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Saturday, June 30, 2012

How Right-Wingers Scam People Into Buying Their Toxic Philosophy


AlterNet.org

Here is what progressives can learn from right-wing messaging.

 
Photo Credit: ShutterStock.com

Progressives often find themselves explaining the details of their preferred policies, and arguing that they would maximize the common good if enacted. Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to eschew the fine print to embrace sweeping, moral narratives to back their positions. For the Right, debates over concrete public policies are often framed as contests between good and evil, freedom and tyranny; that's how, for example, conservatives can transform a modest 3 percent tax hike on the wealthiest Americans into pernicious “class warfare” and an intolerable example of “socialism.”

Call it a "rationality trap." For years, George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist at the University of California Berkeley, has argued that these tendencies put progressives at a huge disadvantage in our political discourse because the human brain simply doesn't process information in coolly analytical terms. Rather, people judge ideas against a larger moral framework, and by offering policy analysis rather than morality tales, liberals go to bat for their policies two strikes down in the count.

Lakoff and co-author Elisabeth Wehling discuss how these dynamics play out every day in American political debates in his new book, The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic. He appeared on this week's AlterNet Radio Hour; below is a lightly edited transcript of the discussion (you can listen to the whole show here).

Joshua Holland: George, in the book you talk about what you call “moral frames.” Can you give us a quick definition of what that is and how it plays out in our discourse?

George Lakoff: Yes. All politics is moral at the base. Any political leader who gives you some sort of prescription of what to do does it because he says it’s right, not because he says it’s wrong or doesn’t matter. Everybody thinks it’s right.

But there are two different ideas of what right is. This is very important. Let me give you a short version of this that applies mostly to economics. The basic idea behind democracy in America is the idea that citizens care about each other; that they act socially as well as individually to cash out that care, and they try to do as well as they can in doing that both for themselves and for others. They do this by having the government create what we call “the public.” The public provision of things; things for everybody – roads, bridges, sewers, public education and public health, like the Centers for Disease Control. Clean air, clean water, the provision of energy, communications and so on. These are all the sorts of things that you can’t live a life without. A private life or a private enterprise. Every business depends on all of these things. The private depends on the public. That is a moral issue. That is how we care about each other.
Conservatives have a very different view of democracy, which follows their moral system. Their moral system is more complex than ours is. The basic idea in terms of economics is that democracy gives people the liberty to seek their self interest and their own well-being without worrying or being responsible for the well-being or interest of anybody else. Therefore they say everybody has individual responsibility, not social responsibility, therefore you’re on your own. If you make it that’s wonderful. That’s what the market is about. If you don’t make it, that’s your problem.

Those are two opposite views of a moral system applied to economics. Those are straightforward, everyday examples. They apply very interestingly in the case of privatization. The right says, 'privatize as much as possible. Get rid of as much of the public as you possibly can. Make everything private if possible.' The other side says no. The public requires hiring private contractors all the time -- to build roads or public buildings -- but there’s a limit. And the limit has to do with morality. When it comes to moral issues like education, health or the environment -- which has everything to do with morality and people caring about each other -- there you don’t put that in private hands for private profit. That is the line that needs to be drawn.

Those are truths that are deeply embedded in the point of view of a progressive morality. There are other truths that are from conservative morality. They’re opposites, and because they’re opposites you’re going to get conflict. One thing that’s important to understand is that most people have a little of both. Most people are conservative about some things and progressive about others. Some people are almost all progressive and some are almost all conservative.

But there are a lot of people who are mixed and they’re called moderates or centrists, though there is no explicit ideology of the moderation. There’s no ideology of the independent or the swing voter. What you have are two different moral systems in the same brain which inhibit each other. One is active and the other is inactive. Activity in one turns off the other. The more one is active the stronger it gets and the weaker the other one gets.

What’s happened in this country is that language activates that moral system. The moral system is realized in frames. Frames are conceptual structures that we use to think in context. Language is defined in terms of those frames. When you use language that is conservative it’ll activate conservative frames which in turn activates conservative moral systems and strengthens those systems in people’s brains. That’s been happening for the past three decades. Conservatives have a remarkable communication system and a language system that they’ve constructed. They get out there and use their language and frames and repeat them over and over. The more they repeat it the greater their effect on people’s brains. Democrats don’t do that and as a result the conservatives have framed almost every issue.

What The Little Blue Book does is show how to deal with that. How to understand your own moral frames and how to see deep truths that conservative frames hide. For example: that the private depends on the public.

JH: I think this is a really important point that you get at in the book – that people don’t evaluate issues in isolation. Sometimes you’ll see the polling on something --  one example is that overwhelming majorities of people, even those who identify as conservative, say the government should do more to alleviate poverty. But when you get into specific policies that would achieve that end, you find very different results.
You write, “when you mention a specific issue all of the frames and values higher up in the hierarchy are also activated. They define the moral context of the issue.”
So, are we all just fooling ourselves when we cite public opinion on some issue or another, and assuming that people will rationally support politicians who agree with us on those issues?

GL: Yes, you’re fooling yourself. Let me give you some striking examples of that. A lot of it depends on how the questions in the poll will be framed. When Obama was elected, before he took office, he had his pollster go out and check to see what possible provisions of a healthcare plan people would like. It turned out the provisions like capping expenses, or covering people with preconditions, or allowing your children to be on your healthcare plan when you go to college -- everybody liked those, like 60 to 80 percent of people, and they still do.

What was interesting is that conservatives never attacked them. Conservatives never came out and said we shouldn't cover preconditions or you shouldn’t have your children on your healthcare plan. They didn’t attack any of those provisions. What they did is they went to morality, as it is from their perspective. They said we’re going to have two moral principles here, freedom and life. From their perspective this was a government takeover and there were death panels. And they repeated government takeover and death panels over and over until a lot of the public – people who liked all of the provisions of the plan -- were now against the plan. The plan got minority support.

So here you have the president come out week after week, and David Axelrod coming out, saying this is a wonderful plan and here are the provisions. David Axelrod at one point sent out a memo to all the people on the Obama list -- 13 million -- saying go to your neighbors and here are 24 points of the plan to remember, but just to make it easier there are three groups of eight. Nobody remembers those three groups of eight. Meanwhile the other guys are saying government takeover and death panels.

JH: A while back, I interviewed Richard Viguerie, who is a longtime conservative activist. He said something very interesting to me. He said that his fellow travelers were descendants of monarchists, and as a result, they were very receptive to top-down messaging strategy in a way that liberals are not.
We do see this again and again where you get very similar talking points from the lowest level of the conservative blogosphere to members of the Senate Republican Caucus. Is there a tendency for liberals or progressive people to not be as easily swayed by messages that are coming from above?

GL: No. They’re just as easily swayed. Turn on MSNBC and you’ll hear the same messages every night. You get talking points from the DNC and they’re all about policies. You’re going to talk about this policy and that policy and so on, but you’re not going to talk about morality.

There was a period when I was involved with a think tank called the Rockridge Institute, and MoveOn, when it was a young organization, asked its members for the 2004 election what they wanted to see in the future of the country. They thought they would get hundreds and hundreds of new proposals. They had people pair up and have a discourse about the kinds of things they wanted to see. We got a big stack of all these things and started going through them. After about the first half inch, they were all the same. Everybody said the same thing.
If you go and look at progressive foundations and look at their mission statements there are between a dozen and two dozens things they all say, and then they’re all the same. Progressive are just the same as conservatives on it, but they don’t know how to communicate their messages. What they wind up doing is talking about policies, rather than the moral basis of those policies.

JH: I think one of the most important trends in our politics these days is the mainstreaming of extremism on the Right. I certainly remember when Bill Clinton was in office you had these militia guys running around. There were these crazy conspiracy theories – Clinton was accused of drug trafficking and murdering a bunch of his political opponents. Those views were kind of consigned to the fringe -- your crazy right-wing uncle would forward chain emails with this stuff.
Now you see politicians like Michele Bachmann who believe that energy efficient lightbulbs are some sort of UN plot to undermine the free enterprise system. You have elected politicians going on Fox and saying that Obama wasn’t born in this country. In the book, you talk about this trend. How does this new extremism fit into your analogy about families? You've long said that conservatives look toward a strict father figure in governance, and liberals tend to embrace a more nurturing parent model.

GL: This goes back to 1996 to a book I wrote called Moral Politics, which talks about that at great length. The idea is this: we understand that we have two very different family models in this country. They rise from two different understandings of morality. Morality as nurturing and morality as obedience to legitimate authority. Those give rise to different types of families. A strict father family has a father who is the ultimate authority which cannot be challenged. His job is to teach kids right from wrong, assuming he knows that, and his wife’s job is to uphold his views. The children are taught right from wrong by punishment, and painful enough punishment so that they’ll try to discipline themselves to do right and not wrong. And then if they have that discipline they can go out into the world and be prosperous. If they’re not prosperous that means they’re not disciplined and so they deserve their poverty.

This idea projects onto every aspect of social life, not just to our national life but also onto the market, onto religion, onto foreign policy, the military and so on. What that does is create a very different view than progressives have about all of these things. When you have a lot of people with both of these views -- we all grow up with both of them there -- each one is in a neural circuit. That neural circuit is in mutual opposition to another neural circuit. Each of those two inhibit each other. When one of those circuits is activated over and over, more than the other, the stronger it gets and the weaker the inactive one gets. The stronger one of these circuits gets, the more influence it’s going to have over various issues.

What has happened over the years since the “Gingrich revolution” is that he worked to get rid of candidates in the Republican Party who were partly progressive. He made them as conservative as possible and he got conservative messaging. That messaging went unchallenged by Democrats. They just responded with policies. So the conservative messages have been getting stronger over the years and conservative populism has been growing because there are a lot of working people in this country, especially men, who are strict fathers at home. Those ideas of “family values” can then be extended into political, economic and religious ideas. That’s what’s happened.

There has been more and more of an audience for conservatism because those ideas become stronger in the brain because of the media control of the Right. It’s not illegitimate media control. The Left could do just as well but they don’t because they don’t know how to speak in moral terms. What happens is that as the parts of those people’s brains gets stronger you get more and more extreme conservatism. That’s not surprising. It just follows from the fact that they have a very strong and communicative system that Democrats don’t and don’t want to put into effect. That has been a very effective system. The way that people’s brains work will just give this result.

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America. Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The 10 Most Hilariously Unhinged Right-Wing Reactions to the Obamacare Ruling


AlterNet.org


TEA PARTY AND THE RIGHT  


Over-the-top? You betcha!

 
Photo Credit: ShutterStock.com
 
 
When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker beat back a recall effort, we learned that conservatives aren't exactly gracious in victory. On Thursday, when Chief Justice John Roberts joined the Supreme Court's moderate bloc to uphold ObamaCare. we discovered that the Right is nothing less than unhinged in defeat.

The remarkable thing about the heated debates about the law over the last three years is just how modest these reforms really are, especially when one considers how screwed up our healthcare system was to begin with.

The reality is that there is no "government takeover" underway. Some lower-middle-class families are going to get some subsidies to buy insurance, maybe ten million or so more poor people will be eligible for Medicaid. Insurers will get some new regulations that are popular even among Republicans.

And with Thursday's ruling, the government can no longer mandate that you carry insurance, it can only levy a small tax on those who don't. The real-world impact of that? Only an estimated 1 percent of the population will face the tax – a tax that maxes out at 1 percent -- and it may not even be enforceable!

But for the Right, a moderate expansion of health coverage and some new insurance regulations are, simply put, the worst things that ever happened. How bad is it? Well imagine that in the midst of the Holocaust, a meteor crashed to earth, destroying the entire planet. And as planet Earth exploded, it opened up a tear in the space-time continuum that swallowed up the entire galaxy. Thursday's ruling was, apparently, almost that bad.

For your reading pleasure, we've collected some of the most hilariously over-the-top freakouts we've seen. Enjoy!

1. Totally Not Exaggerating!

Baby-faced Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro offers a coolly dispassionate analysis of yesterday's ruling...
2. Wait Until They Discover That They Use the Metric System

BuzzFeed found a bunch of conservatives so freaked out by this tyranny that they're throwing in the towel and heading north to that right-wing paradise known as Canada – a place that has both universal healthcare and gay marriage...
3. Health Insurance Is So Much Worse Than the Murder of 3,000 People

It's a good thing Mike Pence is a reasonable conservative.
In a closed door House GOP meeting Thursday, Indiana congressman and gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence likened the Supreme Court's ruling upholding the Democratic health care law to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to several sources present.
He immediately apologized.
4. Grab Your Musket and Tri-Corner Hat!

Did you know that the Founding Fathers fought a revolution to keep people uninsured. It's true!
Wonkette:
Now that poors can get health insurance because the demon Supreme Court sided with that commie muslin NOBAMA fella, the only way to defend our freedom is armed insurrection! Mount up and ride to the sound of the gun says former Michigan Republican Party spokesman Matthew Davis.
Matthew Davis, an attorney in Lansing, sent the email moments after the Supreme Court ruling to numerous new media outlets and limited government activists with the headline: “Is Armed Rebellion Now Justified?”
Davis added his own personal note saying, “… here’s my response. And yes, I mean it.”
“There are times government has to do things to get what it wants and holds a gun to your head,” Davis said. “I’m saying at some point, we have to ask the question when do we turn that gun around and say no and resist.
5. Revolution Is in the Air

Davis wasn't alone. Here's Matthew Vadum, author of Zombie Acorn Is Coming to Eat Your Face!
6. A Constitutional Scholar He Is Not...

Rand Paul really needs to peruse Article 3...
Politico:
Sen. Rand Paul doesn’t think the Supreme Court gets the last word on what’s constitutional.
The Kentucky Republican belittled the high court’s health care decision as the flawed opinion of just a “couple people.”
“Just because a couple people on the Supreme Court declare something to be ‘constitutional’ does not make it so. The whole thing remains unconstitutional,” the freshman lawmaker said in a statement.
7. Health Insurance Is Exactly Like Slavery

It's not just Ben Shapiro – Richard Viguerie, a stalwart of the conservative movement since the Goldwater days, also reminisced about Dred Scott.
Today, a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court of the United States – the body the Framers of the Constitution created to protect the citizenry from tyranny – has chosen to join infamous courts of the past, such as the Taney Court that made the Dred Scott v. Sanford decision finding that slaves had no rights and the Fuller Court that ruled to institutionalize Jim Crow discrimination in Plessy v. Ferguson in stripping Americans of their freedom.
8. You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry

An unspoken virtue of Obamacare is that it might just make Glenn Beck's head explode. From his site, The Blaze:
Needless to say, the news [of the ruling] went over like a lead balloon with Glenn Beck and his radio co-hosts Pat and Stu — so much so that they nearly violated FCC language requirements.
When Beck and his team found out that it was in fact Roberts’ decision that pushed the bill through, they were visibly and audibly stunned. Beck surmised that the reason for Roberts’ decision likely hinges on the pervasive nature of progressivism.
“Progressivism is a disease and it is in both parties” Beck said.
“Progressives are fascists.”
Beck, looking on the one positive he feels to have come from this decision, said that the “Lord works in mysterious ways.”
OK, Glenn Beck.

9. John Roberts: Traitor!

Every fundamentalist religion abhors apostates, and American conservatism is no exception. As Alex Seitz-Wald detailed in Salon, the Chief Justice was treated to an abundance of bile.
“It’s patently absurd,” seethed Seton Motley, a conservative activist with LessGovernment.org. “This is the umpire calling the game for the first five innings, and then putting on a cap and glove and play first base...
“I have a message for Chief Justice Roberts,” Dean Clancy of the Tea Party group Freedomworks declared over the loudspeaker after the ruling came down. “The power to tax is the power to destroy”...
Bryan Fischer, the prominent Christian-right activist, toldBuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray that Roberts “is going down in history as the justice that shredded the Constitution and turned it into a worthless piece of parchment”
10. Or Is He?

Unlike most constitutional experts, some conservative bloggers thought that the law was so obviously unconstitutional that something fishy must be going on...
Someone got to Roberts. I bet they got to him and told him he has to vote this way or members of his family – kids, wife, parents, whoever – were going to be killed.
Later this afternoon, it’s going to come out that Roberts was coerced. ... the whole story will come out, Roberts will issue his REAL opinion, and Obama and Axelrod will be taken away in handcuffs.
Hey, one can always hope!
 
Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America. Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How Right-Wingers on the Supreme Court Sold Our Democracy Down the River -- Again


AlterNet.org


The Court's right-wing majority refused to look at facts that showed how it erred in its 2010 Citizens United ruling.

 

When the gavel fell in the U.S. Supreme Court’s chamber after the justices overturned Montana’s century-old ban on corporate electioneering on Monday, it drove another nail into the coffin of American democracy.

Of course, America’s campaign finance laws have been riddled with loopholes for years. What’s new and scary is the emerging audacity and overt politicization of the Supreme Court.
 
Taken narrowly, the 5-4 ruling, American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock, affirmed the rights of corporations to participate in Montana elections by overturning a 1912 ban that top Montana political leaders and judges said was needed to keep the Big Sky State’s low-cost elections free from undue influence by wealthy interests. 
 
“Montana’s arguments… were already rejected in Citizens United or fail to meaningfully distinguish the case,” the Supreme Court majority’s one-page ruling said.
 
More broadly, the Court’s right-wing majority reaffirmed the controversial 2010 ruling with impunity. By not revisiting any aspect of Citizens United, they declared that new facts upending the decision did not matter. Nor would they admit that they had erred on key points in Citizens United, or that public outcry over the ruling meant much, or that major loopholes unleashed by Citizens United – and follow-up court rulings – were relevant.
 
“Were it up to me, I would vote to… reconsider Citizens United or, at least, its application in this case,” wrote Justice Stephen Breyer, in a short dissent agreed to by justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan. “But given the Court’s per curiam [majority] disposition, I do not see a significant possibility of reconsideration.”
 
The refusal to revisit Citizens United will likely reverberate in political circles for years. 
 
Today’s biggest campaign finance loopholes—those that allow shadow groups known as super PACs that can take multi-million-dollar donations and run the nastiest political ads, all while pretending that they aren't coordinating their actions with candidates—are now going to become an anti-democratic fixture on the American political landscape. 
 
What does it mean when the Court’s ruling majority cannot look at new facts objectively, cannot admit that they erred, and cannot review aspects of a recent decision despite calls to do so from the country’s best legal minds, top federal elected officials, majorities of voters asked in numerous nationwide polls, and four associate Court justices? It means, as political analyst James Fallows wrote this weekend in the Atlantic, that most reasonable observers would conclude that the United States was experiencing “a kind of long-term coup if we saw it happening anywhere else.”  
 
Who is leading this putative coup led by the Supreme Court's conservatives? 
 
The answer is the Republican Party, as the beneficiary of most of 2012’s big-dollar loopholes and whose officials have filed most of the lawsuits that have resulted in the ongoing deregulation of campaign finance laws. Also winning big are a handful of the richest Americans, typically old men whose multi-million-dollar political gifts barely dent their vast family fortunes. And it is also major corporate players, who, emboldened by Citizens United—and federal failures to enforce most campaign finance laws—have flocked to newly politicized non-profits that can spend millions on political advertising but don’t have to disclose their donors' identities. 
 
Lost in the deregulatory melee are the voices of ordinary Americans.
 
“The current situation, wrought by Citizens United, is nothing short of a gross debasement of our democracy and the idea of one citizen, one vote,” said Paul S. Ryan, senior council for the Campaign Legal Center, who filed a brief urging the Court to revisit the 2010 ruling. “In theory the decision is na├»ve. In practice it is shameful.” 
 
“The Supreme Court continues to deny reality when it comes to assessing the impact of independent spending on elections,” said Public Citizen president Robert Weissman, in a statement that typified the reaction from campaign reform advocates. “The Court is not going to overturn Citizens United, at least in the near term. It thus falls on the people to overturn the Court, through a constitutional amendment.”
 
Weissman and other amendment proponents omit another possibility: that the best way to counter a runaway Supreme Court in the short term would be electing a president that would appoint a fairer minded federal judiciary, starting at the Supreme Court. Three justices, two conservatives and one liberal, are now in their mid-70s and approaching retirement.
 
A Nation of Men, Not Laws
 
The scariest aspect of the Supreme Court’s right-wing majority is their self-satisfying radicalism. They are anything but conservative jurists -- true judicial conservatives would hold facts in higher regard than their ideological beliefs and partisan leanings.   
 
One of fundamental precepts of American democracy is that there is a difference between the "rule of law" and the "rule of men." The judicial process is based on establishing the facts in court and having judges interpret the laws in a fair-minded if not skeptical manner. 
 
The problem with the Citizens United ruling, and indeed with Buckley v. Valeo, the 1976 campaign finance ruling that ushered in today’s big money-dominated elections, is that key elements of both these decisions were not based on the facts. They were based on the beliefs of justices in the majority about what they wanted the facts to be. 
 
In Buckley, the Court looked at a new law passed by Congress that limited campaign donations and campaign spending. It wanted to rush out a decision well before the 1976 presidential election, but didn’t have a factual record about how the new contribution and spending limits would work, according to Burt Neuborne, who was involved in the case and is now legal director of the Brennan Center at NYU Law School. 
 
So the Court asked both sides to negotiate a settlement—and that’s why that decision reads like a scholarly article, not a court case. Law professors cite Buckley as exactly what courts are not supposed to do procedurally. Yet it laid the foundation for today’s campaigns—and was the most defining campaign finance ruling until Citizens United.  
 
Buckley unleashed a political demon. It ruled that individuals could spend unlimited amounts on their own in a political campaign. The justices held that the only reason to limit such spending was to prevent corruption, but concluded that individuals could not corrupt themselves. For years, campaign consultants and election lawyers followed this logic—and the way it was applied by judges—and created fictitious political committees that were supposedly unconnected to candidates and thus exempt from regulation. Thus, monied interests came to monopolize the airwaves and stifle electoral debate.
 
Over the years, campaign finance reformers have waged a number of legal battles with loophole-embracing lawyers and have only won a few—mostly to preserve campaign contribution limits, donation disclosure laws, public financing schemes, and the long-established precedent that prevented corporations from spending freely in elections.  
 
The corporate ban fell with the 2010 Citizens United decision. In it, the Supreme Court said that corporations and unions could make unlimited donations to non-candidate political committees—so-called “independent expenditures.” 
 
It also said that because these committees called themselves independent, they were independent and were exempt from regulation. And they said that independent political committees could not be corrupted, and that political corruption had to be close to bribery—and not just create an appearance of impropriety. 
 
Another federal court decision that quickly followed Citizens United tied these threads together and unleashed 2012’s super PACS, in which former aids to various presidential candidates (mostly on the GOP side of the aisle) created these groups, started taking multi-million-dollar donations, and used the money for ads backing their ex-bosses. 
 
These loopholes were unmasked and reported on by major media organizations. This record of multi-million-dollar gifts by donors who were then seen meeting with specific candidates, as well as the record of independent groups that ran negative ads that were a counterpoint to the candidate’s positive ads, were some of the "facts" that prompted many people—editorial boards, advocates, elected officials, and associate Supreme Court justices—to ask the Court’s majority to revisit Citizens United.  
 
When in late 2011 the Montana Supreme Court upheld its century-old ban on corporate electioneering, it was widely seen as a challenge to Citizens United—because under the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, state courts have to follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings. The Montana Supreme Court said that Montana had a unique political history, and had all kinds of legal reasons to uphold its 1912 ban on corporate electioneering.
 
Most election law scholars believed that Montana would be overruled, but they also held out hope that the U.S. Supreme Court would rehear aspects of Citizens United, because the decision’s claims that independent political committees—like super PACs—were in fact independent had proven to be false in 2012. Moreover, they held out hope that the 2010 ruling’s declarations that independent expenditure groups could not be corrupted would also be re-examined. That appeared to the very kind of conflict of interest Buckley said could be regulated—but which Citizens United said was not a problem.         
 
Two Supreme Court justices, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, issued a short statement when the Court took the Montana case, saying they hoped their colleagues would use the case to revisit these aspects of Citizens United. A variety of legal briefs were filed arguing the same thing. Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and Rhode Island Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said wealthy interests were using the threat of outsized donations to super PACs to threaten elected officials—giving another real-life example of Citizen United’s anti-democratic impact. 
 
Former top American Civil Liberties Union officials, who broke with the group’s fundamentalist First Amendment stance, wrote a brief reminding Citizen United’s main author, Justice Anthony Kennedy, of his prior decisions holding that not all corporations were treated equally for First Amendment purposes. 
 
None of these arguments swayed the Court’s right-wing ideologues.   
 
“Montana’s experience, like considerable experience elsewhere since the Court’s decision in Citizens United, casts grave doubt on the Court’s supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so,” Justice Breyer wrote in his dissent. 
 
Campaign finance reformers pledged to keep fighting in the wake of Monday’s ruling. Many states across the country, including Montana, are looking at ballot measures calling on Congress to send a constitutional amendment to the states that would return the power to control campaign finances to Congress. 
 
But there is no getting around the bottom line. The Montana ruling at the Supreme Court is a dark day for American democracy. The Court only makes campaign finance rulings periodically and often decades apart. In the meantime, the special interests and people with the deepest pockets have new power to dominate and distort all stages of the democratic process—from elections to lobbying. 
 
Whether the solution is a constitutional amendment or electing a president who will not appoint ideologues to the court is an open question. What is clear is that American democracy is certainly weakened and possibly imperiled when the highest court deliberately chooses to ignore facts and consequences that impact how the public elects its representative government.    
 
Steven Rosenfeld covers democracy issues for AlterNet and is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).

Monday, June 25, 2012

Conservative Politics Will Again Trump Law in Supreme Court's Health Care Ruling



politics
The Huffington Post



Earl Ofari Hutchinson


Conservative Politics Will Again Trump Law in Supreme Court's Health Care Ruling 

President Obama and top Democrats have repeatedly exuded cautious confidence that the Supreme Court will uphold part, or most, of the Affordable Care Act. But underneath their strained optimism, the Obama administration almost certainly knows that politics, not law, will ram its way into the court's final decision. There was never much doubt that the health care law would face rough sledding from the court's four ultra conservatives. The tip-off of that came quickly. The four judge's hard line challenge to the government's position during oral arguments signaled that they leaned heavily toward scrapping the law. The ostensible hook that the conservatives latched onto to assail the law was that the individual mandate is an unlawful infringement on individual liberty. It allegedly forces Americans to buy insurance. Nowhere does the Constitution confer that power on Congress or the executive branch.

That's just the start. Polls show that a slender majority of Americans want to dump all or parts of the law. This includes some Democrats. Despite loud protests that they are not swayed by public opinion or ideological beliefs, the court conservatives are, and the polls give even more ammunition to them. But even without the polls, the GOP and ultra conservatives waged their own very public and relentless war on the health care reform law from the moment that Obama proposed it. They claim that it is too costly, too overburdening on businesses, too unpopular with a majority of Americans, and that the law is an unwarranted infringement on the power of states to regulate health care and private insurers and health providers to offer it, price it and administer it.
A decision to scrap the health care law will be the political icing on the cake for a court that has done everything it could to tip the political scales back toward the GOP. The first nudge was the Citizens United ruling that virtually gives corporations and the super rich unrestricted license to pour any amount of money they see fit into political campaigns. The conservatives made a preposterous twist of the 14th Amendment to confer individual rights and freedoms on business entities to justify the decision. The ruling was a clear reaction to the shock of the 2008 presidential campaign. The shock was that Obama and the Democrats, for one of the rare times, beat the GOP at its own fundraising game. It raised tens of millions, with a good chunk of that coming from Wall Street and wealthy donors. These are the donors that traditionally give lop sided amounts of money to the GOP presidential candidate's coffers. The ruling was aimed at demolishing the campaign fundraising field and insuring that in 2012, and future presidential campaigns, that the GOP reasserts its financial supremacy. In the era where money not just dominates but virtually buys elections, the side that maintains the top heavy edge in funding will win elections outright or at the very least insure that it will always be competitive.

The Supreme Court conservatives continued their blatant political assault with the recent ruling in the Knox v. SEIU case. It virtually mandates that unions can't collect dues from non-union members even when the unions are fighting for wage and job protection rights that affect those not in the unions. The ruling ostensibly upholds individual liberty. But the result is that it will severely cripple public employee union's ability to raise the monies necessary to vigorously fight for labor protections which is exactly the intent of the ruling. The decision gives a legal cover to GOP governors to further sledgehammer public employee unions in their states.

Next up is affirmative action. The court almost certainly will use the suit by a white former Texas student against the University of Texas's modest affirmative action program to once and for all dump affirmative action in education. This will have a ripple effect throughout all government and even corporate affirmative action programs.

The court's sharp upturn in the sheer number of conservative decisions tells the real story of the court's naked political activism. In the first five years under the watch of Chief Justice John Roberts, the court issued conservative decisions in nearly 60 percent of the cases. In the term that ended the year after Obama took office in 2009, the percentage of conservative decisions shot up to 65 percent. This is the largest number of overt conservative political decisions in over a half century. There's no sign that that the court's conservative rulings rampage will change.

The health care reform law if it is overturned will be the court conservative's political coup de grace. It would come in the heat of what will be a close most intense White House race and will earmark yet another would be big political gift to the GOP. With that and its other decisions, it has done everything it could to bend the law for its blatant political ends.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent political commentator on MSNBC and a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.

Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson
 

Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/earlhutchinson

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Selling destructive ideology

SALON



Selling destructive ideology

Why conservatives sell their wildly destructive ideology better than Democrats



Selling destructive ideology  

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, speaks at the NALEO (National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials) conference in Orlando, Fla., Thursday, June 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) (Credit: AP)
 
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.
Framing is (or should be) about moral values, deep truths, and the policies that flow from them.

AlterNet As of their kickoff speeches in Ohio, Romney and Obama have both chosen economics as their major campaign theme. And thus the question of how they frame the economy will be crucial throughout the campaign. Their two speeches could not be more different.

Where Romney talks morality (conservative style), Obama mainly talks policy. Where Romney reframes Obama, Obama does not reframe Romney. In fact, he reinforces Romney’s frames in the first part of his speech by repeating Romney’s language word for word — without spelling out his own values explicitly.

Where Romney’s framing is moral, simple and straightforward, Obama’s is policy-oriented, filled with numbers, details, and so many proposals that they challenge ordinary understanding.

Where Obama talks mainly about economic fairness, Romney reframes it as economic freedom.

As the authors of The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic, here’s a discussion of Obama’s speech.




****
Obama began his kickoff campaign speech in Cleveland stating that he is “in complete agreement” with Romney: “This election is about our economic future. Yes, foreign policy matters. Social issues matter. But more than anything else, this election presents a choice between two fundamentally different visions” regarding economic policy.
 
 Obama’s strategy is to pin the Bush economic disaster on Romney, with good reason, since Romney has essentially the same policies as Bush. Since Obama has not consistently pinned the blame on Bush over the past four years, he comes off as defensive.

Romney’s strategy is to pin the disaster on Obama. He uses the Caretaker Metaphor — Obama has been the national caretaker, so the present condition is his responsibility. Since Obama started out assuming a caretaker’s responsibility, it is difficult for him to escape the frame now. He should have avoided it from the beginning. Pinning the disaster on Bush is possible, but it will take a lot of repetition, not just by the president, but by Democrats in general. Not just a repetition of economic facts, but of the moral differences that led to both the Bush disaster and the Obama attempt to recoup.

Perhaps the most important omission from the Obama speech was any overt mention of The Public — everything that our citizenry as a whole provides to all, e.g., roads, bridges, infrastructure, education, protection, a health system, and systems for communication, energy development and supply, and so on. The Private — private life and private enterprise — depends on The Public. There is no economic freedom without all of this. So-called “free enterprise” is not free. A free market economy depends on a strong Public. This is a deep truth, easy to recognize. It undercuts Romney’s central pitch, that is it private enterprise alone that has made our country great, and that as much as possible of The Public should be eliminated.

Romney calls free enterprise “one of the greatest forces of good this world has ever known.” In reality, America free enterprise has always required The Public.

Romney attacks The Public, speaking of “the heavy hand of government” and “the invisible boot of government.” The contrast is with the putative “invisible hand” of the market — which leads to the good of all if everyone follows their self-interest and the market’s natural force is not interfered with. Romney’s “invisible boot” evokes the image of a storm trooper’s boot on your neck. The government is the storm trooper, your enemy. You are weak and in an impossible position. You can’t move — a metaphor for being held back and not being able to freely engage in the economy. Romney uses the frame consistently: “The federal establishment,” he says,” has never seemed so hostile.” The Public is an “establishment” — an undemocratic institution — which is the enemy of the people. It is implicit in this frame that the government is not the people.

Romney’s assumption here is that democracy is based on the “liberty” to seek one’s self interest with minimal regard to the interests or well being of others. People who are good at this will succeed, and they deserve to. People who are not good at this will fail, and they should. In Romney’s speech, “The Freedom to Dream,” he used the word “freedom” 29 times. This is what he means.

Although Obama intends to argue against this understanding, he unintentionally feeds it. He does so in three ways: First, by accepting and reinforcing many of Romney’s central frames (often by negating them); second, by moving to the right in his own argumentation; and third, by not spelling out his own moral principles explicitly right from the start.

First, here are three examples of Obama repeating Romney’s frames (in bold):
“Governor Romney and his allies in Congress believe deeply in the theory that the best way to grow the economy is from the top down.

“They maintain that if we eliminate most regulations, if we cut taxes by trillions of dollars, if we strip down government to national security and a few other basic functions, the power of businesses to create jobs and prosperity will be unleashed and that will automatically benefit us all.

Republicans “believe that if you simply take away regulations and cut taxes by trillions of dollars, the market will solve all of our problems on its own.

Though Obama’s statements are supposed to be taken sarcastically, they actually are positive, straightforward, easy to understand versions of Romney’s positions and beliefs.

Second, Obama argues for his willingness to compromise by giving examples of his “bipartisanship,” where he did just what conservatives wanted and had argued for as the right thing to do: cutting taxes and eliminating regulations. Here is Obama:

“Understand, despite what you hear from my opponent, this has never been a vision about how government creates jobs or has the answers to all our problems. Over the last three years, I’ve cut taxes for the typical working family by $3,600. I’ve cut taxes for small businesses 18 times. I have approved fewer regulations in the first three years of my presidency than my Republican predecessor did in his.”

Conservatives talk endlessly about “cutting spending.” The president uses the same frame: “I’ve signed a law that cuts spending and reduces our deficit by $2 trillion.

Language is important here, as well as policy. “Spending” is a conservative term; it suggests a needless draining of financial resources, a waste of money. But most of that money was “invested” in our people or used to maintain our infrastructure — not just “spent”. Though a tax reduction for working families may very well have been a good idea, the term “cutting taxes” is a conservative term, suggesting that taxes in general are bad and should be “cut.”

There is of course a deeper problem here. Anyone this me-too-conservatism might appeal to would most likely vote for a real conservative over Obama.

Third, in his speech, the president gives a long list of perfectly reasonable policies: ending oil subsidies, investing in education, hiring more teachers and pay them better, not deporting young immigrants, investing in clean energy, encouraging energy innovation, supporting R&D tax credits, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, reforming the tax code, eliminating tax breaks for businesses that ship jobs overseas, strengthening Medicare and Medicaid, and so on.

No such list is going to be remembered by most of those who heard it. Moreover, what is said first matters; it sets the moral frame. In his speech, Obama first repeats the Romney frames, opposes them to numbers and policy lists, and only at the end talks about his own moral vision.

What could Obama have done better?

Frame everything from his own moral perspective, including Romney’s positions and assumptions. Avoid the Romney language. Start with his own moral position, which he stated beautifully in his 2008 campaign but has since dropped: That democracy is based on empathy (citizens caring about fellow citizens), responsibility both for oneself and others, and an ethic of excellence (doing one’s best not just for oneself, but for one’s family, community, and country).

What else?

Repeat the truth that The Private depends on The Public. It is The Public that provides economic freedom. Give a vision of responsible, progressive business. Talk freedom — as well as fairness. Point out that the hoarding of wealth by the 1 percent kills opportunity, as Joseph Stieglitz has discussed at length. Speak of an “Economy for All — not just rich bankers, managers, and job killers like private equity firms.” Yes, Romney and those like him are job killers. Say it. Point out that during the economic recovery of 2010, 93 percent of the additional income went to the richest 1 percent of taxpayers. Stop using “top” to mean rich. “Top” suggests high morality, merit, and ability. “Bottom” signifies the opposite.

We are now in a situation where conservatives have framed almost every issue. The least Democrats can do is to refuse to repeat their language and so help them.

House Republicans Try to Create a World Fit for Criminals


AlterNet.org

NEWS & POLITICS  


Why are politicians getting away with deliberately creating a system in which elite white-collar crime can flourish?

 
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
 
 
In criminology, we recognize that one of the leading restraints on the effectiveness of law enforcement is what is known as “systems capacity.”  Indeed, my mentor, Henry Pontell (UC Irvine), defined the concept.  In the context of crimes of the street (other than Wall Street), there is normally no lobby trying to allow the typically lower class criminals to commit their crimes with impunity.  In crimes of the business suites, however, it is the norm that there are well-funded, powerful, and seemingly legitimate lobbyists for the elite criminals who seek to allow them to commit their crimes with impunity. 

Similarly, it is rare for street criminals to consult a lawyer before they commit their crimes.  Elite white-collar criminals often consult with expert legal counsel before, during, and after they commit their crimes in order to try to minimize the risk of being sanctioned.

One of the most obvious ways to produce a criminogenic environment is to create systems incapacity to detect and sanction crime.  House Republicans are doing that in the context of elite white-collar crime.  That context also happens to be the leading campaign donors for both parties.
On June 9, 2012, The New York Times published an important editorial entitled “Lost the Vote?  Deny the Money.”  The editorial will be ignored by the Obama administration and Republicans but it is well worth reading in full.  Here are some key excerpts.
If you wanted to reproduce the conditions that led to the Great Recession in 2007, the easiest way would be the plan unveiled last week by House Republicans: gut the regulators who are supposed to keep the worst business practices in check.
At a time when the economy is still reeling from the downturn, House Republicans released a spending bill that would severely cut the budget of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which would keep it from regulating potentially toxic swaps and other derivatives. It refused to give the Securities and Exchange Commission the extra money it needs to carry out the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill.
And the bill would cripple the Internal Revenue Service, limiting its ability to detect tax avoidance, particularly by businesses and the wealthy. (The I.R.S. cut, designed to impede the agency’s role in health care reform, will inevitably increase the deficit.)
With 710 employees, the C.F.T.C. staff is barely big enough for its current responsibilities, let alone its new mission under Dodd-Frank to oversee the huge over-the-counter swaps market. Its budget is $205 million, which President Obama proposed increasing to $308 million for 2013 to deal with swaps. The House Appropriations Committee has proposed slashing next year’s budget to $180 million.
The agency’s chairman, Gary Gensler, said: “The result of the House bill is to effectively put the interests of Wall Street ahead of those of the American public, by significantly underfunding the agency Congress tasked to oversee derivatives — the same complex financial instruments that helped contribute to the most significant economic downturn since the Great Depression.”
As Mr. Gensler pointed out, the market in swaps, at $300 trillion, is eight times larger than the futures market his agency has been regulating, and yet the House wants to cut the agency’s budget significantly. The House committee chairman, Harold Rogers, said the agency should return to its “core duties,” a statement that brazenly ignores a new set of duties Congress put on the books.
In this essay I make four brief points.  First, the House Republicans’ proposals would produce the most criminogenic environment in the world that risks an even larger financial crisis and outright depression.  This isn’t simply the lesson of the current crisis.  George Akerlof and Paul Romer explained the point in 1993 in their classic article (“Looting: the Economic Underworld of Bankruptcy for Profit”).  They made this paragraph their conclusion in order to emphasize the message.
“Neither the public nor economists foresaw that [S&L deregulation was] bound to produce looting.  Nor, unaware of the concept, could they have known how serious it would be.  Thus the regulators in the field who understood what was happening from the beginning found lukewarm support, at best, for their cause. Now we know better.  If we learn from experience, history need not repeat itself” (Akerlof & Romer1993: 60).
Akerlof was made a Nobel Laureate in economics in 2001.

Second, the losers from creating a criminogenic environment that encourages looting are not “merely” the public – the losers include honest businesses.  When cheaters gain a competitive market, competition becomes perverse and firms controlled by the least ethical CEOs can drive their honest competitors from the marketplace.  Akerlof made this point explicitly in his even more famous 1970 article on markets for “lemons” where he wrote about the economics of anti-purchaser control frauds.  He called it a “Gresham’s” dynamic.
“[D]ishonest dealings tend to drive honest dealings out of the market. The cost of dishonesty, therefore, lies not only in the amount by which the purchaser is cheated; the cost also must include the loss incurred from driving legitimate business out of existence.”
Modern executive compensation causes accounting control fraud to produce a powerful Gresham’s dynamic.  CFOs rightly fears that their tenure may be measured in months if they do not mimic their rivals’ use of accounting control fraud to produce what Akerlof and Romer aptly termed a “sure thing” of record reported income that, in turn, produces enormous executive compensation.
Classic economists stressed the essential role of government – providing a rule of law and preventing and punishing criminal acts, including fraud.  Ayn Rand stressed that government had a duty to prevent fraud.  The essence of crony capitalism is the ability to commit fraud with impunity.  The Tea Party opposes crony capitalism and the House Republicans quake in fear of upsetting the Tea Party and being challenged in the Republican primary.

We have deregulated, desupervised, and de facto decriminalized finance in the U.S. and Europe to an unprecedented extent in the last 30 years and the results have been uniformly catastrophic.  Governor Romney states that he intends to repeal the entire Dodd-Frank Act and recreate the criminogenic environment that caused the financial crisis and the Great Recession.

We have four dogs that have failed to bark.  Conservatives have long claimed to be the party of law and order – where are they.  The data are in – the Bush and Obama administrations have been soft on elite white-collar crime (by their largest campaign donors).  Libertarians and Tea Party supporters who hate crony capitalism – rise up and demand an end to the elites who grow wealthy by committing fraud with impunity and cost millions of Americans and Europeans their jobs.

And where are President Obama and Attorney General Holder on this issue?  The editorial quotes only regulators.  The President and the Attorney General should be taking the lead and denouncing the deliberate recreation of a criminogenic environment.  Here is the central fact that Holder and Obama have never grasped – effective investigations and prosecutions of epidemics of elite financial frauds are only possible where the regulators and the SEC do the heavy lifting.  The regulators will only do the heavy lifting if their leaders understand control fraud and make its detection, termination, sanctioning, and prosecution their top priorities.  Bush and Obama have overwhelmingly appointed failed, anti-regulators like James Gilleran, John Reich, John Dugan, Timothy Geithner, Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, Harvey Pitt, and Susan Schapiro.  They have also appointed attorney generals who have all been weak on elite financial fraud.

The epidemic of accounting control fraud by financial institutions that drove the Great Recession was the largest and most costly example of white-collar crime in history.  But all we have heard from Obama and Holder is minimization of the role of fraud in the crisis and the same abject failure as the Bush administration to prosecute the elite frauds that drove the crisis.  The minimization of fraud comes from the death of criminal referrals by the regulatory agencies.  Neither the banking regulatory agencies nor the FBI has conducted what would have been considered in our era a serious investigation of an elite financial institution.  When it comes to elite frauds; if you don’t look you don’t find.  Having falsely claimed that there were only trivial violations of the law, the Obama administration has emasculated its ability to go credibly to the public and warn that the House Republicans are about to recreate the criminogenic environment that produces our recurrent, intensifying financial crises.  Holder and Obama cannot credibly claim that the House Republicans are about to allow our financial elites to again grow wealthy through fraud because Holder and Obama are continuing Mukasey and Bush’s policy of granting de facto immunity to the elite criminals who caused the crisis.

Prominent Republican writers have recently urged their Party to destroy crony capitalism.  Instead, their representatives are trying to entrench it.  Prominent progressives have been urging Obama to destroy crony capitalism.  Instead, he has entrenched it by taking his financial advice from Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers, Geithner, and Bernanke.  Neither party is willing to take on their leading source of political contributions.  We need a party, an attorney general, and a slew of regulators who will make it their mission to end crony capitalism in America.  Europe needs the same thing.

Bill Black is the author of 'The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One' and an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He spent years working on regulatory policy and fraud prevention as Executive Director of the Institute for Fraud Prevention, Litigation Director of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board and Deputy Director of the National Commission on Financial Institution Reform, Recovery and Enforcement, among other positions.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Why Conservatives Sell Their Wildly Destructive Ideology Better Than Democrats

AlterNet.org

TEA PARTY AND THE RIGHT  

Framing is (or should be) about moral values, deep truths, and the policies that flow from them. Why are conservatives better at articulating these?


Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Framing is (or should be) about moral values, deep truths, and the policies that flow from them.

As of their kickoff speeches in Ohio, Romney and Obama have both chosen economics as their major campaign theme. And thus the question of how they frame the economy will be crucial throughout the campaign. Their two speeches could not be more different.

Where Romney talks morality (conservative style), Obama mainly talks policy. Where Romney reframes Obama, Obama does not reframe Romney. In fact, he reinforces Romney's frames in the first part of his speech by repeating Romney's language word for word -- without spelling out his own values explicitly.
Where Romney's framing is moral, simple and straightforward, Obama's is policy-oriented, filled with numbers, details, and so many proposals that they challenge ordinary understanding.

Where Obama talks mainly about economic fairness, Romney reframes it as economic freedom.

As the authors of Authors of The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic, here's a discussion of Obama's speech.



****
 
Obama began his kickoff campaign speech in Cleveland stating that he is "in complete agreement" with Romney: "This election is about our economic future. Yes, foreign policy matters. Social issues matter. But more than anything else, this election presents a choice between two fundamentally different visions" regarding economic policy.

Obama's strategy is to pin the Bush economic disaster on Romney, with good reason, since Romney has essentially the same policies as Bush. Since Obama has not consistently pinned the blame on Bush over the past four years, he comes off as defensive.

Romney's strategy is to pin the disaster on Obama. He uses the Caretaker Metaphor -- Obama has been the national caretaker, so the present condition is his responsibility. Since Obama started out assuming a caretaker's responsibility, it is difficult for him to escape the frame now. He should have avoided it from the beginning. Pinning the disaster on Bush is possible, but it will take a lot of repetition, not just by the president, but by Democrats in general. Not just a repetition of economic facts, but of the moral differences that led to both the Bush disaster and the Obama attempt to recoup.

Perhaps the most important omission from the Obama speech was any overt mention of The Public -- everything that our citizenry as a whole provides to all, e.g., roads, bridges, infrastructure, education, protection, a health system, and systems for communication, energy development and supply, and so on. The Private -- private life and private enterprise -- depends on The Public. There is no economic freedom without all of this. So-called "free enterprise" is not free. A free market economy depends on a strong Public. This is a deep truth, easy to recognize. It undercuts Romney's central pitch, that is it private enterprise alone that has made our country great, and that as much as possible of The Public should be eliminated.

Romney calls free enterprise "one of the greatest forces of good this world has ever known." In reality, America free enterprise has always required The Public.
Romney attacks The Public, speaking of "the heavy hand of government" and "the invisible boot of government." The contrast is with the putative "invisible hand" of the market -- which leads to the good of all if everyone follows their self-interest and the market's natural force is not interfered with. Romney's "invisible boot" evokes the image of a storm trooper's boot on your neck. The government is the storm trooper, your enemy. You are weak and in an impossible position. You can't move -- a metaphor for being held back and not being able to freely engage in the economy. Romney uses the frame consistently: "The federal establishment," he says," has never seemed so hostile." The Public is an "establishment" -- an undemocratic institution -- which is the enemy of the people. It is implicit in this frame that the government is not the people.

Romney's assumption here is that democracy is based on the "liberty" to seek one's self interest with minimal regard to the interests or well being of others. People who are good at this will succeed, and they deserve to. People who are not good at this will fail, and they should. In Romney's speech, "The Freedom to Dream," he used the word "freedom" 29 times. This is what he means.

Although Obama intends to argue against this understanding, he unintentionally feeds it. He does so in three ways: First, by accepting and reinforcing many of Romney's central frames (often by negating them); second, by moving to the right in his own argumentation; and third, by not spelling out his own moral principles explicitly right from the start.

First, here are three examples of Obama repeating Romney's frames (in bold):
"Governor Romney and his allies in Congress believe deeply in the theory that the best way to grow the economy is from the top down."

"They maintain that if we eliminate most regulations, if we cut taxes by trillions of dollars, if we strip down government to national security and a few other basic functions, the power of businesses to create jobs and prosperity will be unleashed and that will automatically benefit us all."
Republicans "believe that if you simply take away regulations and cut taxes by trillions of dollars, the market will solve all of our problems on its own."

Though Obama's statements are supposed to be taken sarcastically, they actually are positive, straightforward, easy to understand versions of Romney's positions and beliefs.

Second, Obama argues for his willingness to compromise by giving examples of his "bipartisanship," where he did just what conservatives wanted and had argued for as the right thing to do: cutting taxes and eliminating regulations. Here is Obama:

"Understand, despite what you hear from my opponent, this has never been a vision about how government creates jobs or has the answers to all our problems. Over the last three years, I've cut taxes for the typical working family by $3,600. I've cut taxes for small businesses 18 times. I have approved fewer regulations in the first three years of my presidency than my Republican predecessor did in his."

Conservatives talk endlessly about "cutting spending." The president uses the same frame: "I've signed a law that cuts spending and reduces our deficit by $2 trillion.

Language is important here, as well as policy. "Spending" is a conservative term; it suggests a needless draining of financial resources, a waste of money. But most of that money was "invested" in our people or used to maintain our infrastructure -- not just "spent". Though a tax reduction for working families may very well have been a good idea, the term "cutting taxes" is a conservative term, suggesting that taxes in general are bad and should be "cut."

There is of course a deeper problem here. Anyone this me-too-conservatism might appeal to would most likely vote for a real conservative over Obama.
Third, in his speech, the president gives a long list of perfectly reasonable policies: ending oil subsidies, investing in education, hiring more teachers and pay them better, not deporting young immigrants, investing in clean energy, encouraging energy innovation, supporting R&D tax credits, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, reforming the tax code, eliminating tax breaks for businesses that ship jobs overseas, strengthening Medicare and Medicaid, and so on.

No such list is going to be remembered by most of those who heard it. Moreover, what is said first matters; it sets the moral frame. In his speech, Obama first repeats the Romney frames, opposes them to numbers and policy lists, and only at the end talks about his own moral vision.

What could Obama have done better?

Frame everything from his own moral perspective, including Romney's positions and assumptions. Avoid the Romney language. Start with his own moral position, which he stated beautifully in his 2008 campaign but has since dropped: That democracy is based on empathy (citizens caring about fellow citizens), responsibility both for oneself and others, and an ethic of excellence (doing one's best not just for oneself, but for one's family, community, and country).

What else?

Repeat the truth that The Private depends on The Public. It is The Public that provides economic freedom. Give a vision of responsible, progressive business. Talk freedom -- as well as fairness. Point out that the hoarding of wealth by the 1 percent kills opportunity, as Joseph Stieglitz has discussed at length. Speak of an "Economy for All -- not just rich bankers, managers, and job killers like private equity firms." Yes, Romney and those like him are job killers. Say it. Point out that during the economic recovery of 2010, 93 percent of the additional income went to the richest 1 percent of taxpayers. Stop using "top" to mean rich. "Top" suggests high morality, merit, and ability. "Bottom" signifies the opposite.
We are now in a situation where conservatives have framed almost every issue. The least Democrats can do is to refuse to repeat their language and so help them.


We could go on, and we do in The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic, and on The Little Blue Blog www.thelittleblueblog.org/   Click on it now for a first visit.
George Lakoff is the author of Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate' (Chelsea Green). He is Professor of Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley and a Senior Fellow of the Rockridge Institute.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Conservatives Don’t Understand the Constitution When Obama’s in Charge

Conservatives Don’t Understand the Constitution When Obama’s in Charge






The Daily Caller posted a link to Republican pundit Charles Krauthammer’s Monday night appearance on “Special Report” on the FOX News Channel.  During the appearance, Krauthammer argued Romney made the correct move in not commenting on or taking a “punt” on President Obama’s immigration policy articulated Friday.

Krauthammer parroted the legally incorrect argument that the President acted beyond his Constitutional authority.  In reality, President Obama acted squarely within his authority under Article II of the Constitution.

​The Daily Caller’s posting Krauthammer’s television appearance is interesting because it is the same publication that sent a reporter to the White House Rose Garden to interrupt the President during his historic Friday speech.  Virtually all serious journalists agree the reporter behaved deplorably.

 Now the Republicans, buoyed by support from online sites such as The Daily Caller, are extolling the virtue of Romney taking no stance on a key issue while celebrating the reporter’s taking cheap shots at the President.  Republicans do so by misstating the law while exemplifying a Palinesque understanding of the power of the Executive and the separation of powers in general.

​It is no surprise the Republicans continue to misstate the law in order to torpedo the President’s principled stance, which is also a brilliant political stance.  Basic civics teaches the federal government has three branches of government.  Congress makes laws; the Executive branch, headed by the President, enforces them; and the Judicial branch, headed by the Supreme Court, interprets them.
​Article I does give the Congress the power to pass laws relating to immigration, but Article II gives the President the power to enforce the laws.  This means the President has the power to enforce the laws within the meaning of the law or to not enforce the law.  Reasonable minds can disagree on what the meaning of the law is.

​This country needs meaningful immigration reform, and this reform is stymied at every turn by the Republicans who have repeatedly blocked the DREAM ACT.
Likewise, Congress does not adequately fund Homeland Security, which oversees immigration.  This slows the process.

The President decided to pave the way to citizenship for undocumented individuals under the age of 30 who came to the U.S. before age 16.  These individuals cannot be criminals or a threat to national security.  It makes sense to bring individuals in compliance with the law, but the Republicans (when they actually take a stance) do not see it this way.
​A friend of mine (a staunch Republican) likened the President’s decision to “prosecutorial discretion” because it is the President’s discretion as to whether or not to enforce the laws and how to enforce the laws.  What is different here, however, is the President’s principled stance gives freedom to people where as the Republicans want to take freedom away.

​Mitt Romney decided to make no comment on the immigration issue, which is one of the most significant issues of our time.  Not very Presidential. Instead Romney let an amateur reporter with a bad tie interrupt the President during a speech in the White House Rose Garden.

It is not surprising Krauthammer would praise Romney for taking no stance as well as incorrectly stating it is a “congressional issue”.  Krauthammer, Bill Kristol and now Tucker Carlson, who started the Daily Caller, are Neocons, and Neocons have never been known for their understanding of the law or grasp of the facts. The Neocons misstate the law and show stunning inconsistency in praising the reporter heckler while also praising Romney for retreating into spineless oblivion.

​Democrats should stand up proud.  President Obama takes stances.  He believes in something unlike Mitt Romney who has changed his position more times than I change ties in a year.  It is important to be flexible.  No question about that, but in the end it is important to stand for something.  It is hard to see what Mitt Romney stands for other than “vulture capitalism,” which Bain Capital practiced so skillfully.

Tucker Carlson’s previous show, Crossfire, failed to get the ratings necessary to keep it on the air; perhaps Tucker’s little bow ties had something to do with this.  Too bad he did not discovery his lack of dancing talent then because it may have saved the show.  Of course it is no worse than Mitt Romney’s singing.

​Tucker Carlson is trying to do well with his website even if it means sending cub reporters to heckle the President in the White House Rose Garden.  That is okay if the Republicans want to play this way, but come election time they better hope Mitt Romney stands for something.  Otherwise they will be as out of step as Tucker Carlson and his Neocon ilk.