Tag Archives: GOP

The Failed Attempt to Blunt Progressive Christianity

In 1980, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and a couple of hundred thousand conservative Christians claimed “Washington for Jesus.” Months later, Ronald Reagan was elected with substantial support from Falwell’s “Moral Majority.” Thus began an unholy alliance between Christian fundamentalists and the Republican Party that now threatens to rip the Grand Old Party apart. The loss of functioning government has been collateral damage of this internecine warfare, and David Brat’s defeat of Eric Cantor is the latest and most profound example of the raging civil war over the heart and soul of Republicanism. That christianist Brat claims his victory was a God-ordained miracle is hardly surprising.

The Republican establishment has long fed the beast that now threatens to devour the party, and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman’s New York Times op-ed of June 13 offers his typical sublime insights. Krugman suggests the Republican establishment has long used the cultural warriors of the religious right to stir up the base and win elections but for the benefit of the economically advantaged. Krugman writes of the stratagem: “an interlocking set of institutions and alliances that won elections by stoking cultural and racial anxiety but used these victories mainly to push an elitist economic agenda.”

There is a striking parallel within ecumenical Protestantism.

At the same time that Ronald Reagan forged support from Christian conservatives into a winning political coalition, the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) was founded in 1981. This organization mirrors the Republican establishment in the manner it riled up folks in the pews in order to further a largely neo-conservative economic and political agenda. The IRD’s political/economic goals include increased defense spending, opposing environmental protection efforts, anti-unionism, and weakening or eliminating social welfare programs, but those actual goals were masked by an emphasis on cultural warfare issues. Over the years, the IRD has been financially supported by a who’s who of right-wing millionaires, including Richard Mellon Scaife, Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson, Jr. and his IRD board member wife Roberta (called the “financiers” in a 2005 Time Magazine article), Adolph Coors, the John M. Olin Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

President of the United Church of Christ, John Thomas, wrote in 2006,

The right-wing Institute for Religion and Democracy and its long-term agenda of silencing a progressive religious voice while enlisting the church in an unholy alliance with right-wing politics is no longer deniable … But to play with Scripture just a bit, we doves innocently entertain these serpents in our midst at our own peril.*

The Lutheran expatriate turned Roman Catholic priest, Richard John Neuhaus, an IRD founder and longtime board member, bragged in 2005 while addressing the IRD board,

How, if at all and what ways, do we distinguish IRD from the remarkable insurgency that has rewritten the map of American culture and politics over the last 20 years, of evangelical, Catholic, generally conservative, religiously inspired political activism, dismissively called by our opponents, the “Religious Right”? How did it happen, one might ask, that IRD became in many ways an ancillary, supportive, coordinating agency for insurgencies within these three denominations–the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church-USA, and the Episcopal Church?*

The earliest splash made by the IRD was to attack the National Council of Churches by promoting the false notion that the ecumenical denominations supported Marxist revolutionaries in Africa. CBS’ 60 Minutes played the role of dupe in furthering the claim in a 1983 segment later dismissed by Don Hewitt, the 60 Minutes creator and longtime producer, as the segment he regretted most in his 36 year career. The broadcast began with the IRD leader, Richard John Neuhaus, speaking,

“I am worried – I am outraged when the church lies to its own people.” The camera moved from an offering plate in a United Methodist church in the Midwest to images of the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and then to marchers in Communist Red Square. The lengthy segment over and over suggested that the National Council of Churches (NCC) was using Sunday offerings to promote Marxist revolution. The most damaging accusation in the program was that NCC had somehow funded armed insurgents in Zimbabwe. While showing horrific footage of a slain missionary, the program implied that the NCC was responsible for the brutal murder. It was a lie that the top rated show in television told to tens of millions. The broadcast was highly damaging to mainline Protestants and the NCC.*

By the late 1980s and continuing, the IRD founded, funded, or otherwise influenced conservative organizations within the Methodist and Episcopal Churches and trumpeted the danger of LGBT inclusive policies to rally their troops. Dianne Knippers cut her teeth as a staffer for the conservative Methodist organization, “Good News.” Later, she would serve as IRD president during the height of its influence. Methodist theologian Thomas Oden was another Good News leader with ties to IRD as a member of the IRD board of directors. Current IRD President Mark Tooley is a lifelong Methodist and founder of the Methodist arm of the IRD called UMAction. The IRD also has a Presbyterian Action branch. The longtime conservative irritant within the Presbyterian Church is an organization called the Lay Committee that promotes their publication, The Layman. The self-described pillars of the Lay Committee were “People of means and action. Besides being leaders in their churches, they were leaders in corporate America.”* Within the Episcopal Church, Knippers served jointly as IRD President and organizer and leader of the late 1990s Episcopal group, the American Anglican Council, which served as chief conservative organizer at the virulently anti-gay Lambeth Conference in 1998 and as the opposition to the confirmation of Bishop Gene Robinson and all things gay in the early years of this century. Though the opponents of ELCA progressivism are not connected to the IRD, some Lutheran conservative commentators share neo-conservative political views (for example, Robert Benne, the author of The Ethic of Democratic Capitalism: A Moral Reassessment).

Over the years, the Republican establishment has stoked nativist, racist, sexist, anti-intellectual, anti-government, and anti-Muslim fears with a politics of scapegoating the immigrant, the black, the feminist, the queer, the academic, the government worker, and the welfare recipient. town-hall_thumb.jpgBy appealing to lesser instincts–especially of the angry white male–the party has enjoyed sufficient electoral success to continue feeding the beast, but Krugman’s article suggests this “bait and switch” tactic may no longer work as evidenced by Tea Party primary challenges to the party favorites. Ironically, the destabilization of the Republican Party itself would appear to be the legacy of the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons and the complicity of the Reagans, Bushes, and the Republican establishment who are now being forced to “dance with the one who brought you.” While Republican self-destruction may not play out in the 2014 off-year elections, early portents for 2016 suggest a likely Democratic president and Congress, despite the built-in Republican advantage of gerrymandered Congressional districts. In the meantime, dysfunctional government will continue as the Tea Party insurgency in Congress will preclude any meaningful legislation.

While the outcome of the Republican civil war remains uncertain, the ecumenical denominations have largely resisted the contemporaneous neo-con attempts to destabilize leadership and thwart progressive impulses. For years, the conservatives used the rising tide of LGBT inclusive policies to frighten folks in the pews, but that battle is nearly won. Within the Lutheran Church (ELCA), Episcopal Church, and the United Church of Christ, LGBT-friendly policies are largely settled and entrenched with LGBT clergy, bishops, and high-ranking executives in the home offices all serving openly. The Presbyterians now ordain openly gay and lesbian ministry candidates and will likely endorse marriage equality in the next week. Meanwhile, the conservative opposition to Presbyterian progressivism, the Lay Committee, has chosen to stay away from the national General Assembly currently underway in Detroit–a telling admission of their declining influence. Although the battle rages within the United Methodist Church, it is only unique Methodist international polity that serves as the final barricade against LGBT inclusion (38% of all delegates at the last Methodist General Conference were foreign and staunchly conservative regarding LGBT issues), but the swelling pockets of inclusivism in local congregations and regional conferences and the ecclesiastical disobedience of Methodist clergy and bishops signal growing momentum for the cause of inclusion. After years of IRD and other conservative opposition to the innate progressivism of the ecumenical denominations, those church bodies have emerged from the fray more solidly progressive than ever. The neo-conservative intention of thwarting the social justice impulses of progressive Christianity has been a singular failure.

The media is noticing. The religious editor of the Huffington Post suggests the knee-jerk media response of running to the nearest evangelical with a bullhorn may be over in an article entitled, The Stunning Resurgence of Progressive Christianity.

*Quoted in Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism.

“I’m not a scientist, man”

Galileo by Giusto SustermansEver since the Roman Inquisition decreed that Galileo was “vehemently suspect of heresy” for suggesting the sun stood still while the earth revolved around it, the interplay of science and religious belief has been problematic for the church.  In the ensuing centuries as the age of reason, of enlightenment, and of rationalism dominated western thought, church folk could either accept or reject scientific data, and Christians inexorably moved into one of two camps.

The nineteenth century witnessed the rise of “liberal Protestantism” which freely embraced science and empiricism … faith seeking understanding.  Scripture was subjected to scientific and historical analysis, the so-called “historical critical method.”  For this camp, it was “both-and.”

For others, the dilemma was easily solved: If science contradicted traditional, Biblical understanding, science must be rejected.  For this camp, it was “either-or.”

The Presbyterians in the 1920s served as proxy for the whole of Christendom in the so-called “Fundamentalist-Modernist” controversy.  Presbyterian scholars chafed under imposed dogmatic “fundamentals.” Emanating from Auburn University, theologians circulated a document proclaiming the freedom of conscience and the right of dissent—the so-called “Auburn Affirmation.”  A commission was formed, and the 1927 Presbyterian General Assembly adopted the commission’s progressive report; the modernists had prevailed and the fundamentalists had lost.

    But the rift in Christianity wasn’t healed, and the two camps grew further apart.  Historian David Hollinger suggests using the terminology “ecumenical” for the progressives and “evangelical” for the conservatives.  The terms imply an outward versus insular attitude.  In the Church of England decision this week to preclude female bishops, the “evangelical” camp prevailed.  In the recent legislative wrangling within the modern-day Presbyterian Church over LGBT ordination, the evangelicals lost; this was also the recent experience of the Episcopal Church, the Lutherans of the ELCA, and the United Church of Christ.  All these “ecumenical” denominations have endorsed gay clergy.  Meanwhile, evangelical Christianity continues to loudly defend its non-scientific worldview.

This is the religious background to the political point of this post.

In the last generation, the United States has witnessed the rise of the religious right.  More than that, evangelical religionists have come to occupy a dominant position within the Republican party.  When presumably intelligent and educated Senator Marco Rubio visited Iowa this week, he professed ignorance when asked a simple scientific question about the age of the earth:

“I’m not a scientist, man … It’s one of the great mysteries …  It is a dispute among theologians.”

Nobel prize winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman responds,  “What about the geologists?”

Here is the profoundly frightening part.  By wedding itself to the evangelicals, the Republican party has embraced ignorance, and Marco Rubio is constrained to play dumb for fear of alienating the Iowa base.  Krugman puts it this way:

Reading Mr. Rubio’s interview is like driving through a deeply eroded canyon; all at once, you can clearly see what lies below the superficial landscape. Like striated rock beds that speak of deep time, his inability to acknowledge scientific evidence speaks of the anti-rational mind-set that has taken over his political party.

Evolution versus creationism and global warming are obvious public policy issues affected by Republican know-nothingism.  Less obvious is economic theory: austerity versus stimulus during a down economy or the lack of evidence to support supply-side, trickle down policies.  As with their evangelical religionist cronies, the Republican preference is for dogma over empiricism.

Lest we dismiss Krugman as just another liberal Democrat, consider the sentiments of Ross Douthat, one of the handful of Republican commentators willing to acknowledge the emperor wears no clothes.

The fact that the “conservatives vs. science” framework is frequently unfair doesn’t mean that the problem doesn’t exist, or that Republican politicians should just get a free pass for tiptoeing around it. No matter how you spin it, Rubio’s bets-hedging non-answer isn’t exactly a great indicator about the state of the party he might aspire to lead … it’s still neither politically helpful nor intellectually healthy for a minority political party to pick pointless fights with the nation’s scientific and technical elite.

So much for the vacuous impact on public policy wrought by the marriage of evangelicals and politicians.  What about the impact on religious institutions?  On religion itself?  Evangelicals love to beat their chest and point to declining membership in the ecumenical denominations in a post-Christian America.  But it is not just the old mainline denominations—it is Christianity and religion in general.  We have previously posted about this issue and quoted a review of the recent book American Grace which:

makes the case that the alliance of religion with conservative politics is driving young adults away from religion …. Among the conclusions [of a major survey] is this one: “The association between religion and politics (and especially religion’s intolerance of homosexuality) was the single strongest factor in this portentous shift.”

And Douthat the Republican agrees:

the goal of Christianity is supposed to be the conversion of every human heart — yes, scientists and intellectuals included — and the central claim of Christianity is that the faith offers, not a particular political agenda or an economic program, but the true story of the world entire. The more Christians convince themselves that their faith’s core is identical with the modern innovation of fundamentalism, and in direct conflict with the best available modern biology and geology, the less attainable that goal and the less tenable that central claim.

Conservative entertainment complex

Were you shocked by the election results?  If so, perhaps you should stop watching Fox News.

David Frumm is a Republican writer for the Daily Beast and Newsweek, and he coined the phrase, “conservative entertainment complex” to describe media personalities and organizations whose financial motivations (i.e., ratings) color their pseudo-political news and commentary.  What is reported and how is dictated by audience share rather than responsible journalism.  Frumm suggests that the Republican cause was ill served by dishonest appraisals of the issues and the electorate.  Actually, Frumm’s language is robust: “Republicans have been fleeced and exploited and lied to by a conservative entertainment complex.”

Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Glen Beck are unnamed but obvious candidates for the “conservative entertainment complex” criticized by Frumm.  Their bombast is meant to entertain rather than inform.

What about Fox News, the most-watched cable news network?  Apparently, CNN or other network news programming was streaming in the ballroom where Romney supporters watched election night returns, but as the news soured they demanded a switch to Fox.  What that says about the willingness to be misled is fascinating.  With Pavlovian predictability, the supporters knew where to turn to hear what they wanted to hear.  Unfortunately for those viewers, Fox also called the election for Obama relatively early thus dashing all false hopes in a fascinating scene in which Karl Rove disputed the call.

Rupert MurdochAny analysis of Fox must start with Rupert Murdoch.  Murdoch is the Australian-born media magnate who first penetrated the British tabloid market and then the American, founding the supermarket favorite, Star Magazine, in the seventies.  In 1985, he sacrificed his Australian citizenship in order to gain citizenship on these shores to get around the legal requirement that the owner of U.S. TV stations must be a citizen.  It is Murdoch’s media empire that is now under criminal investigation in Britain for illegal phone tapping, and many of his highest-ranking associates are under indictment.  Murdoch’s conglomerate founded Fox News in 1996, and it remains among Murdoch’s current U.S. holdings.

A recent study found that viewers who didn’t watch any news on TV were able to answer 1.22 standardized test questions correctly.  The most informed were those who listened to NPR or watched the Sunday morning talk shows with average scores of 1.51 correct answers.  Fox News Viewers?  1.04.  Yep, that’s right.  The study demonstrated that Fox viewers were less informed than the folks who didn’t watch any news!

Faux News is more than a pejorative descriptor; it is accurate.

Feeding the beast

This first week following the election has seen endless Republican hand-wringing.  What did the party do wrong and how will it be fixed going forward?  Morning Joe Scarborough and the the crew on MSNBC this morning suggested it was a problem of tone.  Too shrill.  Too demeaning.  Too scapegoating.  “What happened to the compassionate conservatism of President Bush?” Scarborough whined.  Immigrant bashing.  Gay bashing.  Forty-seven per cent bashing.  Louisiana Governor Jindal drew praise from the morning crew for criticizing Romney’s latest attempt to blame his defeat on those who would benefit from benevolent government policies (student loan relief, healthcare, etc.).

Talk nice and the party will be restored.  Really, Joe Scarborough?  That’s all that’s wrong with the once-proud party of Lincoln?

Since the “Southern strategy” of Richard Nixon, this has been a party that has fed the beast plenty of red meat, and now the monster is threatening to devour the party.  Has the beast master lost control?

For those too young to remember, George Wallace was a race-baiting segregationist governor of Georgia in the early sixties who had great success as a third-party presidential candidate by stoking the fears of angry white southerners.  Nixon and his cronies learned from Wallace.  Lee Atwater was Richard Nixon’s Karl Rove, and his 1981 explanation of the southern strategy, long rumored, has now been confirmed on video (dug up by President Jimmy Carter’s grandson, no less).

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

town hallWillie Horton.  Welfare queens.  Food stamp president.  Takers vs. makers.  47%.  Code language that supported the unstated narrative.  Only now, when there aren’t enough angry white men to offset the coalition of the young, the women, the Hispanics, and the blacks that has become the Democratic base of the twenty-first century, are Republicans having second thoughts.

How will they put the beast back in the cage?  Tea party insurgents have defeated moderate Republican Senatorial candidates in the last two elections only to see the red seats turn blue in the general election.  Senate majority leader McConnell will likely face a primary challenge next go-round unless he continues to throw plenty of red meat.  The same is true of House Speaker Boehner and his own caucus that may oust him if he seeks moderation in negotiations with the White House.

Talk nice, if you will, Joe Scarborough.  That may placate the party moderates and some independents, but how will the party tame the beast that has gorged on culture wars, nativist and racist code-words, and the apocalyptic rhetoric of more than a generation?  Pardon me if I don’t feel sorry when the beast you have loosed turns on you.

Before the election, President Obama predicted a Republican civil war.  We can only hope for minimal collateral damage.

Mitt’s got some ‘splainin’ to do

News out of southeastern Minnesota tells more sad tales of teens who succumbed to bullying and committed suicide.  Oftentimes it is the short one, or the heavy one, or the shy one, or the stutterer, or the gay, but thirteen-year-old Rachel Emhke didn’t seem to have any distinguishing characteristics except that she got on the wrong side of the wrong crowd.  For seventeen-year-old Jay “Corey” Jones, his life got both better and worse after he came out as gay.  His dad said,

“I just saw a difference in him I saw a smile, I saw a little more energy than actually being down and out and depressed-looking,” [his dad] said. “To me he felt a sign of relief, like, ‘Yeah I got over the hard part, right,’ you know.”

But, being out also meant the bullying increased.

Mitt RomneyIn national news, the Washington Post is out with a well-attested article that suggests Mitt Romney’s elitist upbringing also included some bullying at his posh private school.  But the well-manicured governor’s son was not the object of the abuse; instead, the presidential wannabe was the chief perpetrator.

John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it.

“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection. Mitt, the teenaged son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled.

A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.

Candidate Romney has attempted to get out ahead of the story by issuing the standard wishy-washy apologyI don’t remember but if I offended anyone, I’m sorry.  In any case, Mitt says, “I’m quite a different guy now.”

We can only hope so, but I doubt we’ll be seeing any “It Gets Better” videos out of his campaign.

Critique of Paul Ryan

Here are a few political stories and opinions that appeared this weekend, and I’ll conclude with a video of Ronald Reagan … arguing for the Buffett principle, believe it or not.

National columnist EJ Dionne and New York Times columnist and Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman have similar opinions about the Paul Ryan budget.

Here’s a sample of Dionne op-ed piece from the Washington Post.

Obama specifically listed the programs the Ryan-Romney budget would cut back, including student loans, medical and scientific research grants, Head Start, feeding programs for the poor, and possibly even the weather service.

Romney pronounced himself appalled, accusing Obama of having “railed against arguments no one is making” and “criticized policies no one is proposing.” Yet Romney could neither defend the cuts nor deny the president’s list of particulars, based as they were on reasonable assumptions. When it came to the Ryan budget, Romney wanted to fuzz things up. But, as Obama likes to point out, math is math.

And, from Krugman’s NY Times’ piece:

The Ryan cult was very much on display last week, after President Obama said the obvious: the latest Republican budget proposal, a proposal that Mitt Romney has avidly embraced, is a “Trojan horse” — that is, it is essentially a fraud. “Disguised as deficit reduction plans, it is really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country.”

The reaction from many commentators was a howl of outrage. The president was being rude; he was being partisan; he was being a big meanie. Yet what he said about the Ryan proposal was completely accurate.



Sweet Home Alabama

Have you seen the British Petroleum (BP) produced ads extolling tourism in the Gulf?  They’re actually done quite well and make the region from the Florida panhandle, across Alabama and Mississippi, and ending in Louisiana look pretty appealing.  After despoiling the gulf with their oil spill, I assume the ads are part of BP’s payback.

Many years ago, I spent a little time in Louisiana, home to an aunt and cousins, but the rest of the region could as well be a foreign country, as far as I know.  I hear they play really good college football down there, and the ads make the beaches appear attractive and the cuisine sounds delicious.  However, the politics and the religion down there scare the beejeebers out of me.

For a century, this was the “solid south” for the Democratic Party, the days of segregation and Jim Crow, and the Republicans were remembered as the party of Lincoln, the Union Army, and carpetbaggers.  That began to change at the 1948 Democratic Convention when Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey offered a stirring speech promoting civil rights, and the “Dixiecrats” led by Strom Thurmond stalked out, determined to protect what they portrayed as the southern way of life beset by an oppressive federal government while proclaiming “segregation forever.”


Hubert Humphrey’s famous civil rights speech–1948


The circle was completed in 1968 when Richard Nixon recognized that he could turn the south into the Republican promised land by exploiting racism.  This “Southern Strategy” has defined the last forty plus years of American politics.

Tonight, the Republicans of Alabama and Mississippi hold their primaries, and the eyes of the nation are again focused on the politics of the region.  The pollsters tell us that not much has changed.

  • Interracial marriage ought to be illegal according to roughly a quarter of the Republican voters.
  • Three to four times as many think President Obama is a Muslim compared to those who think he’s Christian.
  • Two to three times as many do not believe in evolution compared to those that do.
  • Twice as many in ‘Bama prefer the Crimson Tide football team to the Auburn Tigers.  Ok, I guess that’s irrelevant.

Despite those appealing ads, I don’t think I’ll be heading southeast anytime soon.  I admit it, I’ve got prejudices of my own.

Santorum says I’m not a Christian

Of course, he doesn’t know me.  We’ve never talked, and I doubt he’s read any of my writing, though I ‘d be delighted to send him a copy of A Wretched Man with the hopes that he publicly disses it.  I’d send him a copy of Prowl, too, but that might offend his piety because the book drops a few ffenheimers.   But, he knows I’m not a Christian because I’m a self-avowed, unrepentant, practicing liberal.  What is more, I’m all about sex, because I’m a Democrat.  From the 2008 interview in which he suggested that liberals could not be Christian:

Woodstock is the great American orgy. This is who the Democratic Party has become. They have become the party of Woodstock. The prey upon our most basic primal lusts, and that’s sex. And the whole abortion culture, it’s not about life. It’s about sexual freedom. That’s what it’s about. Homosexuality. It’s about sexual freedom.

I’m sorry I missed Woodstock, but I was preoccupied dodging bullets and feeling scared, homesick, and abandoned in the jungles of Vietnam.  I was pretty much celibate in those days, too, so I’m not quite sure why Santorum thinks I’m oversexed.  I’ll ask my wife what she thinks.

Isn’t the sanctimonious, “we’re Christians, but you’re not”, what we really dislike most about the religious right?  Well, I take that back; there are too many delicious absurdities to rank them.

Stimulus not austerity

Hey, I know, this is “a blog of progressive, religious themes.”  My last post was pure economics, and now I’m going to say the same thing again, only different.  There is religion here too, but it’s implicit–economic justice, care for the widow and the orphan, blessed are the poor, and more–but I’m not explicitly talking about that.  Our national and world economies are about to pushed over a cliff, and we need to shout that as loud as we can.

My last post featured Economist Robert Reich who called for President Obama to “go big”, and I also mentioned Nobel laureate Paul Krugman.  Today, it is Krugman’s turn to debunk austerity in favor of stimulus in a New York Times article entitled “Misguided Deficit Worries make Unemployment Worse”.  Krugman writes,

And by obsessing over a nonexistent threat, Washington has been making the real problem — mass unemployment, which is eating away at the foundations of our nation — much worse.

Although you’d never know it listening to the ranters, the past year has actually been a pretty good test of the theory that slashing government spending actually creates jobs.

The deficit obsession has blocked a much-needed second round of federal stimulus, and with stimulus spending, such as it was, fading out, we’re experiencing de facto fiscal austerity.

State and local governments, in particular, faced with the loss of federal aid, have been sharply cutting many programs, and have been laying off a lot of workers, mostly schoolteachers.

And somehow the private sector hasn’t responded to these layoffs by rejoicing at the sight of a shrinking government and embarking on a hiring spree.

OK, I know what the usual suspects will say — namely, that fears of regulation and higher taxes are holding businesses back. But this is just a right-wing fantasy.

Multiple surveys have shown that lack of demand — a lack that is being exacerbated by government cutbacks — is the overwhelming problem businesses face, with regulation and taxes barely even in the picture.

Are Reich and Krugman merely lonely voices crying in the wilderness?  Consider this from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD):

The pursuit of austerity measures and deficit cuts is pushing the world economy toward disaster in a misguided attempt to please global financial markets, the annual report of the United Nations economic think tank UNCTAD said on Tuesday.

The report, entitled “Post-crisis policy challenges in the world economy,” savaged U.S. and European economic policies and called for wage increases, stricter regulation of financial markets, including a return to a system of managed exchange rates, and a conscious break with market-led thinking.

“The message here is very pragmatic: we need to reverse our course quickly,” said UNCTAD Secretary General Supachai Panitchpakdi. [former head of the World Trade Organization]

And this from The Atlantic, in an article subtitled How a stubborn misreading of classical economists — combined with a hyper-partisan Republican Party — haunts the U.S. economy [emphasis added]:

The intellectual actions of these extreme free marketeers do not take place in a vacuum. They interact with a political structure comprised of lobbies and pseudo think-tanks to promote policies that, while wrapped in the cloak of promoting free markets, ultimately serve to redistribute growth to the top of the wealth scale. “Efficient market hypotheses” and “rational expectations”–the idea that absent government interference, market participants will make optimally efficient decisions–leads directly to supply-side tax cuts, deregulation of financial markets, the formation of financial bubbles, the acceptance of income stagnation, and disinvestment in public goods. And these measures, in turn, have delivered levels of income and wealth inequality not seen since the late 1920s, along with policy handcuffs that today have us arguing about how to reduce, rather than strengthen, regulations.

And here’s where I get around to religion.

brown-skinned socialist

Going big

In the fall of 1966, this small-town boy from central Minnesota arrived on the campus of Dartmouth College as a “pea-green freshman”.  I was the twenty-third string quarterback on the freshman football team.  Professor Jeffrey Hart spent each hour of freshman English lighting and re-relighting his pipe as he strolled in front of the class, eliciting discussion of Milton’s Paradise Lost.  Despite Hart’s political conservatism in an otherwise liberal environment(he was a close associate of Wm. F. Buckley), he was the perfect icon for my introduction to an Ivy League education.  To be sure, I was more than a little overwhelmed.

It was then that I first heard the name of Robert Reich.  Though small in stature, upperclassman Reich was the biggest man on campus.  If my memory serves, Reich was a leading commentator on WDCR, the college radio station, and founder of an unofficial experimental college.  Reich’s taped speech on the three slain civil rights workers in Mississippi was used by subsequent speech classes as the model, par excellence.  It was clear then that big things were in store for Robert Reich.

Robert Reich at DartmouthOf course, I am speaking of the man who would later serve in the Clinton cabinet and who is currently a frequent commentator on television and in print media.  Reich and Nobel-prize-winning Paul Krugman are the two leading economists who advocate for the positive and necessary role of the federal government to stimulate a stagnant economy.

Reich is currently Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley.  Today he posts an op-ed piece, which challenges President Obama to “Give ‘em hell” in his speech to Congress next week.  He hopes the President “goes big” and advocates:

rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, creating a new WPA and Civilian Conservation Corps, and lending money to cash-starved states and cities.

Republicans will oppose it, of course. They’ll say the stimulus didn’t work the first time (they’re wrong — it saved 3 million jobs but it was way too small given the drop in consumer spending as well as budget cuts by states and cities), and we can’t afford it (wrong again — the yield on 10-year Treasury bills is now 2 percent, meaning this is the best time to borrow. And if growth isn’t restored soon, the debt/GDP ratio will balloon beyond belief). But their real hope is to keep the economy anemic through Election Day 2012 so voters will send Obama home. [emphasis added]

The coming year that will culminate in the 2012 election will be fascinating and frightening.  For eighty years, America has functioned on the basis of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal—a controlled capitalist economy with social safety nets—that reversed the laissez-faire, “hands-off”, environment that preceded it.

Herbert_HooverBy all accounts, President Herbert Hoover was a brilliant man with an exemplary record of government service prior to the collapse of an unregulated stock market in the fall of ‘29, his first year as President.  As history tells us, Hoover’s laissez-faire ideology failed him and the country, and the economy continued to spiral downward into the Great Depression.  The election of FDR in ‘32 and his huge, landslide reelection in ‘36 spelled the end of laissez-faire, replaced by the interventionist fiscal policies of economist John Maynard Keynes who provided the intellectual warrant for New Deal macroeconomics.  The primary poster child of the New Deal was the Social Security Act,  which the current poll-leading Republican presidential candidate refers to as a “Ponzi Scheme”.

For eighty years, this has been the American way, even when the federal government was in the hands of the GOP.  Remember the “me-too” Republicans of the Eisenhower years, Nixon’s famous dictum, “I am now a Keynesian in economics”, and the willingness of the icon of conservative Republicanism, Ronald Reagan, to enact economic stimulus when needed.

Will all that change in 2012?  For failing to pay attention to history, will we be doomed to repeat it?  Will the Tea Party return America to the laissez-faire policies of Herbert Hoover?  When leading Republicans flub minor details of American history, it is laughable, but when they forget the “going big” lessons of American macroeconomics, it is downright scary.

For generations, pundits joked that Democrats continued to run against Herbert Hoover though he was long retired at the will of the electorate.  Perhaps it’s time to run against Hoover again.