One thing (well, more, but this will have to do) more I meant to say on my post from last time: If disgust with the two parties occurs in a critical swing state or area, you could find yourself with the worst of the two unsavory choices, either by lack of voting or voting for a third party that the system has assured of no chance.
To your excellent post on civil discourse, I can add but little. I have an observation though. I have had friends, especially women, who tell me they feel bullied by their conservative friends. It happens on all sides, of course, but it does come from the conservative quarter more. Why? Fear? Frustration? Control? Intolerance? Something else? What is the source or sources of political bullying? We have spent a good deal of time in identifying sources of bullying among children. Perhaps we need to expand that research.
On to the topic of the day. I said I would read and analyze the Ferguson article from Newsweek. Here is my analysis.
Although he lays out some criticisms of the Obama administration—criticisms that I can occasionally join in—he is intellectually dishonest in a number of others. It appears to me that he has approached things from a marked bias, and set out to twist statistics and make projections to support that bias. He’s a smart man and an occasionally gifted historian. Why would he do that? Is it merely because controversy sells? Do his handlers at Newsweek desire such a thing? I think it’s more direct than either of those. First, it’s no secret that Ferguson is openly partisan: not only was he a Maggie Thatcher fan (he’s from Scotland), but he has enthusiastically supported in American politics McCain and now Romney and Ryan (who he’s friends with). Second, Ferguson also has a record of oddly or poorly twisting facts to come to his desired conclusions, something he has been criticized for a number of years on. Third, many of his criticisms of the Obama administration are economic. While I have long said that presidents can often have a negative effect on economics, having a positive one (and especially a positive one without a cooperative Fed, Congress, and G-20) is sometimes largely out of their control. Yet, Ferguson behaves like many non-scholars in not acknowledging this reality; worse, he perpetuates a misleading notion. He has been credited as economic historian, but many economists would characterize his understanding of economics to be at best incomplete (and I found his book The Ascent of Money to be uninspiring). Fourth, while I agree with him that the West sometimes does not give itself enough credit for the positive changes it has made in the world, he takes that to extremes and justifies numerous interventions and arrogant assumptions of cultural superiority. Fifth, he is never apologetic or admitting of error. He justifies his twisting of facts and statistics (prime example: mixing dates of comparison and being obviously misleading, just to make the point he desires) and does not acknowledge that he has done so, which as an historian is offensive due to its hostility to scholarly standards.
Some specific issues with the article:
Ferguson contributes to the highly misleading, non-contextual assertion that we are becoming a nation where half the people are on the dole and half the people are paying heavy taxes to support them. This partisan assertion, precisely because there is a tiny kernel of fact in one part of it, then is seized upon to emotionally incense Americans who feel put upon by the system. In perfect divide and conquer, Americans are pitted against each other, with those who perceive themselves as hardworking, honest, dedicated citizens encouraged to feel that they are bleeding themselves dry to support the easy lives of “welfare queens,” “low lifes,” “criminals,” “system abusers,” “morons,” etc. That serves the 1% quite nicely.
What IS correct is that 46- 47 percent of Americans do not pay federal income tax. Aha, you say, Ferguson is correct. Not really. First of all, much of that 46-47 percent do pay state and local income tax, but more to the point, they still pay plenty in sales and other taxes, not to mention they are usually the working poor who pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. And because they are the working poor, most aren’t the “bums and freeloaders” that the twisters try to focus on to get us pitted against each other. But MUCH more to the point, the reason they don’t pay federal income taxes is that THEY DON’T MAKE ENOUGH: their average income is less than $27,000 a year.
We have a problem all right. But it’s not because we have become colonial Spain, where the productive got crushed under supporting all the people on the dole. It’s because our policies have both knowingly and uncaringly undermined the middle class, which is now both weakened and shrinking. Such policies have been 30-40 years in the making, and transcend Obama, who hasn’t been allowed to do much (and it’s not clear that he truly desires to do all that much, except maybe put a few speed bumps in). The corporate and plutocratic powers desire certain things and do not desire others, and that’s what drives the economy now. While they might somewhat prefer the fast-track convergence of a Romney to an occasionally reluctant Obama, they have already made sure the political machinery does not excessively interfere with what they want.
Ferguson is right in pointing out that economists and politicians who wave away debt by citing debt to GDP ratios are refusing to face a problem, and we need a marked squaring up to the collective debt problem of the world in general and this country in particular. He is also right in that we are masking the true severity of our problems by our artificially low interest rates. But Ferguson is being disingenuous by insinuating that our deficits are largely just because we aren’t facing up to living within our revenues. Our revenues have been deliberately depressed by nearly continually dropping taxes for the wealthy and super-wealthy (at the corporate level certainly, but individually even more so), while at the same time providing loopholes and deductions to those same rich. Additionally, we have made it easy for those wealthy and super-wealthy to hide trillions in wealth (and escape even more taxes) in tax-haven countries around the world, not to mention the further loopholes of international money movement and international “earnings.” And all these facets have not only led to markedly self-serving behavior by the rich, but have provided the opposite of incentive to produce more jobs and more middle-class citizens.
Ferguson says certain things were not in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) when they most certainly are, and even when confronted with these glaring errors, he does not admit any mistakes, which is inexcusable for an academic. For instance, the Congressional Budget Office, the highly respected non-partisan analytical arm of Congress, says that ACA as written dramatically slows the wild growth in health care costs, especially government related health care costs, but Ferguson claims the opposite. He could claim, as I do, that the CBO’s assumptions are optimistic, and that this slowing will not occur to the extent they project, but he doesn't. He goes off into partisanville and does not return.
Ferguson does other ridiculously partisan things in his article, such as blaming Obama for the fact that China’s GDP will exceed America’s in the very near future, when nearly every social scientist recognizes this as well over 30 years in the making—and not necessarily a bad thing (and not just because China’s population is also over four times ours). He blames Obama for “letting his party dictate the terms of the stimulus,” which has some truth (and the character of how much of it was spent was typical Democratic muddle-headedness), but, like many of Ferguson’s assertions, is just that—partial truth. He leaves out that Republicans in the Senate assured that the stimulus would be much smaller than many leading economists said was needed to truly recover from the Great Recession, thereby leading to a no-win situation that would be portrayed as “failure” and “wasteful.” He blames Obama for the “failures” of “financial reform and health care reform,” when both of those far-less-than-ideal efforts were undermined by the lobbying power of the very sectors they were trying to reform—and it didn’t matter a wit about which party, because both had been captured by the lobbyists. He blames Obama for the “fiscal cliff” of tax hikes and slashed spending that is in our future, when those things have been 30- plus years in the making. That Obama got handed a situation where costs of government were going up and revenues dropping precipitously, meant he was going to be facing stark deficits no matter what he did. And that pattern is what is precisely desired by those rich and powerful who want to make government weak and effectively powerless to oppose them. Ferguson is also critical of Obama’s foreign policy, portraying it as aimless dithering. It’s easy to criticize, but Ferguson’s prescriptions are largely only a repeat of the disastrous Bush foreign policies that set up so many of the problems that Obama has attempted to deal with. I will agree with Ferguson, however, that the possibly extra-legal campaign of drone targeting is at least potentially problematic, but since its full aspects have not yet been examined (and indeed, may not be achievable without access to privileged information), it comes across as more partisan knitting. We need entirely new and codified rules of warfare, and Geneva needs updating. This needs to be an international discussion, however, not another hegemonic American dictation. We also need a full rethinking of the sinister aspect of authorizing the president to assassinate an American citizen whom that president considers an enemy of the state.
Ferguson’s also intellectually dishonest in criticizing possibly unfounded assumptions about the ACA but being silent about those even more starkly, clearly unfounded (in fact NO assumptions, just assertions!) in the Ryan plan. He also holds the Obama administration accountable for the fact that banks are not meeting funds requirements, when those things transcend times and administrations—the moneyed powers dictate things anyway. Others have pointed out that the requirements haven’t even gone into effect yet, so trying to hold accountable would be dishonest if it were even applicable.
Ferguson supplies no evidence for how his calls for austerity have worked in actual practice, nor does he address the problems and complications that austerity have encountered elsewhere. Again, it would be at least intellectually honest to bring up past times in American history to balance budgets in recessions/depressions, as well as the present measures in Europe, and show why his austerity call accounts for the same factors.
I will be one of the first in line to criticize Obama the firefighter, but I will also recognize that he’s had to deal with those standing on his hose, those driving the truck to the wrong location, those diverting trucks that could help, and those fanning the flames. I’m certainly not going to clamor for a return to the policies and methods of the fire-starters –economic arsonists—and that is a good deal of what Ferguson is advocating. I’m not a fan of an Obama, but that doesn’t translate into reaching for a Romney who would offer no change except for the worse.
Even Ferguson’s conservative friend Andrew Sullivan has problems with Ferguson’s writings and methods. Ferguson has done, and continues to do so unapologetically, damage to scholarship. In fact, he is another contributor to the post-facts world of illusion and delusion we are fashioning for ourselves, making Hedges’ prescience all the more telling in its starkness.