Every time a new wingnut smear or a beloved zombie lie rears its ugly head I hear it from someone. ‘Well,’ they ask me as the unofficial progressive blogger dude, ‘why don’t Democrats just say The Truth?’ Say for example the GOP’s smear du jure that Obama’s Buffett rule, where billionaires would finally pay the same or higher tax rates as teachers and secretaries, is the largest tax increase in US history. As TPM notes:
Using historical data from the Treasury Department on the impact of past tax laws, and from the Office of Management and Budget’s analysis of Obama’s current proposals, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities ran the numbers for TPM and found the claim to be false by just about any measure. Assessing new revenue as percentage of GDP, it turns out Obama’s tax proposals would rank below a law signed by President Ronald Reagan on the list of significant tax increases of the last five decades.
Of course progressives do state the truth, TPM did it above. But we lack the same kind of media-political infrastructure conservatives have. To understand what that really means, forget politics, forget conspiracies; think baseball. Where do great baseball players come from? There’s a vast network of networks beyond the pros, from elementary school to professional minor leagues. The networks aren’t a conspiracy, they’re not secret, no one person or single group is in a back room somewhere running the whole show. Anyone can follow the thousands and thousands of players from kids’ little league to major college teams and the minors, but not even the most serious baseball fan could keep tabs on a tenth of them. And it’s not just players, the same networks produce announcers, sports writers, coaches, owner-managers, and even umpires.
That’s kind of what the right has built up over decades. Beneath the obvious money-making success stories like Fox News or Rush Limbaugh there’s a vast, loosely interlocking foundation of organizations and people supported by wealthy conservatives, most of which don’t even try to make money, let alone turn a profit. They provide home-schooling resources, grants and scholarships for college students, programs and speakers for neighborhood churches, pseudo-universities handing out bogus degrees, traditional and new media venues in every level of every market, lobbying and non-profit law firms, and dozens upon dozens of think-tanks, just to name a few. They’re not secret, it’s mostly all out in the open, but the numbers are so large that even hard-core political junkies and voracious news consumers struggle to keep up with a fraction of them.
One feature that makes it fly is conservative activists have a viable a career path which support thousands of them, and grooms the best and the brightest to become future influential writers, political candidates, radio and TV personalities, you name it. Lose an election for saying crazy shit, hell get rung up on charges, no problem: a lucrative six-figure book deal awaits underwritten by wealthy conservatives who will buy books in bulk and push it up the bestseller list; a staff or factory or state gig from a grateful governor, senator, or wealthy political donor; a nice senior professor-ship or dean-ship at a little pseudo-college; a sweet post at a quiet think-tank. And as diverse as those jobs are they all have one thing in common: bamboozle your friends and family into voting against their economic interests and for the interests of billionaires and the S&P.
The term vertically integrated gets over used, but here’s one example of how intricate this stuff really is: Want to lower property taxes on your mansions, business property, or vacation homes? Keep as many people as uneducated and therefore as vulnerable to propaganda as possible? Or maybe your thing is to nurture hatred of government in general to also starve it and lower taxes at that level? You won’t get anywhere just coming out and saying that.
In a democracy people have to be tricked into voting against themselves. There’s a lot of ways to do that when it comes to public education: 1) Get parts of the middle-class whipped into a frenzy that schools are going to teach kids the Bible is wrong, or to be gay, or promote casual sex, why those horrible schools won’t even let children say God in the pledge of allegiance! 2) Push a home-schooling movement which reduces public student populations, uses curricula biased to the extreme right, and loosens restrictions on the quality of education thus producing less informed or flatly misinformed students. 3) Privatize public education, hand it over to political donors and, over time, crank the cost way up to cover a fat profit margin, and enact policies that put more and more of that increasing cost onto the middle class through regressive tax policies and fees. 4) Defund public education and demonize educators, budget deficits created by tax cuts are a fave, then harshly criticize educators struggling to make do with less compensation and larger classrooms, and use that to justify even more cuts or ‘getting the government out of the education business’. 5) Fund or appoint crazy wingnut candidate after crazy wingnut candidate for school board positions, most might lose but enough might win that the ideas above can be advanced.
It doesn’t matter which one of those works the best, the point is they all work in their own way to keep the funding flowing with a tangible goal in mind: dismantling public education to lower taxes on rich people. That’s just one issue, the taxes that support K-12 schools. Conservatives have developed similarly comprehensive, loosely integrated strategies for dealing with just about everything — Social Security, Medicare, unemployment benefits, healthcare — and like the example above they all work toward the same goal: helping the rich get richer by tricking the rest of us into voting against ourselves. One of the most sucessful long term projects has been giving conservative snake oil salesmen and frauds the same media clout that reputable reporters and vetted institutions enjoy. The results go way beyond Fox News. There’s the Moonie Times, Fred Hiatt, David Brooks, Eric Erickson – who somehow got a contributor gig for CNN even though his website gets a tiny fraction of traffic that some blogs here at FtB get — and this same pattern is replicated at the state and local level. Ergo, if conservatives want to spread the lie that Obama is proposing the largest tax increase in US history, regardless of the facts, they can do it with great effect and little risk.
Progressives don’t have anything on the same scale. And it’s always going to be that way. If you’re liberal or progressive or centrist or whatever, in 2011, you simply have to accept you’ll always be working with fewer resources. Progressive bloggers like me are lucky if we make a part-time living doing this as a sort of hobby job (I keep waiting for my big George Soros check to arrive, but so far, nada).
The tradeoff? We get to be the good guys on the right side of history — provided the bad guys don’t gain so much power they can simply rewrite it.