Five Big Lies About Liberals
The Republican definition of what it means to be a liberal is false and fictitious but has now become so infused into the political vernacular and fixed in the public mind that simply setting the record state requires a Herculean effort.
As a first step, here is a short list of big lies about liberals.
Big Lie #1: Liberals are all alike – tree hugging clones who agree about everything from abortion and arms control to Zoloft and Zoroastrianism.
No, in fat that would be the new Republicans – the folks who watch FOX News religiously, follow the party line like lemmings, and are not in the least troubled by the tawdry methods that FOX uses to distort the words and views of those it opposes.
One of the reasons why liberals are so astonishingly ineffectual at hammering home specific messages is precisely because, unlike today’s knee-jerk conservatives, liberals do not march in lockstep on much of anything, including the burning issues of the day.
Unlike the Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly, liberals tend to treat people of all hues and views with respect. That respect, however, is put to the extreme test when we are constantly bombarded with toxic untruths extolling the trickle down theory (purporting to show how the extreme concentration of wealth in society benefits us all) or the dickish idea that greed is good – dickish as in Dick Cheney, Dick Armey, and Dick Tuck.
Big Lie #2: Liberals and progressives are wannabe European socialists (and as all “real Americans” know in their bones, that’s a bad thing).
Here’s Dick Armey speaking to the National Press Club in 2010: "Jamestown colony, when it was first founded as a socialist venture, dang near failed with everybody dead and dying in the snow.”
As though that bit of historical buffoonery wasn’t enough, he continued, "The small-government conservative movement, which includes people who call themselves the tea party patriots and so forth, is about the principles of liberty as embodied in the Constitution, the understanding of which is fleshed out if you read things like the Federalist Papers."
And then came the zinger: Democrats and other "people here who do not cherish America the way we do," he explained, “did not read the Federalist Papers." The publication Armey referenced (but apparently hasn’t actually read) is, of course, the collection of papers forever associated with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton was an ardent advocate of a strong central government – the very antithesis of the “small-government conservative movement” Armey extols. Anyone who reads and understands the Federalist Papers, or knows anything at all about the controversy among the Founders over this fundamental question, cannot fail to see the absurdity in this Dick’s version of reality.
To confuse liberalism with socialism is to prove conclusively that a) you have no idea what socialism is, b) you know nothing about the long and venerable tradition of liberal and progressive political thought in America, c) you have absolutely no regard for the truth, or d) all of the above.
Moreover, it’s an insult to the vast majority of voters whose everyday values (for example, fairness, honesty, and civility) are far more closely aligned with those of liberals and progressives than with ultra-conservative apologists for the plutocracy. Paul Ryan, Scott Walker, and, above all, Walter Mitt Romney, have come to personify wealth and privilege – the 1% - in the mind of most middle-class Americans. (If you happen to be betting the farm on a Republican victory in November, you ought to be pushing the panic button about now.)
Big Lie #3: Liberals and progressives are anti-business and don’t understand basic economics, including the role of competitive markets in promoting prosperity and creating the world’s most technologically advanced societies.
That’s dead wrong. In fact, 20th century conservatives are deeply indebted to 19th century liberals. By contrast, today’s so-called conservatives lie not only about liberals but also about markets and about the relationship between government and a functioning market economy. They incessantly sing the praises of the “free market” and condemn all manner of “state regulation” – the red tape, rules, and oversight that supposedly strangle business and stifle initiative.
They inveigh against subsidies and government handouts aimed at helping the needy or ever-so-slightly leveling the playing field, and but they demand (and get) special tax breaks for the rich, subsidies for oil companies, and bailouts for banks too big to fail, insurance giants (think AIG), auto manufacturers, to name but a few examples of fiscal hypocrisy stalking the corridors of Capitol Hill and corporate America.
The truth is that there is no free market, never has been, never will be. All markets are regulated, shaped in a political mold of rules, privileges, and protections. It’s not the rules that make markets dysfunctional; it’s the privileges and protections that distort the natural forces of supply and demand. In other words, it’s big business that gets in its own way by recognizing no limits and observing no self-restraint in the pursuit of plunder, prey, and profit. How else to explain the New Derivative Economy, the ascendancy of a feral company called Wal-Mart (ranked #1 on Fortune’s Global 500), or the phenomenon of Willard Mitt Romney and Bain Capital?
Liberals understand that what makes markets work is competition, pure and simple. When conservatives talk about “creative destruction” it’s a red herring; what they really mean is that the best way to “compete” is to kill off the competition – precisely what Marx meant when he observed that modern capitalists (the “bourgeoisie”) produce their own gravediggers.
Big Lie #4: Liberals don’t care about deficits; they want to redistribute money from the most productive members of society (the rich) to the least productive (loafers and laggards) who love living on “welfare”; liberals are in favor of “handouts” and “giveaways” and throwing good money after bad.
This is one of the most invidious charges the far right levels at liberals. Talk about hypocrisy! Remember the guy who declared back in 2002 that Ronald Reagan proved “deficits don’t matter”? That was Dick Cheney. And speaking of Reagan, the national debt grew by 189% during President Reagan’s two terms in office (1980-1988). Under Reagan’s Democratic predecessor, Jimmy Carter, the national debt did not exceed 35% of GDP; at the end of Reagan’s tenure in the White House it was 52.6% (advancing at an average annual rate of 23.6%).
During the Clinton presidency (1992-2000), annual deficits were reduced (to a manageable 4.4% per year on average) and something approximating a balanced budget was actually achieved during Bill Clinton’s tumultuous second term. When George W. Bush succeeded Clinton, the federal deficits rose sharply and the national debt ballooned to 74% of GDP.
True, it has risen to 95% of GDP under President Obama, a fact about which the attack dogs for the Republicans are strangely silent. Why?
One suspects, it has something to do with the fact that after 9-11 federal deficits since 9-11 were (are) tied to defense spending and since the 2008 Wall Street meltdown to the multibillion dollar bank bail-out. Of course, none of this has anything to do with the new health care reform legislation, which is phased in and doesn’t really take effect (with health care exchanges) until 2014.
Meanwhile, the federal government, with zealous support from Republicans, continues to outspend the rest of the world on military weaponry and self-defeating wars. By the narrowest measure (excluding many items that are clearly related to national security) the US accounts for some 43% of total global defense spending. Including intelligence, nuclear energy, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (treated as “supplemental funding” until 2010 and thus, in defiance of all logic, not reflected in annual military spending prior to that time), the US spends more than the rest of the world combined.
Similarly, the big Bush and Obama stimulus packages went primarily to big banks and corporations, not the middle class. These big “giveaways” – combined with the tax cuts for the rich – were (and are) subsidies (or “tax expenditures”) that primarily benefit those least in need of federal assistance. To use the term Republicans throw around so loosely, it is socialism for the super rich.
Big Lie #5: Conservatives are patriotic and love this country more than the dovish liberals who have proven time and again that they lack the courage, vigilance, and resolve to meet and defeat the enemies of freedom and democracy.
Pure rubbish. Guess what socio-economic strata (“social classes” to use the time-honored term) have produced the foot soldiers for America’s wars in the post-Vietnam era? Clue: the peak of the income pyramid is not the correct answer.
Nor have the children of upper income families in general been well represented among the ranks of the enlisted men and women. And you’d be hard-pressed to find offspring of members of the US Congress in the enlisted ranks. And be it noted that neither Willard Mitt Romney nor any of his five sons has ever served a single day in the U.S. military.
Military service means different things to different social classes. For the sons and daughters of legacy families and the nouveau riche, it likely means attendance at one the elite military academies – an all-expenses paid undergraduate education and a gold brick road to becoming an officer. Officers in the US armed forces are paid on a different scale than enlisted soldiers (“privates”) and receive generous benefits that continue even after they are no longer on active duty.
It’s true that many military officers equate patriotism with Fox News, the Republican Party, monogamy, and regular church-attendance, but troops in the “trenches” are a different story altogether. They mostly come from the ranks of the lower middle classes and minorities – the rising socio-ethnic rainbow that overwhelmingly supports the Democratic Party.
It’s no surprise that the liars who have taken over the Republic Party would say things about liberals that aren’t true. The surprise is that the leaders of the Democratic Party have not done more to expose these lies – in effect, allowing the vilest politicians to discredit liberalism, malign liberals, and misrepresent what it means to be a responsible citizen in a society that values honesty, decency, fairness, and, above all, the healing power of truth.
[Note: This article first appeared in Nation of Change at www.nationofchange.org 08/02/2012.]
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