul attempted, à la Glenn Beck, to turn Martin Luther King into a Libertarian.  It was Ron Paul’s worst performance on television, and it demonstrated that when challenged, libertarians—at least those who want to stay in office—have a problem explaining themselves.

At one point, O’Donnell says to him:

Congressman, let’s not try to pretend libertarianism is what changed segregation in this country.  It was activist liberal government that changed segregation in this country, otherwise it would still be with us.  It took activist liberal Washington government in the Civil Rights Act to end that segregation that you properly decry.

Paul called O’Donnell “discourteous” at the end, as if politicians shouldn’t be held accountable for their views, particularly the extremist views of Libertarians.

Watch a few minutes of the interview, which I have clipped beginning with the Medicare discussion:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Remembering The Confession of Alan Greenspan

Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself especially, are in a state of shocked disbelief. 

—Alan Greenspan, October 23, 2008

As we ponder the strange fact that rich folks are winning the war on poverty—the ratio between the income of the richest and poorest Americans has doubled since 1968, the widest disparity on record—we should also ponder an event almost two years old now.

Alan Greenspan’s now famous “I Found A Flaw” confession is still fresh in my mind.  Appearing before the Oversight and Government Reform committee in the House of Representatives on October 28, 2008, here is the exchange between the committee’s chairman and Mr. Greenspan:

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: The question I have for you is, you had an ideology, you had a belief that free, competitive — and this is your statement — “I do have an ideology. My judgment is that free, competitive markets are by far the unrivaled way to organize economies. We’ve tried regulation. None meaningfully worked.” That was your quote.

You had the authority to prevent irresponsible lending practices that led to the subprime mortgage crisis. You were advised to do so by many others. And now our whole economy is paying its price.

Do you feel that your ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made?

ALAN GREENSPAN: Well, remember that what an ideology is, is a conceptual framework with the way people deal with reality. Everyone has one. You have to — to exist, you need an ideology. The question is whether it is accurate or not.

And what I’m saying to you is, yes, I found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is, but I’ve been very distressed by that fact.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: You found a flaw in the reality…

ALAN GREENSPAN: Flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works, so to speak.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working?

ALAN GREENSPAN: That is — precisely. No, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I had been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.

When Mr. Greenspan explains that he “bad been going for 40 years or more” with his ideology, he means of course his faith in laissez-faire economics, in unfettered free markets.  His love affair with laissez-faire began in the 1950s, when he struck up a relationship with Ayn Rand, the Russian-born philosopher and still fashionable darling of libertarians everywhere.  Her extremist views on limited government and her fierce hatred of regulations of any sort sound a lot like what many Republicans are saying these days—even as they seek government jobs via the November elections.

Greenspan was once considered a “rock star,” whose opinions were unassailable and whose mere intonations could send shockwaves up and down Wall Street.  And by all reports, Greenspan was an accomplished clarinet and saxophone player, who never blew more loudly, if not more competently, than he did when he was blowing about Ayn Rand’s hands-off economic philosophy.

Up until his admission to America that there was a “flaw” in his ideology, he consistently opposed government regulation of all kinds, especially in the financial industry.  Arguably, for more than thirty years, measured from the time he was sworn in as chairman of Gerald Ford’s Council of Economic Advisers in 1974 (with Ayn Rand at his side) until his term at the Federal Reserve ended in 2006, Greenspan’s flawed ideology and his misplaced faith in unregulated markets influenced our nation’s economic policies more than any other player in Washington.  Ronald Reagan appointed him chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve in 1987, where he stayed for almost 19 years.

Famously, during the Clinton administration, when Brooksley Born tried to warn us about the then-$27 trillion dollar OTC derivatives “dark market,” which was a wonderful example of Randian principles at work, Greenspan, along with Robert Rubin, Arthur Levitt, and Larry Summers, three high-profile Clinton officials, essentially shut her down because she expressed the need to bring regulatory light to derivatives trading. 

By 2007, the OTC derivatives market was reportedly around $600 trillion (yes, that’s right), and no laissez-faire-loving economist apparently had an inkling that economic disaster was just a swap away.

That all changed, of course, in the fall of 2008.  And with Greenspan’s confession—and that confession has been underplayed by liberals and Democrats—the limpness of laissez faire logic was exposed for all to see.  It’s as if Moses had come down from the mountain with the news that God was not there, not anywhere. Unfortunately, not enough people were paying attention, or if they were, they soon turned away, unwilling to abandon their philosophy.

Because today we hear the same calls for deregulation and free markets that characterized Greenspan’s career, before his once-invincible faith in laissez faire was sent reeling by the blows of betrayal that his banker friends dealt him in their self-mismanagement of the unregulated, unfettered OTC derivatives market.

In some odd way, it was kind of sad to watch Greenspan confess to a crack in is ideological armor, a crack wide enough for an economy to fall through.  But it is even sadder to contemplate the casualties of his—and many, many others’—misplaced faith in an ideology that portrayed—and still portrays—government as the enemy of Wall Street moneymaking rather than a friend of America’s larger interests.

The Case Against Libertarianism, Against Fear

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 

—1 Corintians 13:11

I have often chided libertarians and libertarian-ish conservatives for embracing a “childish” philosophy, one that worked well when we were cutting and shooting our way to the Pacific, living out our self-serving Manifest Destiny.

But it’s time we put away childish things.

America has matured; it has blossomed into the most powerful nation in the history of civilization.  And as it has developed and gained world prominence and dominance, its Constitution has remained the preeminent document guarding liberty and justice for all Americans, partly because courageous interpreters dared to understand it in terms conducive to life in the modern world.

For the moment, libertarians and social conservative zealots and haters of either our progressive or pigmented president—take your pick—are playing nice as they join together to rout the Democrats this November.  But as the conservative fanatic Richard Viguerie suggested the other day in the New York Times, after November 2, the Peace Train will collide head-on with the Soul Train—the fight will be on in earnest for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.

But for now, let’s look briefly at libertarian philosophy through the eyes of one of its most famous national proponents, Barry Goldwater, whom George Will married to the Tea Party movement in today’s Joplin Globe:

In 1964, the slogan of the Republican presidential nominee, Barry Goldwater, was “A choice, not an echo.” Forty-six years on, the tea party is a loud echo of his attempt to reconnect American politics with the tradition of limited government.

I have owned a copy of Goldwater’s, The Conscience of a Conservative, for more than 25 years. The book was first published in 1960, four years before Goldwater was overwhelmingly rejected in his run for the presidency.  The following is an excerpt from the book that sounds eerily similar to what one might hear today, as teapartiers temporarily coalesce around demands for a drastically smaller government, some even calling for an end to what libertarians love to call the Welfare State: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid:

The long range political consequences of Welfarism are plain enough: as we have seen, the State that is able to deal with its citizens as wards and dependents has gathered unto itself unlimited political and economic power and is thus able to rule as absolutely as any oriental despot.

Unlimited political and economic power“?  “Oriental despot“?  Keep in mind that was in 1960, and Medicare and Medicaid were still liberal dreams, not to come until 1965.  One would think that after 50 years of even greater “Welfarism” than Goldwater could imagine in 1960, today we would all be bowing to our oriental despot, given a 50-year reign with “unlimited political and economic power.”  

But there just isn’t any oriental despot around, and as our elected President Obama struggles to use the federal government to lift us out of our economic doldrums, one can hardly say the feds have “unlimited” anything, especially “political and economic power.”

Such extremist talk was silly in 1960 and its just as silly today coming from platforms at Tea Party rallies or from 30-second television spots.  In fact, it is embarrassingly immature talk, and fortunately we have half a century of evidence that such fears are cynical and baseless.  Despite an increase in the role of government in overseeing our social well-being, our government is not tyrannical and we still enjoy our liberties.

In 1960, not only was there no Medicare and Medicaid, but the top marginal tax rate was a whopping 91%. Today’s top marginal rate is 35%. Hardly a sign that we are slouching toward oriental despotism.

As far as Social Security, always an object of libertarian and conservative angst, in 1960 the government only taxed the first $4,800 of income at a rate of 3%.  Today, the tax rate is more than twice that and it applies to all earnings up to $106,800. Yet despite that increase, which would have terrified the 1960 Goldwater, there still is no oriental despot on the horizon. 

In fact, Social Security is wildly successful—USA Today reported that the program “kept 14 million seniors above the poverty level” last year. Yet, despite that success, anti-government sentiment is as thick today as when Goldwater wrote in 1960:

Let welfare be a private concern. Let it be promoted by individuals and families, by churches, private hospitals, religious service organizations, community charities and other institutions that have been established for this purpose.

You hear this argument a lot from libertarians and conservatives.  In fact, it is one of their core beliefs that taxing citizens to pay for social programs is illegitimate, amounting to “theft.” The idea that taxation is stealing is creeping into the minds of otherwise sober Americans, who have begun buying into the notion that the government has no business in promoting the general welfare by establishing government social programs. 

Yet what we don’t hear from liber-cons is, what happens if we leave to private concerns all the needs of the needy and those private concerns aren’t all that concerned?  Before Social Security—when private concerns were free to promote the welfare of the poor—seniors were likely to die in poverty. The estimated poverty rate for the elderly was between 70 and 90%.  By 2008, it had dropped to less than 10%.

And whether one thinks that improvement was because of or in spite of Social Security and other “entitlement” programs—programs that are now threatened by Tea Party hysteria—there is simply no denying that the fears that have always accompanied an increased federal role in promoting the general welfare—that promotion rooted in the Constitution itself—are never realized.  Never.

We are not ruled by a despotic federal government, oriental or otherwise.  Goldwater’s State does not have “unlimited political and economic power.”

And contrary to libertarian assumptions, federal involvement in the well-being of the less fortunate, in the well-being of the elderly, has not led to less freedom, but to more.

Because thanks to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, more Americans enjoy the “blessings of liberty” today than at any time in our history.

Alan Greenspan Throws Republicans Under The Bus on Bush Tax Cuts

More than a week ago, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner reiterated the administration’s plan to let the infamous Bush tax cuts expire—that expiration, of course, was part of the legislation that Republicans crafted and passed and signed into law years ago—with exceptions for those individuals earning less than $200,000 and couples earning less than $250,000.  Those folks will continue paying at the same rate they do now.

Only the top two or three percent of income earners will see their tax rates go back to the Clinton era, when deficit spending was on the wane and jobs were plentiful.  The expiration of the tax cuts for folks in that category will net the Treasury about $680 billion over the next ten years.  Were the entire package of Bush tax cuts allowed to die its natural legislative death, the Treasury would net about $3.7 trillion or so over the next decade. 

In other words, it costs a lot to cut people’s taxes, especially the top two or three percent of the wealthiest Americans. Republicans, because their conservative constituency includes many of those wealthiest Americans, naturally are characterizing the expiration of the tax cuts as a tax increase.   

Their salient, supply-side argument is that to “raise taxes” now would jeopardize the economic recovery (which recovery they don’t acknowledge in any other context) because tax cuts stimulate economic growth and essentially pay for themselves. In other words, if you believe magic is real (voodoo economics, anyone?), then you can also believe in the supply-side theory that cutting taxes for the wealthy increases government revenue.

If you had the stomach for it, you could have heard Sarah Palin make that argument this morning on her network, Fox “News.”  But if you wanted a more, shall we say, learned opinion, you could have listened to Alan Greenspan, former five-term Fed chairman and Ayn Rand enthusiast, who said this today on Meet The Press:

MR. GREGORY:  All right.  Well, Dr. Greenspan, it’s not often that you hear Democrats and liberals quoting you.  But, in this case, they did when it come to–came to tax cuts because of an interview you gave recently with Judy Woodruff on Bloomberg television.  Here was the question:  “Tax cuts [that] are due to expire at the end of this year.  Should they be extended?  What should Congress do?” You said, “I should say they should follow the law and then let them lapse.” Question:  “So to those interests who say but wait a minute, if you let these taxes go my taxes go up, it’s going to depress growth?” You said, “Yes, it probably will, but I think we have no choice in doing that, because we have to recognize there are no solutions which are optimum.  These are choices between bad and worse.” You’re saying let them all go, let them all lapse?

MR. GREENSPAN:  Look, I’m very much in favor of tax cuts, but not with borrowed money.  And the problem that we’ve gotten into in recent years is spending programs with borrowed money, tax cuts with borrowed money, and at the end of the day, that proves disastrous.  And my view is I don’t think we can play subtle policy here on it.

MR. GREGORY:  You don’t agree with Republican leaders who say tax cuts pay for themselves?

MR. GREENSPAN:  They do not.

For those of you in a comedic mood, or those who just can’t get enough of the fractional governor’s palm-inscribed wisdom, here is a snippet from this morning:

 

Ayn Rand And The Seduction of the New Right

NOTE: The following is a reply to a comment on my post, “Another Ayn Rand Nut For Our Times,” by someone with the moniker, “Wants.”  Those of you not interested in Ayn Rand or political philosophy should skip the following entry.

Wants,

Thanks for that thoughtful response.  And I must say it is refreshing to engage someone who holds the views you do (“I can understand the root of the fear“), yet understands that those who hold a different view are not anti-American or unpatriotic devils.  The following is a rather lengthy response, but your comments allow me to do something I have wanted to do for a while: briefly explore the strange world of those conservatives who seem to have an affection for the once-heretical ideas of the little Russian-American philosopher, Ayn Rand.

To begin, let us move away from a discussion of We the Living to the much more familiar, Atlas Shrugged, about which Glenn Beck said on his radio show several months ago:

Ayn Rand understood and identified the deeper causes of the crisis we’re facing, and she offered in “Atlas Shrugged” the principled and practical solution consistent with American values.

Ayn RandThe core idea of Atlas Shrugged is that, in the words of Whittaker Chambers, “the Children of Light win handily by declaring a general strike of brains, of which they have a monopoly, letting the world go, literally, to smash.

I can’t imagine a more arrogant or elitist conception of life, and it is a weird irony that many of the contemporary proponents of such a view would also see themselves as populists, much like Glenn Beck does.  The idea that without these “brains” (those who “get it”) the rest of us will make a mess of the world is a sentiment echoed (sometimes thunderously, sometimes faintly) throughout the world of right-wing talk radio and television.  

But no matter the intensity, there exists the notion that those of us on the outside—who are “asleep”—cannot  possibly survive without those insightful, productive, clear-eyed egoists leading the way, and it is incumbent upon us to subordinate ourselves, if we wish to have any kind of decent life.  And the grand irony is that they present the necessary subordination of ourselves and our ideas to their views in the language of liberty.

Admittedly, this hybrid philosophy is believed only by a relatively small group of people, but many of its propagandists have a rather large megaphone, sometimes influencing professional politicians who call themselves Republicans.  And I have often argued that they are doing irreparable harm to the Grand Old Party, like Darwin’s parasitic wasp feeding on its host. 

You wrote,

I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with questioning government expansion, but I also don’t agree that it is inherently an irretrievable step closer to totalitarianism.

Now, that is a sensible view, and one that thoughtful people can discuss.

Your most perceptive statement, though, was:

Most people will agree that some form of government is necessary to protect and guarantee the basic rights of individuals in a society, but when it comes to modifying the power and reach of the government it is perfectly viable to question whether an expansion of power is needed and justified or whether it is over-reaching.

There are always legitimate questions about the propriety of government action.  Is the action necessary?  Does it increase or at least preserve the reservoir of liberty?  A quick example would be federal civil rights laws that effectively ended Jim Crow.  Were they an expansion of federal power?  Yes.  But did they serve to increase the reservoir of liberty?  Absolutely.  Thus, such laws were not only justified, they were necessary in order to give to culturally disenfranchised black citizens a degree of liberty enjoyed by whites.

colored signBut a sterile, Randian analysis of such laws these days might suggest something different:  What about the rights of the restaurant owner who doesn’t want black people eating with whites?  What about his rights?  And there is the problem: The contraction of the “liberty” of a proprietor—(“You can’t discriminate against a man because he is black“) is understood as an evil.  And the expansion of the liberty of multitudes of African-Americans is never considered, certainly not considered as a “good.” 

Another discovery, when one mines the rich vein of irony in contemporary (as opposed to the old-line variety represented by William F. Buckley) conservatism’s flirtation with Randian philosophy, is highlighted by Chambers, as he references Karl Marx:

He, too, admired “naked self-interest” (in its time and place), and for much the same reasons as Miss Rand: because, he believed, it cleared away the cobwebs of religion and led to prodigies of industrial and cognate accomplishment. The overlap is not as incongruous as it looks. Atlas Shrugged can be called a novel only by devaluing the term. It is a massive tract for the times. Its story merely serves Miss Rand to get the customers inside the tent, and as a soapbox for delivering her Message. The Message is the thing. It is, in sum, a forthright philosophic materialism.

And there you have it.

In order to attack liberalism, particularly the caricatured liberalism of Barack Obama, contemporary conservatives are willing to put into service a naked materialist like Ayn Rand, if not utilizing the letter of her writings, at least making use of the spirit of them.

chambers1939Chambers, a religious man, was naturally dubious of Rand’s atheism, and he portrayed her philosophy as one in which, “Man becomes merely the most consuming of animals, with glut as the condition of his happiness and its replenishment his foremost activity.

He continues:

Systems of philosophic materialism, so long as they merely circle outside this world’s atmosphere, matter little to most of us. The trouble is that they keep coming down to earth. It is when a system of materialist ideas presumes to give positive answers to real problems of our real life that mischief starts. In an age like ours, in which a highly complex technological society is everywhere in a high state of instability, such answers, however philosophic, translate quickly into political realities. And in the degree to which problems of complexity and instability are most bewildering to masses of men, a temptation sets in to let some species of Big Brother solve and supervise them.

The final irony of the new coalition of conservatism and Randianism is that her “noble” philosophy, predicated on a fierce but false idea of freedom, will inevitably end in a kind of tyranny.  Chambers sees in Rand’s call for “productive achievement” a necessarily “technological achievement,” which can only be supervised by “a managerial political bureau.”  Such a situation, according to Chambers,

…can only head into a dictatorship, however benign, living and acting beyond good and evil, a law unto itself (as Miss Rand believes it should be), and feeling any restraint on itself as, in practice, criminal, and, in morals, vicious (as Miss Rand clearly feels it to be).

Whittaker Chambers, a former communist, had at least some insight into the totalitarian mind.  He wrote of Atlas Shrugged, but really of the Nietzschean Ayn Rand herself:

From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: “To a gas chamber — go!” The same inflexibly self-righteous stance results, too (in the total absence of any saving humor), in odd extravagances of inflection and gesture… At first, we try to tell ourselves that these are just lapses, that this mind has, somehow, mislaid the discriminating knack that most of us pray will warn us in time of the difference between what is effective and firm, and what is wildly grotesque and excessive. Soon we suspect something worse. We suspect that this mind finds, precisely in extravagance, some exalting merit; feels a surging release of power and passion precisely in smashing up the house.

I can’t help but admire the voice of Whittaker Chambers, even as I have moved away from that despairing “man of the right,” and even as his voice is increasingly unfamiliar to a new generation of philosophically deaf conservatives.

But there is no denying that he accurately pegged the little Russian woman, who though he thought her sophistic and egoistic philosophy would have no “lasting ill effects,” nevertheless could not countenance her literary supposition, “that the Hippocratic Oath is a kind of curse.”

If you doubt the influence of Ayn Rand on some of those who are leading the New Right, here is a short video of Glenn Beck conversing with Yaron Brook, Executive Director, The Ayn Rand Center:

Another Ayn Rand Nut For Our Times

Last Monday’s Joplin Globe featured a piece by a guest columnist named Scott Holleran.  The piece was titled, “Another Ayn Rand novel for our times,” which was ostensibly a rather untimely review of Rand’s 73-year-old novel, We the Living.

I am not sure how the column ended up in the Globe because there is no indication that Mr. Holleran has any ties to our community, and he certainly isn’t a nationally syndicated columnist.  But I would like to know.

I’m not going to critique the philosophy of Ayn Rand, since old-style conservatives like William F. Buckley and Whittaker Chambers dismantled it long ago to my satisfaction. But I do want to ask the question, “How the hell did this monstrosity end up in the Joplin Globe?”  I mean, this isn’t Rita Crowell sending in her latest dispatch from Our Father in Heaven. This stuff was imported from California, for God’s sake.

Here is a few paragraphs culled from this stunningly stupid commentary, which shows all the effects of someone infected with ruinous Randian thought: 

Kira’s [the heroine of We the Living] choice is an expression of what Ayn Rand called the virtue of selfishness—an idea scorned by America’s current administration, which has adopted collectivism and self-sacrifice as the nation’s governing principles.

President Obama has intervened in the economy more than any president since the 1930s—while courting catastrophe by incurring astronomical debt. The administration plans to ask Congress to raise taxes, has effectively forced out CEOs and has effectively nationalized some of the nation’s largest banks, insurers and automobile companies. There’s a major step toward an economic dictatorship like Soviet Russia’s every other day.

Intestingly, the version on Mr. Holleran’s Website was different from above, so someone did some editing on the piece, but not enough to save the author from phantasmal folly.

Among other things, Mr. Holleran fails to mention that it was George W. Bush who popularized “compassionate conservatism,” which out of necessity culminated in his action to “effectively nationalize” most of the financial industry last year in order to keep our economic system from collapsing.  In my view, Bush’s intervention would constitute post-1930 unprecedented intervention, since Obama’s actions were essentially just an extension of what Bush began.

And Mr. Holleran is either simply a cultist, hynotized by Ms. Rand’s brilliance, or he is grossly ignorant of history or both, when he writes, “There’s a major step toward an economic dictatorship like Soviet Russia’s every other day.

Anyone who has read three sentences of the history of the defunct Soviet Union would not utter such contemptible nonsense.  But there it was on the editorial page of the Joplin Globe.

But the most offensive and stupid claims awaited us:

The U.S. has been heading toward totalitarianism for a long time. The government controls every aspect of an American’s life, from what car to drive to how much money one can earn. A home may be seized by the state under eminent domain. A radio or television show may be censored. Air travel must be approved by the government. Americans have been incrementally losing their rights for decades; Obama is simply and rapidly hastening the demise.

I’m not sure what state of consciousness Mr. Holleran was in when he wrote this pap, but it undoubtedly is an example of what happens to one’s mind when it falls hopelessly in love with Ms. Rand and her “virtue of selfishness” philosophy.

I just don’t have the slightest idea how it came to be printed on the pages of our local paper, but I’ve had it with the Obama-as-Stalin meme.

Darwin’s Wasp

In a year in which many of us celebrate both Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th birthday of the “Origin of Species,” it is apropos to use what some have called “Darwin’s wasp”—the Ichneumonidae—to make a point about the state of the Republican Party.

The parasitic wasp, which lays its eggs inside a caterpillar so that its larvae can feed on it, carefully guides its sting into each ganglion of the prey’s central nervous system, not to kill it, but to paralyze it, so that its offspring will have fresh meat to eat. The victim is literally devoured alive from the inside out.

Darwin found this situation incompatible with his religious beliefs. He wrote,

I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars.

The Republican Party, like the unfortunate caterpillar, is being devoured from the inside out.

Caustic conservative chatterers, from Rush Limbaugh to Sean Hannity to Glenn Beck, along with some extremist politicians like Sen. Jim DeMint and Rep. Joe Wilson, have attached themselves to the party and are, issue by issue, rant by rant, consuming its electoral life. They have effectively banished from the party moderates and patriots like Colin Powell, reasonable, moderately conservative writers like David Brooks or Sam Tanenhaus, and virtually anyone who dares to croon slightly off key in what has become a choir of fear, singing a menacing mantra: We hate Barack Hussein Obama.

Thus, the party of Lincoln is fast becoming a parochial, nationally irrelevant party.

In 1980 Ronald Reagan—in an electoral landslide—received 55% of the white vote. In 2008 John McCain—who lost by nearly 10 million votes—also received 55% of the white vote. What was the difference? The percentage of the overall electorate for white voters dropped from 88% in 1980 to 74% in 2008. So, while Republicans maintained their hold on white voters, the political clout of those voters had declined.

Understandably, Barack Obama had overwhelming support among African-Americans (95%) in 2008, but Republicans have otherwise struggled to attract more than 10% of black voters since Reagan’s 14% showing in 1980. Since then the percentage of black voters among the overall electorate has increased from 10% to 13%.

But the real tale is told by the Hispanic vote.

In 1980 Hispanics comprised only 2% of the electorate, and Jimmy Carter received 54% of their votes compared with 36% for Reagan. In 2008, Hispanics had grown to 9% of the electorate (a 450% increase), and John McCain—having forsaken his moderate position on immigration reform in favor of the hard-line conservative stance—received only 31%. Obama won 67% of the Hispanic vote.

Add to this that Asian-Americans are now 2% of the electorate (the same as Hispanics in 1980) and that Obama managed to garner 62% of their votes, and the picture becomes very clear.

No matter what Republicans may think about these trends, they cannot be ignored with impunity. It may be that conservatives these days are incapable of embracing a philosophy adjusted to fit the reality of changing demographics. Certainly, a staunch adherence to purist conservative doctrine plays well in places like Jasper and Newton counties in Southwest Missouri, or in the Old South, but it is a doomed strategy for long-term national Republican success, even if the party manages to make modest inroads in 2010.

Rather than acknowledge this reality and adjust their positions on the various issues accordingly, most Republican “leaders” are content to prostrate themselves before Rush Limbaugh’s Attila the Hun chair, and in one sycophantic spasm after another confirm that they are content with a regional appeal.

Joe Scarborough, the popular conservative host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” has written a book urging conservative Republicans to heed the advice of the founder of conservatism, Edmund Burke, who “had contempt for rigid ideologues of all stripes.” So far, such advice goes unheeded.

Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal—the scourge of contemporary conservatism—came to pass largely because of the alignment of otherwise disparate groups that ignored important, but comparatively marginal, differences in favor of gaining political power sufficient to win elections. From 1932 through 1964, this coalition of “big city” political machines, labor unions, minorities, progressives, and Southern whites, won seven of nine presidential elections, losing only to WW II hero, Dwight Eisenhower.

If Republicans hope to continue as a national party, they have to shout down the strident voices of conservative ideologues and submit to demographic reality. It is difficult to understand why there isn’t one leader in the party who will take on the obviously unhinged Glenn Beck, just to name one glaring example. But so far, none has assumed the mantle of leadership necessary to save the party from irrelevance.

In the early days of the 20th century conservative movement, William F. Buckley, a conservative and a Republican, gave the left foot of fellowship to the John Birch Society, who, he surmised, would ultimately prove lethal to the conservative cause. He did the same thing to the Objectivists, most especially Ayn Rand. Mr. Buckley much later had to call out conservatives like Pat Buchanan and Joseph Sobran, when they expressed opinions that appeared to embrace an anti-Semitic philosophy. In that regard, Buckley acted like a true father of the movement, an adult who had to call out phony or wayward conservatives in the name of preserving the conservative family and by extension the Republican Party.

There is no one in the conservative movement with the stature William Buckley enjoyed (before he embraced late in life and inexplicably, Rush Limbaugh), and there certainly appears to be no adults in the Republican Party, but perhaps there is someone out there with sufficient courage who is willing to take on the conservative bullies. We can only hope.

Darwin lost at least part of his faith because he could not imagine that God could create the Ichneumonidae and its seemingly cruel method of survival. For him, such cruelty seemed incompatible with decency.

Today, the parasitic wasps in the Republican Party—those who are using the party only to advance their extremist ideological causes with little regard for the party’s survival—may not cause many to lose faith in God, but the tolerance of such people by party leaders causes many of us to doubt their decency.

And sadly, while there are many caterpillars in which Darwin’s wasp can lay its eggs, there is only one Grand Old Party.

___________________________________________________________

COMMENTS:

juan don writes:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009, 06:10 PM

RDG,

Excellent post. The desert clime agrees with you.

___________________________________________________________

 anson Burlingame writes:

Thursday, September 17, 2009, 04:14 PM

Duane,

You wrote, “There is no one in the conservative movement with the stature William Buckley enjoyed …” I agree. Perhaps George Will comes close to Buckley’s intellect as to some degree does Thomas Sowell (knowing you don’t like the lader one bit).

I am also not at all aware of any left commentator today who meets the standards set by Buckley, or Will and Thomas for that matter. If there is one I would be the first to ask for his publication on a regular basis in the Globe.

As we all correctly ponder the issue of media bias, I look for thoughtful alternatives on the left but have difficulty doing so.

Any suggestions?

Anson

____________________________________________________________

Duane writes:

Thursday, September 17, 2009, 04:29 PM

Anson,

First, Thomas Sowell, who used to be semi-respectable as a columnist, has lost all credibility since Obama has come on the scene. He has repeatedly made oblique and sometimes not so oblique references to Obama and murdering dictators. Unacceptable.

You asked for a “couple” of suggestions on liberal columnists. Here is my “short” list:

Paul Krugman (Pulitzer economist and generalist) would offset George Will nicely.

Eugene Robinson (Pulitzer and wonderful writer)

Michael Kinsley (he used to appear regularly on Bill Buckley’s program).

Jonathan Alter

Frank Rich

E.J. Dionne, Jr

David Corn (from the Nation, a REAL liberal)

Eleanor Clift (who used to appear in the Globe, and whom I used to loathe)

Arianna Huffington (who with her popular online site would appeal to net surfers)

All of these names I sent to Carol back in July in hopes that one or two might regular appear in our paper.

Duane

%d bloggers like this: