conservatives, capitalism, and clichés

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TNR's Timothy Noah has compiled a list of conservative clichés; here are my favorites:

Central planning. Any decision-making process by the federal government that conservatives dislike. The Pentagon never engages in central planning.

Job creator. A rich person. The idea is that one mustn't tax the rich, because it's rich people who, through investment, create jobs. This used to be called "trickle-down economics," and 31 years ago, when Ronald Reagan's budget chief got caught admitting to The Atlantic that the Reagan administration practiced it, he suffered public humiliation. Today, trickle-down economics is preached without shame.

Mainstream media (popular variation: lamestream media). The non-conservative news media, including every TV news organization except Fox and every nationally distributed newspaper except the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal. The term's usage in recent years reflects the right's growing comfort with its position on the fringe. Where once conservatives claimed to inhabit the mainstream (as reflected in phrases like "silent majority" and "Moral Majority"), today the right sees the mainstream as so thoroughly compromised (and ruthlessly dominant) that it prefers to define itself as an unfairly besieged minority.

Starve the beast. A Republican strategy to cut government spending by cutting taxes. The theory is that lower tax revenue will force budget cuts down the road. But this doctrine contradicts conservatives' false-but-cherished belief that tax cuts so incentivize economic activity that revenue will rise rather than fall. Also, in practice, starving the beast hasn't lowered spending at all; it has merely increased the deficit.

I hadn't noticed that contradiction before.

One cliché that has far more than outlived its usefulness is the socialism-would-be-disastrous slur. The Independent's Owen Jones points out that, contrary to conservative myth, working people would benefit if socialists really did run the show. "'socialist' is regarded as the ultimate insult by much of our wealthy elite, who have been in a virtually uninterrupted triumphalist mood since Margaret Thatcher defeated their political opponents in the 1980s:"

If socialists really were running the show in Britain, they would be building a society run by, and in the interests of, working people [but] Instead, we have a government ... ruthlessly forcing working people to pay the immense cost of getting capitalism out of its mess.

In contrast to today, when having them meet us halfway to reality would be progress, EJ Dionne notes that conservatives used to care about community and compromise. "For most of the 20th century," he writes, "conservatives and progressives alternated in power...and this equilibrium allowed both sides to compromise and move forward" and asks, "So why has this consensus unraveled?" Obama has "pitched communal themes from the moment he took office [but] the more he emphasized a better balance between the individual and the community, the less interested conservatives became in anything that smacked of such equilibrium:"

That's why today's conservatives can't do business with liberals or even moderates who are still working within the American tradition defined by balance. It's why they can't agree even to budget deals that tilt heavily, but not entirely, toward spending cuts; only sharp reductions in taxes and government will do. It's why they cannot accept (as Romney and the Heritage Foundation once did) energetic efforts by the government to expand access to health insurance. It's why, even after a catastrophic financial crisis, they continue to resist new rules aimed not at overturning capitalism but at making it more stable.

AlterNet's piece on the failure of capitalism makes the ubiquitously banal observation that "[t]he old economic model has utterly failed us:"

It has destroyed our communities, our democracy, our economic security, and the planet we live on. The old industrial-age systems -- state communism, fascism, free-market capitalism -- have all let us down hard, and growing numbers of us understand that going back there isn't an option.

But we also know that transitioning to some kind of a new economy -- and, probably, a new governing model to match -- will be a civilization-wrenching process. We're having to reverse deep and ancient assumptions about how we allocate goods, labor, money, and power on a rapidly shrinking, endangered, complex, and ever more populated planet.

New governance and economics will, of course, be unobtainable as long as we're mired in the clichés of yesteryear.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on May 25, 2012 9:09 PM.

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