Right-Wing Lunacy: The Shameless Lies Conservative Media Tell Their Audience
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One benefit of the prolonged campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has been the revelation that most of the 20 or 30 percent of Americans who describe themselves as conservatives live in a fantasy world. In their imaginations, Barack Obama, a centrist Democrat with roots in Eisenhower Republicanism rather than Rooseveltian liberalism, is a radical figure trying to take America down the path of “European socialism.” The signature healthcare reform of Obama and the Democratic Congress, modeled on Mitt Romney’s insurance-friendly Massachusetts healthcare program and closely resembling a proposal by the right-wing Heritage Foundation, is described as “statist,” “socialist” or “fascist” (as though Hitler came to power with the goal of providing subsidies to private health insurance companies).
How can otherwise sane people believe such lunacy? The answer is that members of the right-wing counterculture are brainwashed — that is the only appropriate term — by the apocalyptic propaganda ground out constantly by the conservative media establishment. A perfect example is a recent essay by Philip Klein, a senior editorial writer of the Washington Examiner, the right-wing newspaper owned by the billionaire Philip Anshutz: “The Welfare State Is Destroying America.”
Klein begins, typically, with the fall from grace of America under the sinister Franklin Roosevelt, who presided over the establishment of Social Security: “But Roosevelt was dead wrong that the program would help the nation avoid deep debt. Social Security and the entitlement programs that followed its legacy of seeking to protect citizens from the ‘hazards and vicissitudes of life,’ turned out to be fiscal disasters.”
In the real world, of course, today’s national debt has nothing to do with Social Security, whose trust fund has a surplus that will last for decades, with the precise date of the trust fund’s exhaustion depending on the rate of general economic growth. True, the federal government has to raise the tax revenue to repay the money it borrowed from the trust fund — but then, the federal government has to repay all of its creditors, domestic and foreign. What’s wrong with that?
As if to concede that there is no Social Security crisis in the near future, Klein engages in three intellectually dishonest maneuvers typical of right-wing propagandists. First, he talks about medium-term and long-term problems as though they were present-day emergencies. Second, he blurs the distinction between Social Security’s long-term fiscal challenges, which are minor, and those caused by rising healthcare costs, in order to make Social Security seem worse off than it is in reality. Third, he implies that “the growing debt burden” of the United States is primarily caused by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, ignoring tax cuts, wars and the effects of a near-depression:
With health care costs rising and the population aging, America’s welfare-state obligations are bringing the country to its financial knees. If left unchecked, the growing debt burden will not only trigger runaway inflation and stifling taxes, but it will also threaten national security.
By now readers of the Washington Examiner must assume that Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson deliberately designed Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to be paid for by federal borrowing. Why shouldn’t Klein’s audience leap to that false conclusion? After all, Klein has not mentioned the funding streams that pay for these programs: payroll taxes (Social Security), payroll taxes and general revenues (Medicare) and general revenues (Medicaid).
If Klein were honest with his readers, he would point out that the main causes of federal deficits in the last generation have been the Reagan and Bush tax cuts, plus the fiscal aftereffects of the Great Recession, in the form of falling tax revenues and increased spending on unemployment insurance and stimulus programs. But that would distract from the false impression that Klein is seeking to convey.