Saturday, November 3, 2018

Putting Lipstick On a Neoliberal Pig

 This "cure" for the chronic electoral failures of a Democratic Party in thrall to the oligarchy sounds even worse than the disease:  
It seems to me that the Democrats’ story has to be built around the simple idea of investing in middle- and working-class people. Not “spending,” but “investing.” Spending sounds profligate; investing sounds prudent.
This is not to be done for reasons of “fairness.” That’s an absolutely vital point. Liberals reflexively want to make economic arguments about fairness. But this persuades only liberals. People who aren’t liberals — three-quarters of the country — don’t especially care about fairness. They do, however, care about growth. So Democrats need to argue that these investments, not tax cuts for the rich, are the way to spur growth.
 So writes Michael Tomasky, one of America's leading self-described "progressive" pundits, in a recent New York Times op-ed. While pretending to explore the reasons why the Democratic Party keeps losing elections, he completely ignores the needs, wants and problems of its vaunted working class constituency.  He assumes, moreover, that tens of millions of precarious Americans do nothing but sit around all day and worry about economic growth and the national GDP.

These people desperately want to be seen as "investments" rather than as, say, human beings with immediate requirements for food, income, medical care, and shelter. Tomasky views them as mere commodities in dire need of some better messaging.

The problem, according to Tomasky, is that three-quarters of all Americans are conservatives who don't care a fig about their neighbors and about "fairness."

From a pundit whose purported mission in life is to fight Republican lies, this claim could not be further from the truth. It is a Big Lie.

Poll after poll after poll reveals that most Americans are, in fact, liberals and progressives if not downright socialistic. Peter Dreier of The American Prospect compiled a comprehensive overview last year. Tomasky might be surprised to learn that fully 65% of these selfish, ignorant Americans care very deeply about the economic unfairness unleashed by unfettered finance capital, with an equal proportion believing that money and wealth should be distributed more evenly. 

Ninety-six percent of Americans - and that includes most Republicans polled - believe that money in politics is to blame for political dysfunction, with three-quarters despising the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling which equates corporate money with speech. Eighty percent think corporations don't pay their fair share in taxes, with nearly the same percentage believing that wealthy people don't pay their fair share in taxes.  So much for Tomasky's spurious claims that the lesser people -- er, I mean human commodities ripe for investment -- don't care about economic justice.

It gets worse (for the oligarchs running the place, that is.) Two-thirds of Americans want the cap on Social Security taxes lifted so that the wealthy pay a larger, fairer share. Two-thirds, including 42% of self-described Republicans, support labor unions. Three-quarters, including Republicans, want paid parental leave. And at least two-thirds of all Americans support government-sponsored, single payer health care insurance. 

And despite President Trump's fear-mongering about the "immigrant invasion" from Honduras," 68 percent of Americans—including 48 percent of Republicans—believe the country’s openness to people from around the world “is essential to who we are as a nation.” Just 29 percent say that “if America is too open to people from all over the world, we risk losing our identity as a nation.”

In light of these results, Tomasky's claim that Americans need any more "convincing" about what they do and should care about sounds increasingly more ridiculous.

So he does what all right-wing Democrats since Bill Clinton have done for the past several decades. He will feel your pain while promising you nothing but a good story:
The story could use a name. The venture capitalist Nick Hanauer and Eric Liu, a former Bill Clinton domestic policy adviser, coined “middle-out economics” five years ago. President Obama even used the phrase a few times.
The important thing is the idea. Democrats must persuade America that there’s a better way to expand the economy than the way Republicans have been advocating for decades. Just as inflation and other ills opened the door for critiques of Keynesianism in the 1970s, so have inequality and disinvestment done the same for critiques of supply-side today. Someone just has to make them.
Tomasky must have forgotten that Bernie Sanders has been making this critique for decades, and that it was only because of the deliberate squelching of this message by the Democratic Party and the complicit establishment media that more people did not hear it.

Corporate Democrats are worried for a good reason. People are on to their con, and the party bigwigs are running low on policy proposals. So caught between the rock of attracting more voters with advocacy for Medicare for All and debt-free college, and satisfying the donor class - which is adamantly opposed to programs for the greater good  - they are still opting for the latter.  Meanwhile, they are going on one "soul-searching" propaganda binge after the other.

The "market knows best" ideology of neoliberalism has run roughshod over ordinary people throughout the world, with inequality now so extreme that fully half the entire globe's wealth now rests in less than a dozen billionaire pockets.

  This is now such common knowledge that the centrist Democratic proponents of the Neoliberal Project have no other choice but to acknowledge this hard truth and pretend to want to rectify if while actually making it much worse with their pretty rhetoric and their cynical inaction.

Follow the money. Besides his gig as a "contributing op-ed writer" for the New York Times, Tomasky writes full-time for the liberal Daily Beast - a subsidiary of the international media conglomerate IAC, which is owned by Democratic mega-donor Barry Diller and where Chelsea Clinton sits on the board. IAC not only controls and distributes much of the information we see, hear and read, it also owns the websites of "more than 150 brands and products," including Vimeo and several Internet dating sites.

Tomasky also is the full-time editor of the new-ish Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, whose own board of directors is a veritable who's who of the oligarchy. Under its glossy theme of "government for the public good" -- as shallowly opposed to the GOP's more brutal agenda - this quarterly journal espouses neoliberalism in its newly "progressive" form. You might call it neo-neoliberalism.

It is more than a little self-celebratory. The aforementioned Nick Hanauer, who runs/owns the place, wrote one recent article touting the alleged death of neoliberalism and praising his own "rousing speech" on why "Homo economus must die" upon his receipt of the Humanist of the Year award from MIT.

An excerpt:
Capitalism is the greatest problem-solving social technology ever invented. But knowing that capitalism works is different than knowing why it works. And contrary to economic orthodoxy, it is reciprocity, not selfishness that guides it—indeed—as if by an invisible hand. It is social reciprocity that builds the high levels of trust necessary for large networks of people to cooperate at scale. And it is only through these networks of highly-cooperative specialists that the complexity that defines our modern economy can emerge.
Hanauer, unlike your traditional rapacious Republican capitalist, is a member of the Good Rich Club. He comes not to destroy capitalism in its most brutally egregious Trump-like form. He comes to save it, He comes to put lipstick on an inherently antisocial pig. By equating democratic government with capitalism, the same as neoliberals always have, Hanauer is simply offering up more postmodern feudalism, with just the right dollop of noblesse oblige. (Invisible hands of highly cooperative "specialists" who work ever so nicely together, far from the prying eyes of the actual public.)

 Tomasky hilariously gushes in an accompanying article that his benefactor and de facto boss is the "plutocrat of the common man."

For further "balance," the latest issue of Democracy includes the obligatory homage to Democratic Socialist upstart Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who, we are assured, is really just an FDR-style liberal who has absolutely no intention of overthrowing capitalism. 

There is not one article in Democracy that is anti-war. War and death are the most profitable enterprises in our Democracy, after all.

 Besides a smattering of academics, including Robert Reich, with more or less bona fide credentials, its Board of Directors includes Robert Abernethy, vice chairman of the war-mongering Atlantic Council, which is also at the forefront of the Cold War 2.0 "Russiagate" propaganda campaign and a leader in the permanent Security State's call for censorship of social media and independent news organizations. Like several others on the Democracy board, he is affiliated with the neoliberal Aspen Institute and the Democratic Party's official think tank, Center for American Progress (CAP).

Melody Barnes, another director, is an alumna of CAP and the Obama administration who now works as a Wall Street lobbyist as well as serving on the board of Booz Allen Hamilton, the unaccountable private subsidiary of the National Security Agency which was made famous by Ed Snowden's theft of documents demonstrating the oligarchy's mass surveillance of every man, woman and child on the planet. This is what Democracy is all about, after all.

Then there's billionaire William Budinger of the Rodel Foundation, a school "reform" zealot who was among the very first mega-contributors to Barack Obama's presidential campaign. The destruction of teachers' unions and public schools have always been very high on his to-do list. Obama's Education Department, lead by charter school advocate Arne Duncan, certainly gave Budinger his money's worth. You might remember that when Obama's campaign offshoot, Organizing for America, made plans to go to Wisconsin to support teachers during the protests against Governor Scott Walker's war on public unions, Obama himself ordered their swift and hasty retreat.  

Anne-Marie Slaughter, liberal war hawk, nicely rounds out the Democracy advisory roster. (You can read the whole list of names here.)

 As Samuel Moyn observes, this Clinton State Department alumna and her cohort of "liberal internationalists have always endorsed a globalization that often ends up serving free markets more than it does political freedom, with economic equality its central omission and biggest casualty. Liberal internationalists have spoken admiringly of “the idea that is America,” in Anne-Marie Slaughter’s phrase, but the reality is that beneath the hype the United States has nearly always placed economic liberty first among its foreign policy priorities. Trump’s economic nationalism will hardly work either, but our main response to it has to be to invent a new form of liberal internationalism rather than fall back on the failed pieties and stale rhetoric that contributed to the ascendancy of Trump and other populists in the first place."

The writers and directors of Democracy can call themselves progressives all they want, but they can't put neoliberal lipstick on a pig without it leaving its telltale stains all over the place.

What if we, the designated pork belly futures of neo-neoliberal America's investment class, just turned up our snouts at the smarmy swill being marketed to us by pundits in service of the oligarchy? Maybe then they'd dispense with the lipstick entirely and simply offer us the whole unadorned pig to cuddle like a baby.   

Oh, wait. They already have!

(Photo credit: HuffPo)

  You might remember hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer as the impeachment guru and presidential contender who's spent millions of his own money bribing college kids to register to vote by staffing college campuses with cute puppies. Now, things have gotten so desperate for the Dems that Steyer is installing entire petting zoos all over the land to help those cynical kids get over their depression and college debt long enough to cast their votes for a Democrat With a Story.

His group, with the cool-sounding name NextGen, is also flattering the youth of America with free rolls of toilet paper. They don't explain why they think toilet paper is such a great bribery tool. Maybe they assume that the only time young people feel crappy is when they're on the can, and they will free-associate a roll of toilet paper with the squeaky clean Democrats who care so much about them. And then they'll get off their butts and vote!

The least that the corporate Dems could do for people is supply us with a free issue of Democracy for our bathroom reading pleasure.  Or better yet, old copies of the New York Times to stuff under our drafty doors in a futile effort to keep warm as winter approaches.


Anonymous said...

Dam Karen,
Beautiful essay/rant on the current state of things

Jay–Ottawa said...

Names, statistics and exposure––I love it.

But I'll never remember the names of all those neolib and neocon scammers with their pundits, institutions, publications and movements. We need a handy reference list, kept up-to-date. How about a scamroll to match our blogroll?

Don't censor the frauds; just post their names on a billboard. From this essay alone, here are the beginnings of a scamroll. It's a list, not of the known bads or the known goods, but of the somewhat shadowy phonies between those two poles. Add or subtract to the scamroll as the times warrant. Might be another attraction of Sardonicky to help us steer clear of the polcons.

Abernethy, Robert
Aspen Institute
Atlantic Council
Barnes, Melody
Budinger, William
Center for American Progress (CAP)
Daily Beast
Democracy: A Journal of Ideas
Diller, Barry
Duncan, Arne
Hanauer, Nick
InterActiveCorp (IAC)
Liu, Eric
New York Times
Organizing for America
Rodell Foundation
Slaughter, Anne-Marie
Steyer, Tom
Tomasky, Michael

Bill Sprague said...

Well, as always, you've written many true things. What can you offer that's a solution to the many neoliberal hipocracies you do shine a light on? Toilet paper is not valid. As Watts said many years ago: we are food processing tubes. Everyone wipes. At least I presume they do.

I myself didn't vote for Sanders, or Trump, or HRC, or Jill Stein. I will vote in the midterms. As if that makes any difference.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Hi Bill

"What can you offer that's a solution to the many neoliberal hipocracies you do shine a light on?"

Not sure what your point is. Got time to clarify?

As I see it, Sardonicky is a salon where happenings in politics, media and culture are given a hard second look, the scribbling around here often salted with irony and mockery.

Sardonicky is not a think tank. It doesn't hammer out solutions for legislators, judges or executives. It addresses the victims of such elites and suggests alternatives to views offered by the MSM. That's where its task and value lie.

For solutions plus action, you'll have to go down the hall to unions, political parties or institutions like Doctors Without Borders or Nader's Raiders.

Alternatively, a few of the lesser breed of behind-the-front-line organizations offering suspect solutions and opening doors to misguided action were just outed in Karen's essay, above. Now THAT is a public service.

From what little I have read by Alan Watts, humans amount to much more than a purposeless bundle of tubes. In his estimation, humans are at least points of energy (with a degree of agency) connected to larger systems of energy (brains, rivers, oceans, galaxies, the great big universe) upon which he prefers to dwell.

He paints the pantheist's big picture over and over. In near time and closer to home, what do we wee reflections of the sun do Tuesday morning and why?