Monday, March 30, 2015

Con-Artist Conservatives and The Great Hoodwinking of America 1/3

by Nomad

When can having a positive attitude be a negative thing? What happens when voters prefer to ignore the evidence and continue to vote for the same party despite false promises? It seems as if Americans prefer to be victims of a party of professional grifters.

The idea that opportunity to succeed is open to all of us goes back deep in American history and deep into the soul of the average American. It is one thing that makes the struggle worth it all. Knowing that things will improve has always been a mainstay of life in the US. 

The Faith and the Evidence
One recent study suggests that American economic mobility is something most of us still believe in. The problem is, according to the evidence, that belief system is largely contradicted by the evidence.
The Cornell study polled more than 3,300 Americans in all economic quintiles (20 percent income increments), from the poorest to the richest, and reached a few interesting conclusions:
  • People believe there is more upward mobility than downward mobility. 
  • Americans overestimate the amount of upward mobility and underestimate the amount of downward mobility. 
  • Poorer individuals believe there is more mobility than richer individuals do. 
  • Political affiliation influences perceptions of economic mobility, with conservatives believing that the economic system is dynamic – with more people moving both up and down.
The harsh reality is that while the real income of the top 1% of the population has soared a staggering 86% over the last twenty years, for the rest of us, it has increased by a mere 6.6 %. Those are the figures cited in the report.
According to the source:
"This rise in inequality has been accompanied by increasing hardship among those at the bottom," they write, noting that in 2010 the United States had almost 650,000 homeless people. And an additional 9.5 million families (46 million people) lived below the poverty line, a 50 percent increase since 1980.
The implications of the study are fascinating. American by and large simply haven't woken up to the fact that decades of failed policies have made matters worse of the shrinking middle-class. They should be angry- furious, in fact- but they are not.

And this failure to face reality predominates in one party more than the other. The psychologists reported that:
"We found a strong effect of political affiliation on participants' perceptions of economic mobility. Overall, conservatives indicated that there is more economic mobility in the United States than liberals did."
More than Hypocrisy
In her rebuttal to President Obama's State of the Union address, Republican Sen. Joni Ernst engaged in the same lip-service to helping the middle class. She told stories from her childhood -bread bags on her feet because she supposedly had only one good pair of shoes.

Like many a politician before her, she promoted the idea that social mobility was just a matter of the right attitude. It was all just a matter of returning to the past when such things were far easier, when people were stronger.
An ordinary Iowan like me has had some truly extraordinary opportunities because they showed me that you don’t need to come from wealth or privilege to make a difference. You just need the freedom to dream big, and a whole lot of hard work.
She mentioned her personal distress at watching her "neighbors agonize over stagnant wages." She is correct, For most workers, according to a Pew Research survey, real wages — that is, after inflation is taken into account — have been "flat or even falling for decades, regardless of whether the economy has been adding or subtracting jobs."

However what Ernst neglected to mention was that the cause of this so-called wealth gap was the Republican idea that that market forces driving overall economic growth will ultimately yield higher incomes without any help from government. 
We see too many moms and dads put their own dreams on hold while growing more fearful about the kind of future they’ll be able to leave to their children.
Today one out of five children do not go hungry solely because of food stamps. 
The rate of children living with married parents who receive food stamps has doubled since 2007. In 2014, an estimated 16 million children, or about one in five, received food stamp assistance compared with the roughly 9 million children, or one in eight, that received this form of assistance prior to the recession.
If parents are afraid for their children's future, it is perhaps because Republicans in Congress have been fighting hard to cut billions in government assistance. The first thing to go, it seems, are the safety nets.

Safety Nets as Wasteful Spending
In this Ernst narrative, it was a time when Americans were not so dependent on the government and more self-reliant. Following in the path of Reagan, she inferred that escaping poverty was a question of moral fortitude. In her rebuttal she talked about "wasteful spending" by this monstrous Big Government.

The term "wasteful" of course is a very flexible term. Are programs like food stamps, Medicaid, unemployment benefits and lunches for poor children actually wasteful?
Is slashing Social Security benefits for 11 million disabled Americans as the Republicans wish to do, cutting waste?  

Last year, U.S. Representative Paul Ryan's proposed budget for spending cuts totaling $5.1 trillion over a decade to reach a balanced budget by 2024 His budget aimed at cutting social programs such as food stamps and Medicare, the national insurance program for older Americans.
And, since Ryan's plan didn't include any new taxes on the top 1% of American, at least one group could look at this Republican with the satisfaction that comes from their campaign donations being money well spent. 

Ernst nevertheless told the American public that the new GOP Congress  would strive toward returning the country to an America in which “you don’t need to come from wealth or privilege to make a difference.”

Now that the economy is finally improving- no thanks to the obstructionist Congress and decades of failed conservative policy- the tone of Ernst's remarks was sympathy for the poor and middle class. With unemployment in decline, food stamp participation beginning to ebb, the Republican have apparently decided that blaming the poor is no longer necessary.

Yet what Ernst didn't mention, and what the media refused to point out is that, according to Salon, Ernst' family
benefited more than $460,000 in federal farm subsidies between 1995 and 2009, per the District Sentinel. Beneficiaries included Ernst’s father, Richard Culver, uncle Dallas Culver, and late grandfather Harold Culver. The Culvers’ subsidies hardly set them apart from their neighbors; as the District Sentinel notes, Iowa ranks second only to Texas in farm subsidies, with the largely rural and agricultural state receiving $24.9 billion in subsidies between 1995 and 2012.
People like Ernst talk a good talk about sympathy for the middle class. She seems like she cares but when it comes down to policy, the Republicans offer Americans nothing but bad news. 
One organization, National Priorities Project (NPP) made a list of the 14 ways that the GOP is "brazenly ignoring public opinion and national needs." This NPP budget analysis underscores the fact that
the GOP’s proposals aren’t just corrupt—a vast giveaway to the wealthy people and interests who fund their campaigns—but are fundamentally anti-democratic. Poll after poll report that a majority of Americans want Congress to invest in education, road and bridges, jobs, climate change, immigration, healthcare reform, retirement security, safety nets for the poor and vulnerable, and raise taxes on those who can easily afford to pay a fairer share.
The GOP in Congress simply doesn't care what the majority of Americans want. They are working for different masters.

The Endless Parade
Definitely. But Ernst is by no means the only one.

Republican Ben Carson who seems to think he is an authority on everything owes his start in life on a variety of social programs. Without them, it is very doubtful that he would be in the comfortable position he is in today. That doesn't stop him for preaching the Republican gospel of gutting government assistance that millions depend on. 

Ted Cruz is just another example. His policy on immigration would remake the system into one that welcomes mostly university-trained foreigners. Yet if his policy had been in place when his own father came to the US in 1957, he would have been turned away.  Rafael Cruz lived in the US 48 years before becoming a naturalized citizen. (In fact, his father's "coming to Amerika" story  has more holes than imported Swiss cheese.)

Again, when it comes to healthcare, Cruz has vowed to "erase every word" of Obama's Affordable Care Act. On one side he has been complaining about the skyrocketing costs of healthcare, and on the other side he- like Joni Ernst- wants to scrap any solution to the problem. 
What he plans to do about all of the people who'd be losing their insurance, he has said nothing. 

And if all that were hard enough to swallow, there's more. News broke this week that despite his evident disgust for affordable healthcare for millions of Americans, Cruz found himself in the ridiculous and embarrassing situation of having to admit that he would be signing up for health insurance on an Obamacare exchange. 

Taking a closer look, one could be tempted to think that there is something more going on. 

A Suspicion of Fraud
What if...
Is it possible that the conservative game plan is nothing more than an elaborate con game?

In past blog posts we have seen that the conservative icon Ronald Reagan's economic policy was little more than a hoax. This hustle began with the already-discredited myth of trickle down economics.

Surprisingly perhaps, the Reagan hoax was noted at the time it was happening. Read this from the New York Times. Date: November 1, 1981
On the domestic front, needed budget-cutting has devolved into shameful budget-gutting. It affects the health, the safety, and the well-being of every American. Combined with skewed tax reductions favoring the rich, it has turned the war against poverty into a war against the poor. It is altering the relationship of government to the people and of the people to each other.
Behind Ronald's Reagan's disarming smile, the ethical role of American democracy as balancer of conflicting forces is being coolly subverted. But somehow Mr. Reagan is not held responsible.
If it is a species of fraud, then it's certainly one of the longest cons in American political history. And it is one of the most successful. 

 In the next two installments of this post we will examine the today's conservative Republican party as an elaborate and until lately a highly successful enterprise. In the third part we will also look at the future implications for the party as the fraud becomes harder and harder to maintain.