The Past Week In Conservative Stupidity

Over a year ago Bobby Jindal warned that Republicans “must stop being the stupid party.” They have not been doing particularly well at following his advice. To extrapolate this to the conservative movement, this week provided two more examples of what can only be labeled as stupidity dominating conservative conversation–the intentional misinterpretation of the Congressional Budget Office report on the Affordable Care Act and reaction to Olympic coverage from Russia.

This is not to say that all conservatives believe these things or are stupid. However, the prevalence of stupidity does seem to have increased tremendously in the conservative movement and Republican Party in recent years. Even ignoring the easy targets such as Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, the caliber of conservative discourse generally seen today is far different from what came from past conservatives such as William F. Buckely, Jr., who also fought to keep the Birchers and other predecessors of today’s Tea Party out of the GOP. Barry Goldwater might have many views which liberals find objectionable, but he also warned about what would happen if the religious right took control of the Republican Party. Even Ronald Reagan was not so foolish as to oppose any tax increase or to prevent increases in the debt ceiling to allow the Unites States to honor its debts.

It is understandable that some conservatives might have been misled by the initial headlines on the report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. Many journalists, overly influenced by conservative arguments and lacking adequate understanding of health care policy, initially were inaccurate in their coverage. Once the report was more fully evaluated, it was clear that the CBO report actually showed that there is no evidence of an increase in unemployment due to the Affordable Care Act as Republicans had been predicting would occur.  Instead the portions of the report on employment showed that Obamacare was projected to be successful in one of its goals--saving people from the “insurance trap.”

Until the Affordable Care Act came into effect many people continued in jobs they did not want because they would be unable to obtain health insurance if they left their current job. Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance is no longer tied to employment. Now people are free to retire at an earlier age if they desire, instead of waiting until age 65 when they qualify for Medicare. They are also free to leave large corporations to work for small businesses, or perhaps even start a business of their own. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation wrote about projections for an increase in entrepreneurship and self-employment last May. The CBO report confirms that they were correct. This can help boost the economy.

While an initial mistake regarding this might have been unintentional, there has subsequently been many corrections. Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post,  corrected errors in reporting in writing, “No, CBO did not say Obamacare will kill 2 million jobs”.  Kessler concluded with saying, “we award Three Pinocchios to anyone who deliberately gets this wrong.” Factcheck.org also corrected the misconceptions.

As some people leave jobs they no longer want or need, their jobs can open up for others. In testimony before the House Budget Committee, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf confirmed that the CBO report suggests the Affordable Care Act will reduce unemployment. Even Paul Ryan corrected fellow Republicans on this point. Besides reducing unemployment, the CBO report showed that, while Republicans had been demanding an end to the risk corridors in order to agree to an increase in the debt limit, the risk corridors actually wind up saving the government eight billion dollars. The CBO projects a deficit of $514 billion in 2014, representing three percent of the Gross Domestic Product. This is down from 2009 when deficit was at 10.1 percent of GDP, and more in line with the average size of the deficit compared to GDP over the past forty years.

Conservatives are rarely willing to give up on their criticism of the Affordable Care Act even when contradicted by the facts. They continue to repeat fallacious arguments about death panels or their false claim that Obamacare constitutes a government takeover of health care. Finding that those who received cancellation notices from insurance companies generally received better coverage at a lower price under the Affordable Care Act did not end their claims of people supposedly losing their insurance under Obamacare.

Conservatives remain unwilling to give up the argument about people leaving their jobs, spinning it to suggest that the Affordable Care Act encourages people to be lazy parasites on society instead of working, ignoring the actual types of people this is likely to affect. Conservatives have been presenting “horror stories” of people allegedly harmed by the Affordable Care Act which typically turn out to be untrue once the details are examined. Finally we are seeing newspaper reports emphasizing the positive aspect of freeing people from the “insurance trap.”

While conservative columnists such as Ross Douthat fear that Obamacare will lead to a “strong work disincentive while looking at a population of childless, able-bodied, mostly working-class adults,” these are not the type of people I am seeing as benefiting by freedom from the “insurance trap.” If the health care debate is turning into one of anecdotal cases, I’m thinking of an affluent friend who, because of health history, cannot obtain insurance on the individual market so his wife has been working full time in a job purely for the health insurance, even though they have no need for the income beyond the benefits. I have a patient who was left without insurance when her husband retired in his early sixties and then struggled to pay her medical bills. As of January she finally has comprehensive coverage she can afford. These are the types of people who are benefiting from the supposed disincentive to work under Obamacare.

In theory there is a risk that “able-bodied, mostly working-class adults” might have less incentive to work, but I hardly think that providing affordable health care is enough to do this on a widespread level. Far more able-bodied adults are not working because jobs are not available. Besides making more jobs available, the Affordable Care Act can help relieve this problem in another way. In addition to freeing people to retire in their early sixties or leave jobs held solely for the insurance, people will be able to start small businesses without losing health insurance. In Republican-speak, this should also be beneficial to the economy due to making more “job creators.” The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation wrote about projections for an increase in entrepreneurship and self-employment last May. The CBO report confirms that they were correct, and to a greater degree than previously projected.

Conservatives were wrong about this argument, and now appear stupid, and dishonest, when they continue to repeat the same mistakes. I spent more space on this first example than intended, but in retrospect this is an important point which deserves repeated explanations as long as conservatives are claiming that this positive aspect of the Affordable Care Act is somehow undesirable.

The second example is bizarre outrage from the right wing over the video below which comes from NBC’s coverage of the Olympic games:

Their objection is to this line: “The empire that ascended to affirm a colossal footprint; the revolution that birthed one of modern history’s pivotal experiments.”

This is being spun by right wing bloggers as praise for Communism, including by FoxMarco Rubio, along with other conservatives commenting, does not appear to understand what pivotal means. The word refers to points which are critical or vitally important. The Russian Revolution was a pivotal point in their history, along with the history of the world. Similarly, Hitler’s rise to power was a pivotal moment. Both 9/11 and Katrina were pivotal moments during the Bush years.  The computer problems during the first month of the exchanges has unfortunately become a pivotal moment for the Obama administration. The word pivotal says nothing about whether the events were good or bad.

This was one line in a video narrated by Peter Dinklage as introduction to NBC’s sports coverage of the Olympics. If this was a political documentary we would expect information on the horrors of communism. This is unnecessary, and probably out of place, in sports coverage, especially if they desire to be polite and avoid criticism of the host country over a political system which has been overthrown (even if the current regime is repeating many of the same mistakes as under Communism).

I suspect this is outrage is partially motivated by the desire of conservatives to falsely paint liberals as socialists or Communists, such as with the absurd claims that a moderate such as Barack Obama is a socialist. To the conservative mind, the mainstream media represents liberals, especially when they fail to differentiate the evening commentary shows on MSNBC from the rest of NBC. There are rare examples, such as the absurd argument I noted a couple of weeks ago at Salon to nationalize the news media, but putting aside such outliers, there no meaningful interest in Marxist-style socialism or Communism on the left. In contrast, I would think that today’s Republicans would love modern Russia. Between its homophobia and substitution of a plutocracy for a working market economy, Russia has become an example of the end-result of the Republican platform.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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The Absolutely Most Absurd Thing I Have Ever Read In A Liberal Blog–Nationalizing The News Media

Often the right looks ridiculous by raising the specter of Communism in response to programs from the left, such as with labeling the Affordable Care Act a government takeover of health care despite being based upon expanding private insurance coverage. I would think that more intelligent conservatives would avoid this line of argument. But what happens when it is the right argument and conservatives can’t legitimately make it without looking like the boy who cried wolf one too many times?After reading this absurd article by Fred Jerome at Salon, I’ll lend them a hand, and perhaps provide them with some cover. On this topic, sensible liberals and the right wing should be aligned in opposing this idea. Outcomes such a what occurred in the Soviet Union or Communist China are exactly what we should fear by this insane proposal to nationalize the news media.

The article begins:

Imagine a world without the New York Times, Fox News, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and countless other tools used by the 1 percent to rule and fool.
In a socialist society run by and for the working people it represents, the mega-monopolies like Walmart, Halliburton, Exxon-Mobil, and the corporations that run the tightly controlled “mainstream media” will be a thing of the past.

Jerome does have some valid criticism of the media. The point is not that there aren’t problems with the media as it now exists, and with the concentration of ownership in so few hands. The problem is that his solution would be far worse. He gives lots of bromides such as:

A democratic, accessible-to-all media will move to center stage in a socialist USA. In some ways this democratization of the media is already happening on the Internet. But the government’s ability to spy on and even turn off the Internet belies any real democracy. In a socialist democracy, working people will control the political process, the way in which they make a living, and collectively and individually, they will influence mass culture. The Internet will be a powerful and democratizing tool in this effort…

In a socialist society a portion of the media would be reserved for news disseminated by the democratically elected governing bodies, that is, working people elected by and for working people.

But state ownership is not the only way media can represent the interests of working people, to speak with or through their voices. In most cases, the media would be owned and operated by working-class organizations—labor unions, neighborhood associations, and cultural centers.

So news (and views) in a socialist society will be brought to you by a plethora of noncommercial sponsors. The government media will report on and discuss, for example, the major government plans for production, how to improve education, and more. But other media—newspapers, TV and radio stations, and Web sites sponsored by workers’ organizations, cultural organizations, youth groups, sports teams, and neighborhood groups will report on issues specific to their interests.

The media has many faults, but shutting it down by nationalization could only lead to tyranny. The standard corporate-run media has its faults, and of course there is Fox. Attempting to shut down and nationalize any of them, even Fox, would be a tremendous blow against liberty. With all their faults, The New York Times, McClatchy, PBS, and other parts of the news media still provide a valuable source of information. Fox might be primarily propaganda, but defending freedom of speech includes those we disagree with (while we take every opportunity to also expose them).

Reading Jerome’s article is enough to make me feel like reading some Ayn Rand for balance. While Rand made many mistakes in her over-reaction to her experiences under Communism, her warnings would be valid in this case. The Blaze is also right in responding that

…it has been demonstrated time and time again throughout history that a government-controlled media is not a free media. The ease with which the government and labor unions would be able to censor the news is a chilling prospect to imagine. We would suddenly find ourselves in a world where free speech in the media would first have to be “approved.”

It is a shame that some conservative bloggers have given into the temptation to claim that this lunacy represents liberal beliefs, when this is the opposite of liberalism.

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Government Sells Off Stake In General Motors, Contradicting Conservative Predictions Of Impending Socialism

While Obama’s poll numbers remain down from last year, there has been good news this week. Following a poor roll out, the number of people obtaining health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act has jumped significantly, and the number should grow as two deadlines for January coverage and for avoiding penalties approach. Another major success of the Obama administration was seen this week without very much attention. The government sold its last shares in General Motors. Beyond the obvious benefits to General Motors and the Michigan economy, this was a financial success for the government when tax revenue and money saved on unemployment  claims is taken into consideration.

This is also a  philosophical victory.  Despite record corporate profits and stock market gains under Obama, many on the right wing persist in calling him a socialist. The government investment in General Motors, called by conservatives Government Motors, was a major part of this argument. I recall many conspiracy theories on conservative blogs which predicted that by now the government would have completely nationalized General Motors and moved on to other companies. Of course to those in touch with reality, it was clear that the Obama administration saw involvement in General Motors as a desperation measure, and not something they desired to do.

Conspiracy theories of further nationalization of the means of production were not limited to fringe bloggers. Via Steve Benen, Think Progress collected these predictions in 2010. Not all are as extreme in predicting socialism, but all were wrong:

Rep. John Boehner (R-OH): “Does anyone really believe that politicians and bureaucrats in Washington can successfully steer a multi-national corporation to economic viability?” [6/1/09]

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL): “It’s basically going to be a government-owned, government-run company. …It’s the road toward socialism.” [5/29/09]

RNC Chairman Michael Steele: “No matter how much the President spins GM’s bankruptcy as good for the economy, it is nothing more than another government grab of a private company and another handout to the union cronies who helped bankroll his presidential campaign.” [6/1/2009]

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC): “Now the government has forced taxpayers to buy these failing companies without any plausible plan for profitability. Does anyone think the same government that plans to double the national debt in five years will turn GM around in the same time?” [6/2/09]

Rep. Tom Price (R-GA): “Unfortunately, this is just another sad chapter in President Obama’s eager campaign to interject his administration in the private sector’s business dealings.” [6/2/09]

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX): The auto company rescues “have been the leading edge of the Obama administration’s war on capitalism.” [7/22/09]

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ): When government gets involved in a company, “the disaster that follows is predictable.” [7/22/09]

Steve also added this prediction from Mitt Romney:

To put it mildly, this isn’t what Romney expected. In 2009, Mr. “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” was so certain Obama’s policy would fail, he said Americans could “kiss the American automotive industry goodbye” if the administration’s policy was implemented. Indeed, at the time, Romney called the White House plan “tragic” and “a very sad circumstance for this country.” He wrote an April 2009 piece in which he said Obama’s plan “would make GM the living dead.”

 

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In America, Even Most Of The Left Does Not See Socialism As The Answer

Conservatives have been claiming that Barack Obama is a socialist despite his centrist, pro-business economic policies. I’ve often wondered how they would react to actual socialists. Of course they would have a hard time finding many actual socialists any more among those with any degree of influence in the United States government. Robert Reich is pretty far left by American standards but even he argues that The Answer Isn’t Socialism; It’s Capitalism That Better Spreads the Benefits of the Productivity Revolution.

Francois Hollande’s victory doesn’t and shouldn’t mean a movement toward socialism in Europe or elsewhere. Socialism isn’t the answer to the basic problem haunting all rich nations.

The answer is to reform capitalism. The world’s productivity revolution is outpacing the political will of rich societies to fairly distribute its benefits. The result is widening inequality coupled with slow growth and stubbornly high unemployment….

Those on the right who see no role for government in the economy would find much to object to in Reich’s views, and perhaps, if they are  honest, would see the difference between his views and Obama’s more moderate economic views. This would provide a framework for a far more meaningful debate than the current right wing arguments that Obama is a socialist.

 

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GOP Lie Of The Day: Obama Did Not Call Americans Lazy

Anyone who calls Obama’s economic policies socialist is far too ignorant of both economics and Obama’s policies to be taken seriously, and the fact that such a claim came from a candidate for the Republican nomination shows once again how intellectually bankrupt the GOP has become.  Rick Perry went beyond calling Obama’s policies socialist his new ad. He also distorted a statement from Obama to falsely claim that Obama called American’s lazy. Here is the video and  text of Perry’s ad:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=8_NJgKoBERM

Video of President Obama: “We’ve been a little bit lazy I think over the last couple of decades.”

Rick Perry: “Can you believe that? That’s what our President thinks is wrong with America? That Americans are lazy? That’s pathetic. It’s time to clean house in Washington.”

“It’s time for a Balanced Budget Amendment that forces Washington to stop overspending. If Congress balks, cut their pay and send them home.”

“Obama’s socialist policies are bankrupting America. We must stop him now. I’m Rick Perry. I approve this message.”

David Weigel has posted what Obama really said, in context at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, noting that “the ‘lazy’people in this reference are bureaucrats, not average Americans.”

QUESTION: I think one related question, looking at the world from the Chinese side, is what they would characterize as impediments to investment in the United States. And so that discussion I’m sure will be part of whatever dialogue you have. And so how are you thinking about that?

OBAMA: Well, this is an issue, generally. I think it’s important to remember that the United States is still the largest recipient of foreign investment in the world. And there are a lot of things that make foreign investors see the U.S. as a great opportunity — our stability, our openness, our innovative free market culture.

But we’ve been a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple of decades. We’ve kind of taken for granted — well, people will want to come here and we aren’t out there hungry, selling America and trying to attract new business into America. And so one of things that my administration has done is set up something called SelectUSA that organizes all the government agencies to work with state and local governments where they’re seeking assistance from us, to go out there and make it easier for foreign investors to build a plant in the United States and put outstanding U.S. workers back to work in the United States of America.

Political Punch also analyzed the ad and states that Perry’s ad was distorting Obama’s comments. The DNC has  responded with this video:

Of course, as the Republicans have no rational arguments to make regarding the economy, other Republicans including Mitt Romney are running with this false claim and we will probably continue to hear it. Taking comments out of context, or outright lying about the beliefs of their opponents, is one of the most common tactics used by the right wing. They know that the best chance to keep people from voting Democratic is to provide a false view as to what Democrats believe, considering that numerous polls have shown that most Americans support Democratic policies even if they do not realize that the policies are those promoted by Democrats.

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Is Barack Obama A Centrist?

On line polls have minimal meaning but I found this one at The Economist interesting. If an American conservative magazine were to have a poll as to Barack  Obama’s ideology, a majority of their readership would be deluded enough to claim he is a socialist. Of course to uninformed conservatives, socialism means a slight increase in the marginal tax rate on millionaires as opposed to its actual meaning of public ownership of the means of production.

Readers of The Economist are more in touch with reality than readers of American conservative publications. The Economist  asked if Barack Obama is a centrist. At present most of their readers believe he is a centrist by an  almost two to one margin:

Of course a centrist remains far more liberal than today’s ultra-right wing Republican Party so I don’t want to hear any of the Bush2 nonsense which comes from some on the far left.

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The Changing Meaning of Words

Old definition: Socialism is public ownership of the means of production.

New definition in teabagger-inspired America: Socialism is a few percentage point increase in the marginal tax rate on multimillionaires.

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Fox Exec Admits They Made Up All That Stuff About Obama And Health Care Reform

While the previous post points out how friendly to business Barack Obama has been, the right wing has concentrated on portraying a centrist such as Obama as a socialist. Of course that was primarily a matter of strategy, as the extremists dominating the Republican Party saw a better chance for success by trying to convince voters that it was actually Obama who was the extremist, regardless of how ridiculous that argument is. Many making that argument realized it was absurd. Bill Sammon, who led the way for the Republican’s media outlet (Fox) to make this claim, has even admitted that it was untrue. Howard Kurtz wrote:

In the final stretch of the 2008 campaign, a Fox News executive repeatedly questioned on the air whether Barack Obama believed in socialism.

Now it turns out he didn’t really believe what he was saying.

Bill Sammon, now the network’s vice president and Washington managing editor, acknowledged the following year that he was just engaging in “mischievous speculation” in raising the charge. In fact, Sammon said he “privately” believed that the socialism allegation was “rather far-fetched.”

These remarks, unearthed by the liberal advocacy group Media Matters, raise the question of whether Sammon, who oversees Washington news coverage for Fox News, was deliberately trying to sabotage the Democratic presidential candidate. He has come under fire before for memos he sent to the network’s staff that have seemed less than fair and balanced.

Sammon’s admission came on a 2009 Mediterranean cruise—cabin rates ranged as high as $37,600 per couple—sponsored by conservative Hillsdale College.

Kurtz went on to discuss how Sammon had Fox distort the news in covering the health care reform debate along with distorting Obama’s economic views.

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Quote of the Day

“They say that Japan’s rigorous building codes and regulations saved thousands of lives. Or as Republican here saw it, it fostered a socialist anti-business environment that’s worse than being dead.” –Bill Maher

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Capitalism, Socialism, and The State of the Union Address

Bush speech writer David Frum has presented his version of what tonight’s State of the Union Address should be. Here’s one section which Obama might really consider using–or at least conservatives should consider before repeating any more claims that Obama is a socialist:

We can see the future of a better economy already emerging.

Over the past twelve months, we have created more than one million net new jobs in the private sector — while government employment has shrunk by more than 250,000.

Corporate profitability has reached record highs, meaning that companies can afford to hire as demand revives.

Including dividends, the stock market has gained more than 10 percent this year.

If this is “socialism,” what would capitalism look like?

As for the actual speech, Jake Tapper reports Obama will propose a freeze on non-security related discretionary spending and a ban on earmarks. Considering that Republicans have both been speaking out against earmarks while also using them I wonder whether Republicans will go along with Obama on this or suddenly find reasons to defend earmarks.
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