The Collected Thoughts and Musings of an Aspiring Political Philosopher

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Newsflash: Progressives Outraged Again, Uncertain Why; Eating Own In Response

I'm not joining in the circular firing squad just yet. I was very, very disappointed at Rachel Maddow's handling of Jared Bernstein on Monday's show, and her Tuesday show was no better. As I said in a previous post, Bernstein, who kept trying to explain the economic proposal to be highlighted in the State of the Union address, was repeatedly cut off by Rachel. And no matter what he said, she kept going back to her original "OMG it's Hooverism!". We lost a good opportunity to hear about what's actually going to be proposed, rather than what we all imagine it will be, and that's sorely disappointing.


Just for the record, I love Rachel dearly, but that interview was way, way over the top (just saying so I don't get slammed with "Rachel is perfect, and you're a lying scurvy dog conservative-in-progressive clothing for saying otherwise" comments as I did with my previous posting). If you disagree and think Rachel was in top form, then you really need to get out more. That was the most horrific display of one-sided interviewing I've seen outside of Hannity or O'Reilly, and Rachel is far better than that. I hope to see some kind of "talking down" on her part, if not for the substance, then at least for her demeanor and complete lack of objectivity (Remember that? It's SUPPOSED to be a trait in which liberals take great pride).

And this goes for just about every liberal blog and news-site in the last 48 hours. The hysteria has been palpable, while the echo-chamber effect has been so evident that nobody really knows anything about anything... it's all just speculation dumped onto opinion based on rumor. My usual daily rounds through HuffPo, Daily Kos, FireDogLake, and others revealed that virtually everything posted there was, with few exceptions, inordinately and overwhelmingly opposed to this "proposal" that isn't, yet. Everyone is fixated on the "spending freeze" part of it (which doesn't take effect for nearly two years... and freezes spending at 2010 levels which are expected to be much higher than 2009 levels, I might add), while getting the vapors about ANY kind of "spending cuts" that might be in the package. It's a roundtable of no-nothingness expounding upon the dire consequences of imagined and unspecific vagaries. People are pissed off, and they don't even know why, much less if they actually have a reason to be.

And I know I'm stepping on exalted toes here, especially since I'm just an economics minor and don't have Ph.D.'s and Nobel Prizes, but frankly this time I'm in full-on disagreement with Reich, Krugman, Stiglitz, DeLong, and others who have weighed in on this as "appalling" or worse. I have no problem with spending cuts during a recession... IF THEY ARE TARGETED AT THINGS THAT DON'T PRODUCE JOBS OR OTHERWISE DON'T IMPACT OVERALL GDP. I think our beloved progressive intelligensia have jumped the shark here, because nobody knows exactly what's going to be proposed yet. How can they possibly opine about the dangers of the proposal, when nobody outside the White House knows what's going to be proposed? They're all harping on an overly-simplistic "look what happened in 1937, OMG!!!" without knowing what the heck they're even talking about.

Entry-level macroeconomics (at least the Keynesian-influenced versions) says don't cut spending during a downturn. Fine. Then you take higher-level macro courses and they say "well, most of the time". If folks only have an entry-level understanding of macro, they'll be screaming about this. If you have a more nuanced understanding of macro, you're not so quick to start screaming. Which is why I'm so baffled by liberal economists getting all bent out of shape over this... if I can understand that, surely they can too!

Not all government spending is stimulative during a downturn, but from listening to both economists and progressive bloggers, it's as though ALL government spending is the same in their eyes, and making cuts in ANY area is absolutely horrific. This is simply ludicrous: even the least politically aware people out there know that huge sums of money go to what amounts to little more than paper-shuffling activities. They don't produce anything more than a few paper-shuffler jobs, so their loss won't even make a tic in the unemployment numbers. However, they cost the taxpayers a huge amount in administrative expenses. Cutting spending in these kinds of things, and then re-routing the savings into job-creating areas, is smart both economically and politically. If, and I stress, IF these are the kinds of things Obama & Co. have planned for their spending cuts, then I'm all for it.

And that's what I think Bernstein was trying to say, from what little I could hear over Rachel's constant interruptions and dismissals: that money from the cuts would be re-routed into job-creating programs and stimulative efforts. He was saying that even though there will be a spending freeze... which won't take effect until 2011... that money saved through these immediate cuts will be used to EXPAND THE STIMULUS. Get that, folks?

I'll say this again:

  • We all know the stimulus package was too small;

  • It's too late to ask for more money; the political energy behind more stimulus money is gone;

  • The only way to get more money to stimulate the economy is through cuts in programs that are ineffective, bloated, and that don't produce meaningful job growth;

  • WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT OBAMA CAMPAIGNED ON IN 2008 (Remember his comment in the debates that across-the-board spending freezes are a hatchet, whereas we need a scalpel?);

  • From what I heard Bernstein trying to say, THIS IS THE SCALPEL, FOLKS.

  • And yet we're crucifying him for using it, because in 2 years time part of what may be in the proposal is that there's a spending freeze (again, frozen at a higher level, and it won't be taking effect until, hopefully, the economy is actually strong again).

    I'm sorry, but is there anyone out there on the progressive/liberal side of things who bothers to take the time to understand the nuances of things before they go off half-cocked and instantly attack something that may actually be beneficial and supportive of progressive goals (like increasing stimulus spending?). I'm including all of the high-falutin' economic wizards in this list too... because unless I missed something, pretty much all of them came out swinging against this as-yet unproposed proposal, and I got little impression they knew any more about what was actually being proposed or what it might entail than anyone else in the blogosphere. And that's a sad, sad day, because these are the folks who are supposed to have a handle on what's going on in the economy from an liberal perspective. In my opinion, they collectively dropped the ball on this in favor of knee-jerk attacks.

    And another thing.

    Jared Bernstein is one of the most liberal economists out there... he's a Democratic Socialist with a Ph.D. in Social Welfare, for g-d's sake! He's written books and papers on allieviating poverty, helping the working class, and reducing inequality in our society. Why would everyone automatically assume that he'd be out shilling for something so entirely alien to everything he believes in? In a HuffPo piece following the Maddow interview, he did a credible job trying to explain how all this is supposed to work; we'll learn more as the details come out in the next few days.

    So unless these folks believe in Pod People and that Bernstein's been converted, it's assinine to toss him under the bus without at least listening to what he's trying to say. If he supports these things, then by g-d we should at least respect the man and his history enough to listen to his reasoning. The blogosphere and yes, Rachel's handling of the interview, have left this man being ripped up one side and down the other as a shill, a toady, a technocrat, and far worse. The same guy that progressives hailed and cheered just a few months ago as he was named Chief Economic Advisor to Vice President Joe Biden. Talk about liberals eating their own; there is no better example than this. Case in point for how unhinged the progressive movement has become, and why we are rapidly throwing away any semblance of the unity we showed in 2008.

    So in the upcoming SotU speech, I'll be listening closely to what's said, and I'll be reading the economic proposals carefully. But until I see something that says outright, in black-and-white, that Obama and his team have completely gone off the rails of reality, then I'm willing to listen, discuss, and even argue about specifics. And who knows, if it makes even a modicum of sense from a liberal-progressive perspective, perhaps I'll even support the ideas proposed.

    And maybe, just maybe, some of my fellow progressives and liberals will quit sticking their fingers in their ears and screaming "HOOVER-HOOVER-HOOVER!!!" long enough to join me in a rational discussion of what is actually proposed, once it IS proposed, instead of making bloody hash of it using their worst nightmare fantasy scenarios.

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