There’s still no relief from Republican math
BY ALLAN UTHMAN
“Tonight, we tell America: We know the past, we know we did wrong. My bad.”
- Michael Steele
Remember “Bush Derangement Syndrome?” That was the flippant label Republicans applied to the outrage liberals have been displaying toward the Bush administration for the past six years. Well, at least we waited for him to start screwing up before we got mad. Obama Derangement Syndrome, on the other hand, has swept the heartland with amazing speed, starting well before he took the oath of office.
Of course, there are the completely stupid accusations: Obama’s a secret Muslim; he wasn’t born here; he’s the antichrist. The people pushing these idiocies are not important—they are brainless embarrassments to humanity, and we all know it—even most Republicans know it.
But there’s a second class of lies getting more mainstream circulation. These are lies about economics, about the roots of the current financial crisis, and about the history of economic recoveries. They have two main goals for the Republican “thinkers” who generate them: to evade responsibility for the mess we’re in, and to hamstring the new president’s economic agenda. These lies have been alarmingly successful, and we hear them repeated often in the press, and not just by partisan Republicans. They are insidious, and they infect the general populace.
For instance, ask the nearest Republican what caused the mortgage meltdown, and they’ll tell you it happened because Democrats forced banks to make bad loans to low-income minorities. If they’re really paying attention, they’ll name the 30-year-old Community Reinvestment Act. You see, it was the liberals all along, and the madness of their good intentions.
What they won’t mention is that more than 80% of subprime loans were given out by bank affiliates and independent mortgage lenders, which were not governed by the CRA. In fact, the worst abuses were committed by these institutions, and had not a damn thing to do with the CRA. The real reason for the explosion in predatory mortgage loans is that Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan created a huge demand for mortgage-backed securities when he pegged the Fed Fund Rate at 1%, making Treasury Bonds a lame investment. This meant that lenders could sell off their mortgage loans as soon as they made them, incentivizing them to make riskier loans, because the risk would be taken off their hands immediately. Add to this the fact that the mortgage securities were still being rated AAA based on obsolete calculations, and multiply it with credit default swaps, and you have a pretty comprehensive explanation of what happened here.
This doesn’t exonerate Democrats from any culpability, of course, but it does indeed exonerate liberal ideology. For Republicans, free market ideology simply cannot be the culprit, because that would make it their fault. So they pull some Carter-era law intended to help minorities, and blame the whole thing on that. It would be funny if it wasn’t working, to some degree at least. Just yesterday, Tom Delay floated this ridiculous theory, and Chris Matthews just let it go without comment. This is part of the problem: Chris Matthews, and many of his colleagues, simply aren’t informed enough or mentally equipped to argue the point. They may not believe the lie, but they aren’t willing to go to the mat with a professional bullshit artist, armed to the teeth with official-sounding half-truths and lies, because they are afraid to reveal the extent of their ignorance.
And so, with no real fact-checking, no informed people to rebut them, the Republicans keep pushing this bullshit, and the press either buys into it or remains pretty much silent.
For weeks now, we’ve been hearing that the Congressional Budget Office found that most of the spending in the stimulus bill would not take place for two years or more. This is just not true. First reported by AP January 20th, the “report” actually never existed. In reality, the CBO ran a portion of an early version of the bill, comprising less than half of the money in the bill, just the money headed for the Appropriations Committee, through a computer program, and gave the result to a few congressmen, which led to the AP report. The erroneous report was picked up and blared throughout the media, despite the CBO’s claim that “We did not issue any report, any analysis or any study.” To this day, Republicans are citing this crap regularly, despite the fact that the CBO’s actual report on the bill, released on January 26th, shows that 64% of the money in the bill will be spent by the end of 2010.
Think about that. The Republicans are running around disseminating blatantly false information, which has been refuted by its supposed source, and nobody is challenging them, because nobody knows.
All over the news, Republicans—and the dingbats who interview them—are claiming that typical government aid, such as food stamps and unemployment, are “not stimulus.” This, again, is bullshit, and even a moron should be able to see that. Giving money to poor people is the surest way to see it spent. You may have philosophical misgivings about it, but it is undeniably stimulative to the economy, far more so than tax cuts for the rich, who are likely to just hold onto the money. There is no doubt here, no other side to this issue. And yet, each cable news network is crawling with rich idiots who just don’t get it.
Perhaps the most hilarious tactic Republicans are utilizing is bleating about the debt burden Obama is foisting on future generations. Not that this isn’t something to worry about, but for Republicans, who practically invented deficit spending and dismissed misgivings about it with casual condescension for so many years, to issue such dire warnings and expect anything but laughter in return, has got to be new world record in chutzpah. Ditto for earmarks.
The most disgusting new lie the Right is pushing is the total rewriting of history regarding the New Deal. Apparently, despite all recorded history and analysis, the New Deal didn’t work. How is this? Well, it depends on a few completely asinine premises: People working for the government are actually unemployed, for one. In fact, unemployment fell every year from 1933 to 1937, then climbed again in ’38 because FDR scaled back spending and tried to balance the budget, but never returned to the dismal level of ’33.
Oddly, the conservatives undercut their own argument here by acknowledging that World War II was what finally ended the depression, without understanding that this was also due to massive government spending on manufacturing and infrastructure—even waste. As Jonathan Chait recently wrote in The New Republic, “World War II was an effective stimulus that, economically speaking, consisted of 100 percent waste. If war hadn’t broken out, we could have enjoyed the same economic benefit by building all those tanks and planes and dumping them into the ocean.” Chait worries that Obama’s avoidance of “waste” in the stimulus package rendered it too small to work as well as it could.
The press is way behind the people in this regard. While the people have had just about enough of the tired economic fallacies the GOP has been foisting on us since the ‘80s, Reaganomics still rules the airwaves. The Republicans have amassed a formidable propaganda operation over the past three decades, and with nothing left to do but attack, they are working overtime to confuse the public, obfuscating these not-so-complicated issues in an attempt to drum up opposition and cloud their own culpability. All of that is to be expected. But the press is no longer obligated to give them an audience, or even to take them seriously.
The fact is, in a very real way, Republicans just don’t matter anymore, and they won’t for at least another two years. They are completely powerless, and their arguments are sad fictions. They just don’t deserve our attention, and it’s time for the press to understand that. But still, we are treated to the same hysterical whinging about the evils of socialism.
Does anyone really think the country is better off now than it was before all those Reagan/Bush tax cuts? In fact, conservatives look back on the “good old days,” lamenting the loss of the imagined “greatness” of those days, without bothering to learn that high earners, those Rush Limbaugh calls “the producers” or “the achievers,” were paying anywhere from 70% to 90% income tax. Our country’s true history of progressive taxation is a forbidden subject, while conservatives seriously call Obama a socialist, communist, Marxist, et cetera, for raising our highest tax bracket today from 35% to 39.6%, and simultaneously warn about the deficits and debt they, the Republicans themselves, created. Again, these people make no sense at all, but their plainly ludicrous arguments are treated in the media as noteworthy, even obvious.
It would be one thing if the networks were giving the parties equal time regardless of who’s in charge, but that is simply not the case. In fact, analyses of TV news shows, mostly surveys of the Sunday morning talkers, show a strong conservative bias in guest selection, not just when Bush was in office, but when Clinton was in office, and even now that the Republicans have virtually no political power at all. Think Progress found in two separate studies that Republican lawmakers outnumbered Democrats in discussions of the stimulus package on the cable news networks by two to one.
Why is this? It’s hard to say. Some allege a grand GOP conspiracy to control the media, and there is something to the fact that the press seems to have become more economically conservative as their parent companies have consolidated into monstrous conglomerates, themselves invested in the agenda of deregulation and lowering taxes on wealthy corporations and individuals. There is also the very obvious truth that most prominent journalists are just out of their depth in this debate, that they just don’t really know what the hell they are talking about, and that they themselves are rich. Like many Americans, they bought into the simple, and very wrong, economic theories of the Reagan administration, which argued for less government and lowered taxes for the rich, while increasing spending, just as George W. Bush did. And even now, when the whole canard has imploded, they still can’t shake the false premises on which those policies were based. It’s hard to admit you’ve been duped.