Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cycle of Stupidity

Earlier this week, Reason's Matt Welch brought to my attention what he referred to as a "hit piece" by the New Yorker's Jane Mayer on the very libertarian, ultra wealthy Charles and David Koch and their "secret war on Obama." Read the New Yorker piece, take a look at the links, and read Welch's criticism, because I'll only lay out the basics here:

The New Yorker piece is a conspiracy-oriented, connect the dots, info dump on the Koch brothers and their long history of donating money to libertarian and limited government causes (including the Cato Institute, which they helped to found). Apparently, lower taxes and limited government is good for the bottom line of Koch Industries ... so ... connect the dots. As Matt Welch points out, Mayer refers to left-leaning think tanks as "non-partisan watch-dogs" while free-market think tanks are "part of some covert, nefarious plot." I could go on, but you probably get the idea.

Fast forward to the weekend, where Sunday's New York Times ranthis column by Frank Rich, about the "billionaires bankrolling the tea party." Rich points his readers in the direction of Mayer's New Yorker piece and worries that the "Koch agenda is morphing into the Republican agenda," thanks to the tea parties. (Reason's Matt Welch has an additional response to Rich's piece.)

So where does that leave us? Matt Welch was pretty concise in nailing the think tank double standard and then there's the obvious response that a more free-market, libertarian-leaning government doesn't always serve the interests of big business. But conspiracy theories about following the money and other nuttiness aside, what does all of this say about the debate over the nature of our democratic system of government? Ultimately, not much. However serious a tone Mayer's initial New Yorker piece tries to take, it's an inherently unserious topic. A real hit piece would point out that the policy wonks, economists, and scientists working for, say, the Cato Institute are falsifying data and research in their various endeavors. But because that would be a ridiculous accusation for any legitimate think tank of any political stripe, we instead get to read about the Koch brothers and their funding. This isn't to say there's no value in disclosure, but just as in political campaigns, this sort of intense focus on money only comes at the complete disregard for any discussion of actual ideas.

What we end up with is this, culled from the comments of Frank Rich's Times piece:

Hypothetical questions, and no, I am not naive, I'm just posing the questions.

What do these billionaire and multi-millionaire people want to happen in this country ?

What is their vision ? How do they view this country if everything they want actually takes place ?

Let's assume that all social programs are eliminated.

No more social security or medicare, resulting in millions of seniors becoming indigent. Where do they go ? LIve on the streets and then, when they cannot do that anymore because they're too sick from old age, to some kind of euthanasia program like the death panels that some of you invented to try to kill the healthcare legislation ?

No more welfare (AFDC), which is supposed to be only for children, even if the program has been significantly abused, and no more medicaid, resulting in millions of already lower-income people becoming totally broke and unable to get any health services. Where do they live ? On the street ? And, if they get sick are they turned away from the emergency rooms at the local hospitals ?

Let's assume that there is a change in power in Congress and the new Congress, including incumbent GOP members formerly deaf, dumb and blind about the deficit, and the new Congress absolutely refuses to add to the deficit and insists on balancing the budget.

An anti-deficit platform, at the same time that fighting wars and paying, in the aggregate, trillions of dollars for drones and fighter planes and bombs and cyber-security and every possible military "necessity."

No health care reform (just repeal it). No government regulation of financial institutions (just repeal it). No government regulation of business if it means any barriers to amassing wealth. Death of unionization. No restriction on ownership of handguns, hunting guns or assault weapons. No abortions, but no aid to families with dependent children. No federal funding for any states, for any reason. If social security must survive, then privatize it, so that millions of people can be forced to make investment decisions that they have no desire or capacity to handle, and the government forces them to invest in something, even a money market fund, benefitting Wall Street ?

That's what they want ? That's what will make their lives more wonderful and their bank accounts more bountiful ? That's what will make their vision of America come true ?

With all of their money, why don't they leave, instead of trying so hard to eliminate every single protection and support system that exists to maintain a system that has multiple economic classes ? Seriously. Just several islands or take over a small country that has no defenses and no working government and and build your own perfect society. Why not ? Why spend so much money trying to change an entire country when you can so easily go live elsewhere or build a country elsewhere that has the system you so desire ?

Just asking questions, you know? There's absolutely no recognition of the fact that agree or disagree with their conclusions, think tanks do actual work and have very specific policy proposals and recommendations for all aspects of national and local government policy. And there are liberal think tanks, conservative think tanks, and yes, free market libertarian think tanks. But the effect of the Mayer and Rich pieces on some is exactly what I said a real hit piece would be unable to prove: That the other side has no legitimate ideas.

In a way, it's no different from Rush Limbaugh going on the air to explain that Barack Obama hates America and doesn't want the economy to improve. It's part of a two-sided political meme, where the other side is specifically an enemy and not an intellectually equal rival. I could go on and on, but I'm sure my regular readers get the point. The entire point of this blog is to foster discussion and lead my readers in a more libertarian direction based on the strength of ideas. It doesn't matter whether George Bush is a Nazi or Barack Obama is a socialist, what matters, what should matter, are ideas and anyone going to the trouble of convincing you otherwise is not interested in being honest with you.


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