Self-Interests, Special Interests and the General Welfare: Whose Holding Who Hostage?

Everyone knows that in a hostage situation, the reckless and amoral actor has the negotiating upper hand over the cautious and responsible actor because the latter is actually concerned about the life of the hostage, while the former does not care”.  – Mike Lofgren, former GOP Congressional staff member and his analogy of Tea Party members of congress who literally want to hold the US and global economies as hostages unless they get everything they want while they compromise with no one.

It has become clear to me as I’m sure it has to many of you that much of what we haggle over in the social and political debates of our time evolves way too often from extreme views that are often unrealistic.  In times past extremist views would have been repudiated by their Party, but for the sake of a common alliance with those fringe elements, many now either do one of two things; 1 – remain silent and hope it dies a quick natural death or 2 – get on board with it to strike a blow, any blow, at their adversaries, even if they know it could well have adverse affects down the road.

The battle tends to be centered around how much we can hurt the other guy rather than trying to convince thoughtful people that solutions abound and can be found in open-ended dialogues with practical and experienced people.  The silly notions that get carried too far, which only an unstable person would latch on to, get more attention than they deserve.  To push the absurdity even further some of these extremists invoke God in ways that question whether there is indeed a compassionate deity almost all of us have been raised to believe in.  Advanced media technology has aided this freak show tremendously, making people who have little critical thinking skills vulnerable and exploitable to the protestations and postulations of charismatic mad men and women.

The harm that this effects on our ability to make smart choices in the short and long-term ought to be apparent.  It is human nature that once we have locked in to something, changing our minds about it is much more difficult, especially if some rational alternative is not presented quickly and with equal or greater force.

The campaign that can get out the timeliest, shortest message to a public looking for answers will be able to plant a seed that can be nurtured over time as an issue grows naturally or is force-fed by those who planted the seed.  The messages’ credibility is often less important to the message managers than getting some people to think in ways that defy logic.  Too many spectators are already susceptible to wild conspiracy theories and ghost stories.  Some of the nonsense will prevail just enough to make the difference in close votes for candidates and issues, which is the goal these message managers work towards.

Take for example the attitude people have about government regulations.  Those on the extreme right think they are always bad in a capitalist economy and those on the extreme left think they are always necessary to constrain man’s natural greed or what is often referred to in free-market vernacular as “self-interests”.

In a conversation about tough economic times and religious faith, Rebecca Blank, a labor economist and the Robert S. Kerr Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution shows us how you can bridge such gaps in terms that speak honestly to the issues while not reneging on your own set of values.  Here she addresses the need for government regulations on the private sector.

[T]here are regular business cycles. And business cycles are in many ways embedded in the way in which the economy functions.  …  Moral failure strikes me as probably the wrong term here. It is a failure of appropriate business analysis inside a lot of these firms, but it’s also clearly a failure of appropriate regulation by the public sector. …  But anyone who knows the history of economics knows that we have a serious(sic) of price bubbles and enthusiasms and that people get caught up in the promise of something that is just going to work wonderfully and make them a lot of money. It’s part of human greed and enthusiasm.

One of the big questions of economics is how do you mitigate business cycles? How do you try to prevent bubbles and crashes? I think we have learned quite a bit in the economics profession. Some of that is being put to use right now in the Federal Reserve Bank, the Treasury, and Congress—and hopefully it will be effective. It is clearly a moral challenge, but also an economics and political challenge as to how you put together the regulatory system that protects people. 

Extreme views always eliminate those possibilities that don’t prop up their own agitated views.  Everything is either black or white. There are no gray areas, no middle ground, no room to negotiate and compromise.  While those on the right believe this is their sworn obligation to their ideological supporters those of us on the left are concerned that a centrist view has been moving more toward the right where a new center is constantly changing.

I make no bones about it, I hold liberal views.  It is who I am after many years of first being raised as a conservative christian and slowly evolving over time to come to the point where I’m now the progressive, non-religious individual some of you have come to know me as.  But the conservatism I was raised under was not the harsh and mean-spirited style we see today and my conservative Catholicism exposed the hypocrisy of those who treated blacks inferiorly in Texas during the 1950;s and 60’s.

When the radical McCarthyites became an embarrassment to the GOP back in the 1950’s, Party leaders stood up and denounced their lack of decency.  Today if anyone dare challenges the fanatics in their Party they are brow-beaten to recant or make public apologies after being publicly flawed by their corporate disciplinarians like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Grover Norquist.

I’m not unaware that there are some extreme views in my own political and social sphere that cross the line too often.  Such efforts often entrench a non-compromising attitude that ultimately hurts more than helps.  But I can see without bias that the right has taken the lead lately on views that have isolated us from each other to a degree not seen in quite some time.

[B]oth parties are not rotten in quite the same way. The Democrats have their share of machine politicians, careerists, corporate bagmen, egomaniacs and kooks. Nothing, however, quite matches the modern GOP.

To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics. To be sure, the party, like any political party on earth, has always had its share of crackpots, like Robert K. Dornan or William E. Dannemeyer. But the crackpotoutliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy. SOURCE 

The extreme fringes on the social and political right have accosted the public viewer, reader and listener with an intensity that resembles the Church’s dominance in western culture in its medieval heydays.  With growing control of the sources of information today, pro-corporate messaging with its fundamentalist christian alliances are likely to exceed the Roman Catholic Church’s complete authority they once had over most of the European continent 500-600 years ago.

One might argue that the left once had the edge in areas that influence people greatly, specifically the national media.  If that were true it no longer is.  Many a wealthy tycoon who seeks to attain greater wealth by opposing regulations that impact their businesses’ bottom line have invested heavily over the years into media sources to a point where they now dominate.  They control the message delivery system and they use it to their advantage.   An entire new network, FOX, has arisen that claims to be “fair and balanced” but whose owner and president have openly stated that they lean to the pro-corporate right to balance what they feel has been a liberal bias in the media.  Meanwhile the traditional networks and many new cable stations also give time to a false equivalence of important issues.

The problem is when you assume everything other than what you produce is the opposite of that, you lose sight of objectivity and soon begin to manufacture things from the barest of real time data and reality.  Such powerful voices are able to persuade what Mike Lofgren calls the “low-information voters”.  These are the people who most of their waking hours deal with the daily grind of life and follow very little of what goes on in Washington or real science.  They are easily manipulated when they become vulnerable from what’s going on in the larger, complex social and economic world they reside in.

They have been researched by special interest groups like conservative pollster and political consultant Frank Luntz to learn what their hot-button issues and socio-political leanings are so those special interests’ views can be presented in ways to accommodate low-information voter bias and preferences for manipulative purposes. Luntz himself is credited with creating the misleading image of the “death tax” to replace the vague notion of an estate tax; a tax that only the very wealthy are affected by.  But to these low-information voters it is intended to be seen as a tax that negatively impacts all tax payers. And now we have Rick Perry muddying the waters about the Social Security Trust fund, conveying a false image of this reliable self-financing pension system as a ponzi-scheme.

We slowly erode our democratic-republic, what there’s left of it, when misinformation takes precedent over the facts.  We hurt only ourselves when people who we once considered friends are no longer considered such because they hold “radical” political views we oppose.  Those who claim to support the Constitution, which was hammered out in only about four months back in 1787 with multiple compromises being made, are unwilling to give the same consideration to their perceived political adversaries today.

Examples of this could be found on the blogosphere following President Obama’s “job speech” to the nation last Thursday.  Here are but two examples from the MSNBC blog.

This one from someone who uses the screen name Independent Republic of Texas -“Sounded like he was just elected and this was a repeat of bad ideas. The federal government needs to get out the way”

Or this even more incoherent one from Radical 1 “Blah, Blah, Spend, Spend, Blah Vote for me, Blah Spend, Spend, Blah Blah, Spend Spend”.

These are expressions of closed minds that heard only what they wanted to hear and painted them in terms of what they have always thought.  How can you have dialogue with people like this?  Does this reflect the state of mind of GOP/TeaParty congress people ?

Such people would rather help no one at all who truly need it if it means they have to make a sacrifice involving federal assistance.  They form such opinions on the erroneous notion that all government is bad at worst or government intervention of any kind is simply not constitutional.  Both are flawed concepts but both are fed by the self-interests of a wealthy powerful few who know how to use the means of disseminating information to their advantage without it being so conspicuous.

Some of the evidence that indicts the right for misleading the low-information public can be found in fact-finding web sites like Politifact where right-wing ideologues have dominated the “pants-on-fire” rulings for most of this year.   The same can be found on theFactCheck.org website that has been scrutinizing talking points for both sides.  Again the right tends to occupy most of the corrections here also.

This isn’t a fight we should be losing.  We’re not talking about doing irrational ruinous things.  We are talking about contributing to an effort that is well-founded in the constitution and the decades of Supreme Court interpretation that justify programs that enable the “general welfare” of Americans.  Through tax incentives for industry that creates new start-up jobs to the financial assistance to the most vulnerable in this country,  government enables people and the economy when used appropriately to benefit us as a nation, not as a tool to enrich those who already own a lion’s share of the wealth.

These efforts are embedded in a christian ethic too that says those that help the least of us do it for a higher purpose rather than our own material well-being.  We can’t save everyone but we should try to help those that we can and at some sacrifice to ourselves with our aim being to improve the quality of life for as many people as possible.  The precepts of good government can aid in this along with a system of entrepreneurs that ethically work with those who make their products and provide their services to the public.

The worst thing people can do today is hide in their own “self-interest” caves hoping that free-markets will make it all go away.  Perhaps it would if the principles of capitalism were honestly and faithfully followed.  But we know that is not nor has it ever been the case.  And until it does too may people will suffer needlessly from the “hands off” approach that the lunatic fringe on the right insists must occur.

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5 responses to “Self-Interests, Special Interests and the General Welfare: Whose Holding Who Hostage?

  1. That cartoon of Paul Ryan is not far from the truth at all. I don’t like the GOP’s extremist thinking. I think it serves no purpose but to divide the country and in the end, only the super wealthy will benefit. This GOP scares me a great deal. They are selfish and cowardly; yet, people still look to them to fix problems they started but won’t admit to. As usual, another logical, well-researched and interesting post.

  2. We could not expect more from the GOP when their stated goal since Obama was elected was to make him a one term prez……and they do not care who they have to stomp on to make it a reality….

  3. I can’t believe Paul Ryan. At one of his town hall charades, a 70-something man was violently escorted out for daring to challenge Ryan’s absurd argument that entitlement programs are to blame for our debt, and once the man was gone, Paul Ryan started cracking jokes about the guy. What an asshole…

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