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Explain That To Me

September 28th, 2009

Obama apparently claims that at the G20 summit, a foreign leader asked him this:

“We don’t understand it. You’re trying to make sure everybody has health care and they’re putting a Hitler mustache on you — I don’t — that doesn’t make sense to me. Explain that to me.”

Interesting question; it shines a light on the fact that, without the context of American politics and how it has been run over the past 20-30 years, as well as a certain understanding of American culture in general, the actions of conservatives in the United States right now are completely and utterly baffling, to the point where they look literally insane. It’s like the old story where you try to save a man who is drowning in a river, and when you finally get him up on the shore, he calls you a son of a bitch. Except in the only context where that story makes sense, the man was trying to commit suicide–which one would not assume is the intent of right-wingers today.

However, it has come to the point where that is effectively what right-wingers are, in fact, doing.

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  1. Tim Kane
    September 28th, 2009 at 12:54 | #1

    Back in 2000, I used to almost not care about politics at all. I used to think that basically, no matter how someone campaigned, when he got in office circumstances dictated that he do the pragmatic thing, and so they basically did that.

    I was born in 1960, my awareness of politics didn’t emerge until I was 7, so even the Joe McCarthy wingnut era seemed like ancient history to me. I saw only sane politics. By 1971, I came to believe firmly in the wisdome of separation of church and state, and so believed firmly in the institutions of the American political system, and when I heard the gospel of Mathew say the same thing at mass, I decided I could generally accept the Catholicism my parents raised me in.

    During the 2000 election, almost by happenstance, I read a column by Robert Scheer at a McDonalds in Omaha, Nebraska when I stopped their to use a wash room. In that column he pointed out how candidate Bush’s International adviser, Condaleeza Rice, was advocated a fundamental restructuring of NATO, what she called a realignment of tasks: We take care of stuff in North America, and the Europeans take care of Europe (perhaps a rejection of Clinton’s success in the Balkans).

    Reading this, profoundly shocked me as being very very very very irresponsible, and very very very very very very very very very stupid – especially coming from the United States.

    NATO is an all for one, one for all alliance. As Scheer pointed out, realigning tasks meant effectively destroying NATO. This was immensely insane. I still can’t get over she said that, and it’s been ten years later.

    In 2000, NATO was a huge God send to the United States. For the price of almost token diplomacy, it put the bulk of the 10 most richest countries (other than Japan) at America’s disposal. It was a force multiplier. It was the cornerstone of a network of alliances that created immense stability in the free world, allowing prosperity to reign without enduring the immense transaction cost of instability. Trade and investment followed NATO.

    It was at that point I realized that if Bush got elected, and carried through on stuff, it was, for all intents and purposes, would lead to the down fall of the United States.

    Soon he was ‘unsigning’ treaties we had with other countries. He was implementing tax cuts, looting the treasury and giving massive amounts of money to the rich, in other words, poring the coals on supply side economics even though everything suggested that we had reached supply-side saturation (deflationary recession, investment bubble, demand for deregulation of markets) and so demand side was urgently needed.

    What passes for conservative ideology then, both in economics and international affairs, and implemented under Bush, is simply and profoundly the antithesis of sound civics. To be a conservative these days requires illiteracy in the most remedial areas of civics, or pathological dishonesty or insanity.

    Since their philosophy of government is one that is absurd and disasterous, they are left to painting Hitler mustaches on Obama’s picture. The amazing thing is that so many people have bought into the absurdity even though the evidence abounds all around us that it is ruining the United States. They simply want to pore the coals on ruining the United States, and then blame it on the Democrats for not letting them have even more of their own way.

  2. Troy
    September 28th, 2009 at 13:52 | #2

    @Tim Kane

    heh, I can echo 95%, just change “1960” to “1967”.

    In my analysis, conservatives are profoundly anti-redistributive, ie. government services should only be pay-for-play: “House burning down? Hope you had private fire insurance, you shmuck.” “Can’t afford college? Shoulda chosen better parents, here’s a loan application for you, good luck.” Either they fail to see the feedback effects the rich/poor divide engenders, or since they are on the rich side of this divide they will fight for it.

    Conservatives of course profoundly mistrust secular mass movements. They are afraid of having Stalinism or what have you established in this country, where the traditional liberties and privileges enjoyed by God-fearing communities are lost forever.

    When you are reasonably happy with the status quo, or generally fearful of change from the status quo, you are a conservative. It’s almost a personality disorder on the order of profound pessimism — we can’t make our society better through government action so we shouldn’t try.

    I read this quote from Grover Cleveland in 1887:

    “When we consider that the theory of our institutions guarantees to every citizen the full enjoyment of all the fruits of his industry and enterprise, with only such deduction as may be his share toward the careful and economical maintenance of the Government which protects him, it is plain that the exaction of more than this is indefensible extortion and a culpable betrayal of American fairness and justice… The public Treasury, which should only exist as a conduit conveying the people’s tribute to its legitimate objects of expenditure, becomes a hoarding place for money needlessly withdrawn from trade and the people’s use, thus crippling our national energies, suspending our country’s development, preventing investment in productive enterprise, threatening financial disturbance, and inviting schemes of public plunder.”

    Now, that sounds almost reasonable if not prophetic. But I think the conservative argument ignores the profound harm that private wealth can effect on the economy. You can replace “private plunder” in that last line and have an entirely parallel analysis of the situation. I’ll take a Democracy over a Plutocracy, TYVM, though either can fall into Kleptocracy without smart heads and strong hands at the wheel.

  3. Luis
    September 28th, 2009 at 16:37 | #3

    Re: being anti-redistributive. These people fail to recognize the fact that the economy is an engine, and that money floats to the top. Because capitalism means that people pay more for an object than its actual worth, that means that money has a natural tendency to rise; the more money a person or a group has, the better they become at encouraging this upward flow. However, once all the wealth has risen, there’s not much more to rise; the majority of people are dirt-poor and can’t buy the things that are produced. This might be OK for the rich–they can live the high life on the money they’ve amassed–but it’s death for the country, which depends on jobs and taxes to operate. You lose the ability to fund all the things that Americans have come to expect–national defense, public infrastructure, education, etc. In order to make the engine operate, the society/government must work to keep the money flowing; leave enough in the hands of the rich to let them enjoy their wealth, but encourage enough to be invested or spent “downwards” so that jobs can be generated and the economy kept healthy.

    This is what the right wing has come to oppose. And not really even redistribution–they’re fine with redistribution upwards–it’s just opposition to poor people getting something without “earning” it. Rich people always earn what they get, in the eyes of the right–they must have earned whatever they have somehow, they’re rich, after all! We see it in Wall Street’s angry response to companies paying workers a living wage and giving them decent benefits, instead of more money for shareholders and executives. We see it is opposition to any tax, but especially ones on the wealthy and corporations (there are very few new taxes aimed at the lower classes in any case–those taxes already exist). We see it when people don’t take offense at a trillion handed over to white-collar criminals, but howls of protest that a poor family might get a dollar’s more of food stamps. It is a fundamental feeling that poor people are welfare queens and lazy leeches who just aren’t working hard enough, while wealthy people are hard-working folk who got everything by applying elbow grease and good ol’ American know-how and ingenuity. And the poor people who approve of this have bought into this stereotype and want to think they’re part of the latter group.

    The right wing seems to be made up of two groups of people. One is a group of people who either have their “screw you” money or are on their way to getting it, and don’t want to pay their share to keep society going. The amazing thing is that the bulk of the right wing is made up of the other group, call them the “Joe the Plumbers”–people who are not doing very well financially, but have bought into the belief that (a) they will be rich someday because they’re part of that second group of people who rightfully become rich all by their lonesomes (and if they don’t they can only blame themselves), and (b) the taxes aimed at the rich somehow have a bad effect on them even before they get rich as they surely someday will. Joe the Plumber was an excellent example of this: he became famous by confronting Obama with a fictitious misrepresentation of himself as someone who would soon buy the company he worked for and so would be “hit” by Obama’s taxes. People like him buy into the crap that corporations put out about how taxes on the giants are actually aimed at “small business owners,” or how things like a minimum wage hike to a point where someone working 60 hours a week could barely get by will lead to millions losing their jobs altogether. He confused his fantasy, his pipe dream of what he wanted to be with what he actually was, all while being ignorant of the bigger picture, which reveals an engine that makes what he feels is important possible in the first place.

    But at the root, you have people who are simply selfish, petty, uninformed, easily scared, and downright stupid, like the tea baggers at town halls who have Medicare and oppose universal health care because they believe the scare campaign that it will put their own health care at risk.

    This is the same bunch who claim that we are a “Christian Nation,” by the way–a nation whose laws and morality are based upon Christianity. Riiiiiigghhhtt.

  4. Troy
    September 28th, 2009 at 18:03 | #4


    but have bought into the belief that (a) they will be rich someday because they’re part of that second group of people who rightfully become rich all by their lonesomes (and if they don’t they can only blame themselves), and (b) the taxes aimed at the rich somehow have a bad effect on them even before they get rich as they surely someday will.

    I think their perspective is that if there’s not enough money to give out to everyone without “overtaxing” the wealthy who have it all, then nobody should be getting it.

    This ties into Part (b), which is something of a reverse broken window fallacy, taking money away from the wealthy who “earned” it means the economy is weakened because the wealthy have less money to invest into hiring employees to work for them.

    This is missing the point that government can and does spend on wealth-creation enterprise just as well as the extreme wealthy that are being taxed so “unfairly”.

    As for the Christianists, they want to govern according to their particular denominational teachings, not the New Testament per se. I actually attended an Orange County CA evangelistic church that had a Republican guest speaker from Wall Builders telling the congregation that the US was rightfully founded on Christian principles, that the framers were largely Christian, etc etc. It is an appealing mythology, that the US has been hijacked by “community organizers” and is under attack by Satan and his minions in the Democratic party. My mom basically falls into this camp so I see it firsthand.

    But enough about the US! You should do more blogging about Japanese economics and politics, Luis. Japan, too has its hereditary wealthy class and its underclass, though with Tokyo at least the neighborhoods aren’t so radically segregated. (Or is it that the really poor people of the city are just pushed out of the 23-wards entirely???).

    I’ll hopefully be seeing another 30-40 years of this play out; not sure which economy is going to restructure itself better, the Japanese or the American. I think the population decline in Japan can be a blessing in disguise. Fewer people mean fewer resources and more work for all. Kids are the ultimate “broken window” fallacy! I wonder if the yen is going to 50 or 150. Kinda depends on what happens with the Yuan. The Yuan should be at parity instead of 7 to 1 USD.

  5. Tim Kane
    September 29th, 2009 at 00:41 | #5

    Troy: Not sure that I understood everything in that first paragraph, but I got a lot out of what you said.

    Luis: Nice job on the analogy of money floating to the top, and when it does it takes with it the purchasing power from the rest of the commercial economy, that is to say, demand. That is THE issue. If we had a liberal press those points would get played non-stop.

    The Christianist thing converges with the Capitalist through John Calvin.

    We are, historically, a Calvinist nation.

    John Calvin said only the elect make it to heaven. How can you tell the elect? He’s the one God bestows favor on, in other words, wealth.

    Even before we were a nation, this society assumed poverty with moral failure and wealth with moral superiority. You get what you deserve. That sort of thing.

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