Assessing Right Wing Assessments of Phony “Liberal Mythology.”

This was posted at The Weekly Standard this past week, and I found it interesting. This is kind of a microcosm of how the far right thinks liberals – or at least the folks they refer to as “liberals” – actually think. It actually reveals the level of delusion most on the far right suffer under, which is substantial. Keep in mind, according to his biographical blurb at the end, this guy has written a book about political campaigns. The first thing I learned about political campaigns was “know your opposition.” He obviously knows nothing about his.  

The article lists the top ten “myths” we liberals supposedly live under. As usual, this is posted in its entirety, with my comments IN RED. You can click on the article’s title to see the original.

Mugged by Mythology 

Liberals believe the darnedest things.

SEP 12, 2011, VOL. 16, NO. 48 • BY JEFF BERGNER

Sometimes talking with liberals is perplexing. You never know what claim they will make next or what name they will call you. Take David Axelrod’s response to Standard & Poor’s recent credit action: He calls it the “Tea Party downgrade.” Amazingly, he blames the United States’ loss of its AAA bond rating on the one group that has sounded the alarm about our fiscal crisis. How did the president’s leading adviser come up with a label so detached from reality? 

See how he starts? Now, here’s the question I have here already; if you’re posting about how we “liberals” are operating under a series of false assumptions, why would you start by flaming David Axelrod for something he said that is absolutely correct?

There was no actual “debt ceiling crisis.” The debt ceiling has nothing to do with spending whatsoever; it has to do with paying interest on the debt the Republicans have been running up over the last 30 years, when they claimed the economy was great. The “one group that has sounded the alarm about our fiscal crisis” actually deserves all of the blame, because what they were “sounding the alarm” about was completely made up. There is no “fiscal crisis” with regard to our current level of debt; it’s not even unprecedented. There is no doubt that we could easily pay back the money we owe, IF we take the steps necessary to raise revenues, which is something Tea Party folks are absolutely unwilling to do.

If the teabaggers (the name they gave themselves; don’t blame me) truly cared about reducing the debt, they wouldn’t keep insisting that oil companies get billions of dollars in tax breaks, they would have insisted on closing tax loopholes, and they would have demanded that the Bush tax cuts be allowed to expire for the very rich.

The FACT is, the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, along with the relative wimpiness of the Republican House leadership, created a problem where there was none, and deserves the full blame for S&P’s downgrade.

If you don’t believe me, will you believe S&P themselves? This is from their rationale for the downgrade:

The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America's governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy. Despite this year's wide-ranging debate, in our view, the differences between political parties have proven to be extraordinarily difficult to bridge, and, as we see it, the resulting agreement fell well short of the comprehensive fiscal consolidation program that some proponents had envisaged until quite recently. Republicans and Democrats have only been able to agree to relatively modest savings on discretionary spending while delegating to the Select Committee decisions on more comprehensive measures. It appears that for now, new revenues have dropped down on the menu of policy options. In addition, the plan envisions only minor policy changes on Medicare and little change in other entitlements, the containment of which we and most other independent observers regard as key to long-term fiscal sustainability.

Our opinion is that elected officials remain wary of tackling the structural issues required to effectively address the rising U.S. public debt burden in a manner consistent with a 'AAA' rating and with 'AAA' rated sovereign peers In our view, the difficulty in framing a consensus on fiscal policy weakens the government's ability to manage public finances and diverts attention from the debate over how to achieve more balanced and dynamic economic growth in an era of fiscal stringency and private-sector deleveraging (ibid). A new political consensus might (or might not) emerge after the 2012 elections, but we believe that by then, the government debt burden will likely be higher, the needed medium-term fiscal adjustment potentially greater, and the inflection point on the U.S. population's demographics and other age-related spending drivers closer at hand.

There is no way to read the above and not blame the Tea Party. What S&P is very clearly saying is that the current incarnation of the Republican Party is playing political games with the credit rating of the United States, which is unprecedented. Republicans have run Congress before and this sort of thing never happened; what could have changed?

Okay, on with these myths:

Comforting as it would be to dismiss this as a one-off comment, Axelrod’s words spring from the mental universe of liberalism. It is a vast sphere of assumptions that are found nowhere else. In an effort to promote the civility of debate that is so much in demand these days, here is a compendium of the myths underlying some of the strange things liberals say.

Myth #1: Conservatives are outside the American mainstream. Conservatives can’t be mainstream because it is liberals who speak for the American people. The fact that 41 percent of Americans identify themselves as conservative and only 21 percent as liberal doesn’t matter—liberals are the guardians of the genuine interests of the American people. In the liberal imagination, the political spectrum consists of left, center, right, and far right. The most conservative senators—the Jim DeMints and Rand Pauls—are far right. But notice the absence of far left. In 2007, the most liberal of all 100 senators was Barack Obama, yet you will comb the mainstream media in vain to find a single reference to him or anyone else in American politics as far left. Liberals simply define the center as somewhere near where they are and consign vast swaths of the electorate to a place outside polite society called the far right.

This is an interesting one. I do agree that the number of people who self-identify as one thing or another is a really bad way to determine whether or something like this qualifies as “myth.” After all, definitions of “conservative” and “liberal” are, by definition, subjective.

I happen to think the “mainstream” is relatively conservative, at least compared to me. But the fake “conservatism” represented by rags such as The Weekly Standard and the current incarnation of the Republican Party bears no resemblance to what actual conservatives believe, and are quite far outside the actual “mainstream.”

The key to determining what the “mainstream” believes is to look at the issues, not what people call themselves. So, let’s look at a few issues from a “mainstream” point of view.

  • Most Americans LIKE Social Security and Medicare (here) and (here), and would never even THINK of cutting them to pieces, or replacing them with privatized plans.  The current incarnation of the Republican Party has voted to replace Medicare completely, and has repeatedly proposed replacing Social Security with a privatized retirement regime over the last decade.
  • Most Americans think everyone should be covered by a universal health insurance system (here). Now, we may disagree on how to get there, but the Republican Party has NEVER made a proposal that changed the status quo to any significant degree, and they state as their full intention to kill the entire health care plan, as passed by Congress in 2010.
  • Most Americans revere public schools and love teachers (here). Yet today’s Republican Party is continually trying to cut education spending and they constantly demonize teachers.
  • Most Americans think abortion should be legal most of the time (here), and support the federal law that requires health insurers to provide birth control and other preventive services to the insured. Yet, the current Republican Party has passed several bills this year alone designed to restrict access to abortion even more than it already has, and they want to repeal that provision.
  • And most Americans support higher taxes on millionaires in order to reduce the debt. (here) and (here)The current Republican Party keeps signing “pledges” promising no tax increases on anyone under any circumstances.

And let’s get real; if between 81-87% of Americans disapprove of the job the Republican-led Congress is doing (here), how “mainstream” could the right wing be?

Myth #2: Conservatives represent special interests. If liberals represent the American people, whom do conservatives represent? They are in bed with “special interests.” Listening to liberals, you would never guess that the titans of Wall Street regularly fill the coffers of Democratic candidates, or that the pharmaceutical industry couldn’t wait to cut a special deal on Obamacare, or that well-paid public-sector union leaders regularly extract generous salaries and benefits from their Democratic allies, or that the education unions put their own interests ahead of American youth, or that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bask in the protection of Democrats in Congress, or that many so-called leaders of minority communities actually have few real followers but rely on liberal policies and laws for the status they claim. In fact, liberalism is one nonstop orgy of special pleading and identity politics. 

Let’s make something clear at the outset; ALL politicians represent “special interests.” Therefore, there is a “duh” factor in even making the above statement.  

But as I pointed out in my previous post regarding the “both parties are the same” nonsense (here), Republicans tend to represent huge industries and corporations, while Democrats tend to represent labor unions, trial lawyers and individual workers. Democrats keep passing laws that make the lives of the average American better, and Republicans oppose them. Take health care for a start; the health care bill, for all of its (mostly exaggerated) faults, insures an extra 30 million people, prevents insurance companies from refusing to pay legitimate claims and forces them to spend at least 80% of premiums on health care.  Republicans want to kill it; all of it. Now, I would like the author to explain to me how this isn’t representing “(very) special interests.” Health insurance companies are NOT a “special interest”? Their entire business is built upon spending as little as possible on health care for its customers.

And how is advocating for the continuation of tax breaks for oil companies, while actively trying to abolish teachers’ unions in Wisconsin and other states NOT “represent(ing) special interests”? Check the current price of a gallon of gas for a clue; over the last several months, the price of a barrel of oil has gone down almost 30%, while the price of a gallon of gas has gone down 15%. Yet, the only people demanding a look into the problem are Democrats.

Myth #3: The Republican party is moving to the right. When things go wrong for liberals, as they did in last November’s elections, and politics seems especially divisive, it is never because liberals have moved out of the mainstream. There’s only one possible explanation: Republicans must be moving to the right. But in 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected, Republicans stood for lower taxes, less federal spending, smaller deficits, less government regulation, a strong defense, free trade, limits on abortion, and First and Second Amendment rights. Sound familiar? This is the platform of today’s Republicans. The Democratic party, however, has careened far to the left. Who in 1980 could have imagined today’s federal budget of $3.6 trillion, 25 percent of GDP? Or today’s deficit of $1.3 trillion, up from just $161 billion in 2007? Or today’s national debt of $15 trillion? Or today’s defense spending below 4 percent of GDP? Or government control of health care and automobile companies and banks? Or marriage itself redefined? Who’s kidding whom here?

This one is the easiest to laugh at. Reagan, Goldwater and John McCain – 2000 edition are all “too liberal” for today’s Republican Party. The current Republicans in Congress are falling all over each other to be more right wing than anyone before them, and they’re being led around by the nose by the most radical element to take over any major political party in US history.  They have moved WAY to the right.  

As for what the Republicans “stood for in 1980,” here’s the funny thing. They said a lot of those things, but when they were proven to not be workable, they were scrapped. Today’s Republican Party still pushed supply-side economics, even though even the architect of the approach, David Stockman, has denounced it and called it nonsense. They swear tax cuts being higher revenues, despite the fact that such a thing has never happened. They refuse to increase the minimum wage, and claim that doing so has a negative effect on the economy, even though the economy usually expands when that happens.

The thing is, Republicans used to adjust their tactics when stupid policies were proven not to work. Now, they move them forward no matter what. That’s a far more extremist attitude than Reagan ever took. The current Republican Party is FAR more right wing than previous incarnations. If you doubt that, ask any long-time Republican.

As for the Democratic Party “careen(ing) far to the left,” is this guy joking?

While I don’t think Democrats have moved as far to the right as many on the left claim, they certainly haven’t become an extension of the Black Panthers or Students for a Democratic Society.  While progressives still feel comfortable in the Democratic Party, they hardly run it anymore. I, for one, have been fighting the DLC for the last 20 years or so. Democrats are NOT careening left; they comfortably hug the political center. The only way they could be seen as “far left” is if (ready for the irony?) the person viewing is viewing them from the far right.

And look at the examples this guy uses to “prove” how “liberal” Democrats are these days. Let me clue him in. About 90% of the current level of debt was added by Republicans, not “liberal Democrats.” In fact, more than one-third of the current budget deficit is going to pay the interest on just the debt that Republicans have added since the day Reagan took office. In fact, in the last 30 years, the only presidents who have overseen a reduction in the federal budget deficit are Clinton and Obama. Clinton handed Bush and the Republican Congress a budget surplus, with a projected reduction in the total amount of debt to about $4 trillion. Bush handed Obama a collapsed economy and a debt of upwards of $13 trillion, with a projected deficit of nearly $2 trillion. If piling up debt is how one defines a liberal, then Bush was our most liberal president, wouldn’t you say?

And why would defense spending have to be more than 4% of GDP, anyway? We’re not exactly in the middle of World War II. Shouldn’t a “fiscal conservative” be demanding a smaller defense budget?

Myth #4: The Tea Party is dangerous and extreme. How then to account for the erroneous belief that Republicans have moved to the right? Why, the Tea Party! It would be hard to conjure up a more ridiculous candidate for a sinister force than this generally well-mannered and pacific political movement. Indeed, there’s a good argument that by focusing on the fiscal catastrophe staring America in the face rather than on social issues, the Tea Party has actually dampened political divisiveness. One more thing. Against baseless charges of racism, Tea Party defenders have done themselves no favor by responding, “Well, yes, there are fringe elements in all groups.” At the Tea Party rallies I have witnessed, there were not a few racists in evidence, but no racists. The relatively few minorities who spoke or attended were more than welcome; they were very much appreciated. Tea Party members wish there were more.

Whether or not they’re “dangerous,” the Tea Party IS extreme. And how blind do you have to be to claim there are no elements of racism among the teabaggers?

Take a look at THESE PICTURES AND VIDEOS for a clue.

You can’t claim to be a “mainstream conservative” and make excuses for the extremism coming from the teabaggers.

Myth #5: Ethnic minorities must be liberals. Why then must liberals detect nonexistent racism in the Tea Party? Because they speak for the people. They assume that, as groups which have suffered historical oppression, African Americans and other ethnic minorities simply must be liberals. Otherwise, the entire liberal narrative would be at risk. That’s why it is completely acceptable for liberals to vilify conservative blacks, whom they see as traitors to their group. Liberals feel free to attack these “Uncle Toms” personally, viciously, with the zeal of one rooting out apostasy. By the same token, liberals don’t actually have to do anything to merit the allegiance of minorities. Take a look at minority joblessness, inner city schools, and social breakdown (72 percent of African-American babies born out of wedlock): These are the fruits of many decades of liberal kindness at the federal, state, and local levels. But if more minorities succeeded, liberals would lose their reason for being.

Myth #6: Women are naturally liberals. Having suffered inequality, women too must be liberals, and conservative women must be traitors to their group. It’s quite all right to call them the ugliest names. Let’s be frank: In 2010 Republicans ran some pretty rough and ready, nontraditional candidates, both men and women. Who was singled out for special derision and condescension? Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Michele Bachmann, and of course Sarah Palin, who was not even running for anything. 

Seriously? I don’t think any actual liberals think any group of people HAS to be liberal. But I feel pretty certain that any black person who is right wing is pretty silly, and is working against his or her own best interests.

But see the difference there? The author apparently thinks there are only two choices available to Americans. You must either be “conservative” as he defines the word, or you must be “liberal,” again, as he defines the word. There is no middle ground. He simply cannot conceive of anyone who doesn’t fall into one of those two categories.

It’s not that “ethnic minorities and women have to be liberals. But when you look at the current Republican Party, and their attitude toward blacks, browns, immigrants, gays and women, it’s difficult to see how anyone in such a group (or poor, or working class) could consider themselves a natural constituency of the far right wing.

For example, look at the cherry-picked statistics the author uses to make whatever point is it he’s trying to make. Minority joblessness is whose fault, exactly? I mean, most businesses are owned by white men; does the author believe minorities are firing themselves? And the reason inner city schools are in bad shape is because of a 40-50 year period in which education spending was determined by tax receipts in the immediate area surrounding the school. But again; are minorities purposely living in these neighborhoods and sending their kids to these schools because they choose to? Or might it be because the white men who run businesses keep shipping their jobs overseas, so they’re left with scraps?

True liberals WANT minorities to succeed. Welfare programs themselves are not the reason for the failure of many minorities to make it. The reason they fail is because the assistance programs are inadequate to help them get a leg up. And just FYI to the author; more white people get assistance from those programs than minorities, and they don’t work any better for whites, because the Republican right wing is too cheap to make sure these programs work.

And the reason we are “condescending” to Christine O’Donnell, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann is because they’re idiots, not because they’re women.

In fact, the reason we call the right wing racist is because they single out minorities when they point to certain problems, and sexist because they only seem to admire women who are good looking but vacuous. What makes one a racist or sexist is the belief that people in a bad spot are there in part because of their race, ethnicity or sex.

Myth #7: Liberals take the country forward and conservatives take it backward. Behind all these illusions lies a deeper notion: History is moving “forward,” and liberals are on the “right side of history.” But there is no intrinsic forward and backward in the historical process; there are only competing visions of America, none of which is guaranteed to succeed. If history is marching somewhere, we don’t know where. And at any given moment, the cold night of tyranny is just as possible as the clear day of enlightenment. Every step has to be won and defended on the basis of what best serves the interests of the American people. That’s why earlier generations believed that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. And, by the way, wouldn’t it be interesting to know where liberals find the metaphysical foundations on which to rest their notions of “forward” and “backward”? Liberal orthodoxy denies a God-given moral order to the universe. Its secular “progress” is nothing but the fantasy of long-dead German philosophers. 

What I find funny/sad about this one is that the author apparently believes there is no such thing as progress. There IS an intrinsic “forward” and “backward” in the historical process. There has to be. Technology alone forces us to move forward. Every time we discover something new, to make our lives easier, society is forced to embrace it, and find a way to make it move us forward.

But we also have these two little documents in our history; the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. In the 235 years since the first one was signed, we haven’t actually lived up to the full promise of either one. At the time of our founding, some people owned other people, only landed white males had the right to vote, women had basically no rights, non-white, and even some white, immigrants had no rights whatsoever, and lots more.

Since then, we have come a long way, but we still haven’t achieved equal rights for all. We not only haven’t created a “more perfect union” as yet, but a number of other countries have become “more perfect” than we are. We’re the only country in the world in which someone can lose everything they have every worked for their entire life for getting sick or injured through no fault of their own. Even though we supposedly believe “all men are created equal,” we still put legal restrictions on their rights, based on how we feel about some of their consensual activities. And though we supposedly believe in the concept of “innocent until proven guilty,” we still have a strong tendency to assume guilt and treat everyone like a criminal until such time as they prove they’re not.

That doesn’t mean we can never go backward. For example, if we want to fix our current economic mess, we should emulate the approach that made us the greatest economic power in the world. Of course, we should do so without the virtual apartheid we operated under until the mid-1960s. We also need to rebuild our technology infrastructure, and lead the world away from the oily mess we led it into in the first place.  

But the overall movement of history is, and always has been, to move forward. Overall, if we’re not moving forward, we’re falling behind. The far right has been in charge and impeding progress for 32 years now, and the result has been the United States of America falling behind the rest of the world, even though we once had an insurmountable lead.

When did falling behind become acceptable? Better yet, when is moving backward, as this author suggests is an acceptable alternative?

But what’s especially galling about the diatribe above is the notion that right wingers are somehow acting in the best interests of the American people. Really? It’s been almost 9 months now, and the Republican House has passed a number of bills designed to pander to their farthest right segment of their base – bills they know will never become law – and have yet to even discuss the concept of job creation. Since the unemployment rate is the number one issue to most people right now, how are they acting in the best interests of the American people?

Myth #8: Liberals have moved beyond old-fashioned religion. Speaking of religion, those who cling to it are going backwards. They do not operate in what Barack Obama has called the world of “facts and science and argument.” Liberals have resolved once and for all—in their own minds—the irresolvable claims of reason and revelation, and reason has won. Nevertheless, in the real world, religion remains vital. That erstwhile paragon of the hard left, the former Soviet Union, failed to stamp out Christianity. The church is growing vigorously in China, despite Beijing’s every effort to repress and control it. The progressive liberal democracies of Europe are once again confronting the force of religious claims, this time of Islam. Liberals have not transcended religion; they are simply tone deaf to it. That’s why they fundamentally misunderstand Islam, closing their eyes to its teaching and practice in areas like marriage and women’s rights and freedom of conscience. This will not have good consequences.

The above is nothing short of insulting.

It assumes that liberals are somehow not only not religious, but actually anti-religious. The author assumes that religion and science can’t possibly live in the same realm. Apparently, he’s never been to Georgetown.

It’s very possible to believe in God and also believe in reason and science. And given that the vast majority of liberals, and certainly non-right wingers, claim a religious belief of some sort, why is it not insulting to refer to them as “tone-deaf” on religion.

Wanna talk tone deaf? What about self-described “Christians” who are pro-death penalty, and work to kill programs designed to help the poor?  

Myth #9: Good intentions are enough for liberals. But accurately judging consequences is less important to liberals than moving forward. Liberal programs do not represent testable social-policy experiments to be judged by their results. They represent compassion, so their critics are heartless. Money spent on these programs cannot be wasted because they are investments in people. Liberals are to be judged by the purity of their intentions. 

This post is a bit long, so I’m glad this one’s easy.

On the one hand, there is a small group of hard left liberals who apparently think saying all the right things is quite enough. I’ve spoken of them often in the past.

But the vast majority of liberals want progress. We want to elect good people who will actually make positive changes.

But let’s point to the irony in the above, shall we? The GOP claims they “intend” to be “fiscally responsible.”

Over the last 40 years, the only 3 presidents who have reduced the size of government are Carter, Bush 41 and Clinton. The only two to reduce the deficit were Clinton and Obama. When Republican George W Bush was handed a budget surplus and he and the Republican Congress spent like drunken sailors. They started two wars without even considering how to pay for them. They routinely sign pledges to never raise taxes on anyone, even when the government is short of money. They are so bad, Republican politicians are even telling taxpayers to go to hell when there’s a natural disaster, apparently unaware that it’s our money they’re in charge of.

If Republicans “intend” to be “fiscally responsible,” where is the actual action to back it up? 

Myth #10: No logical arguments need be made against conservatives. For liberals there are never two legitimate sides in a debate. There are only forward and backward, good intentions and bad intentions. It is not necessary to argue the merits of an issue with someone who is pointing backward; it is enough to locate that person as pointing backward. To do so is to make the case and prove the case. The result is predictable: The essence of liberal argument is ad hominem attack. Liberals do not confront arguments directly, any more than they confront religious claims directly; they go behind conservative arguments to vilify the messenger. If you disagree with liberal policy you are a xenophobe, a homophobe, an Islamophobe, a racist, an extremist, or lately a “terrorist.” As the president has said, you are too scared to think straight. Instead of answering your arguments, liberals aim to shut you up with snarky TV entertainment shows. 

This guy should read my blog. But more than that, he should note the complete lack of logical arguments coming from himself in a lame attempt to dispel these alleged “myths.”

Right wingers simply don’t make arguments based on logic. They make arguments based solely on emotion. And if he wants to see ad hominem,  he should read the comment section of any right wing web site. For that matter, compare Rush Limbaugh’s, Sean Hannity’s, Glenn Beck’s and Michael Savage’s radio shows with those of Stephanie Miller, Ed Schultz, Randi Rhodes and Thom Hartmann, and we’ll do an ad hominem count. I’m not going to claim there is no ad hominem coming from the left; it just isn’t our argument. For right wingers, the entire argument for the last three years has been “Obama sucks.”

A hundred years ago, the philosopher George Santayana cut to the core of this mentality. In his commentary on Goethe’s Faust, Santayana wrote of the modern liberal that “his ultimate satisfaction in his work is not founded on any good done, but on a passionate willfulness. He calls the thing he wants for others good, because he wants to bestow it on them, not because they naturally want it for themselves. Incapable of sympathy, he has a momentary pleasure in policy.” Just perfect. What this willful liberal does not admit is that decent, intelligent people who understand their own interests and understand liberal policies can still reject them.

Just as an aside, I’d like to note that Santayana’s assessment of modern far left liberals isn’t entirely wrong. Thinking you’re doing good simply because you have the “correct” view on issues is most unhelpful. But that attitude doesn’t represent most liberals, just the extreme left end if the spectrum.

Jeff Bergner has served in the legislative and executive branches of the federal government. He is coauthor (with Lisa Spiller) of Branding the Candidate, about political campaigns.


Comments are closed.