Thursday, May 6, 2010

What is everyone so angry about? Part 2

As discussed in part 1, conservative media repeatedly portray Obama as a socialist in order to provide cover for not negotiating/compromising with him. In addition to portraying deficits and spending as out of line with historical norms (despite being in line with Bush's last months and CBO projections at the start of his Presidency), they frequently cite the federal government taking a partial ownership in banks and car companies as a condition for saving those companies from extinction with billions of dollars of taxpayer dollars. What Hannity & Co. miss, with these claims, is that it was noted Socialist George W. Bush who required banks give stock to the government in exchange for a bailout, and that doing anything else would have required either a second Great Depression or a massive giveaway to Wall Street.

There was a legitimate debate around the time of TARP (the bank bailout bill) about whether or not taking an ownership stake in companies was a good idea. Just about everyone agreed that letting the banks go out of business would destroy the economy. It was also widely agreed that government cash was the only way that these companies would be kept from closing their doors. Numerous prominent Republicans supported taking ownership in bailed-out banks, including the Bush White House, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, House GOP Leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor, along with 89 other House Republicans and 32 other GOP Senators. You can't call Obama a socialist for taking over banks without putting the same label on the GOP. Theirs was not the socialistic goal of achieving government ownership of production; it was to save our (mostly-) capitalist economy.

This claim that Obama took over banks also rings somewhat hollow as he, ya know, wasn't President then.

When Obama actually was President, he applied the same logic that Bush and the GOP leadership (and then-Sen. Obama) did with TARP in bailing out GM and Chrysler. Bush had already allocated billions of dollars to save the two. Obama followed Bush's deal with the banks that, if the federal government was going to share in the risk of loss of billions of dollars, that they should get a share of the potential profits as well.

Another problem with the "Obama-as-Socialist" meme is that he's so bad at it, were that his actual goal. Under Obama's administration, the government has sold back most of the stakes it took in banks, and GM has repaid billions of its debt. His supposed socialist takeover of our health care system expands private insurance much more than it expands government-run plans. In one breath, they criticize Obama as a Socialist who is out to lead a government takeover of the banks, and in the next breath, they say he is in bed with them. They'll twist reality in any way necessary to attack Obama and de-legitimize his policies.

One of my biggest beefs with the Tea Party and the conservative media is that they overemphasize critiques of Obama policies without properly acknowledging the alternatives to those policies. The only alternatives to Obama's action regarding partial ownership of GM and Chrysler were either letting the companies fail by refusing to help them, which would have destroyed millions of jobs, or to give the corporations something for nothing, giving them billions without asking for anything in return. Those alternatives, of course, don't look as good on a sign at a rally as a picture of Obama with a Hitler mustache.

I hold out hope that as November approaches, conservatives will be forced to say what they will do if returned to power, instead of just what they oppose. Opposing Obama's deficits and spending is all well and good in the abstract, but you can't slash the deficit or lower taxes without specific ideas about what spending to cut. As we'll discuss in Part 3, Tea Partiers, and Americans in general, are susceptible to such vague rhetoric because they have no idea what the government actually spends taxpayers' money on. As Americans become more interested and educated during the upcoming campaign, they will more carefully consider alternatives to Obama's policies, and those policies might not look so un-American anymore.