January 16, 2011
by Ronald Radosh
Returning from vacation means that one is hit over the head with reality. A brief two weeks away, and our nation went through a collective trauma after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the tragic death in particular of 9-year-old Christina Green. I was able to watch the reaction by tuning in to both CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, although I was not able to have a reliable or quick internet connection.
So everyone seems to be saying that civility must be restored, and even Roger Ailes told his Fox News people to “tone down” the rhetoric. But what seems to be happening is that to many on the left or liberal side of the spectrum, toning down means denying that there are any substantive differences about how our country is to handle its problems, and accusing those who want a real debate over the issues of being divisive.
In particular, Friday’s New York Times ran its chief liberal commentator Paul Krugman’s “A Tale of Two Moralities,” in which the Nobel laureate economist began by telling his readers how President Obama’s speech “spoke to our desire for reconciliation.” Then he said, correctly, that “the truth is that we are deeply divided nation and are likely to remain one for a long time.” So far, so good. Krugman is certainly correct about that, unlike many other commentators who want to pretend we all agree about the basics.
But then Krugman gets to his main point: that in the national debate, his side is that of morality, justice, and reason — while his opponents on the conservative side are immoral, uncaring, and actually want the poor to die or disappear. Here are Krugman’s own words about how he perceives the differences between the two sides:
One side of American politics considers the modern welfare state — a private-enterprise economy, but one in which society’s winners are taxed to pay for a social safety net — morally superior to the capitalism red in tooth and claw we had before the New Deal. It’s only right, this side believes, for the affluent to help the less fortunate.
The other side believes that people have a right to keep what they earn, and that taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft. That’s what lies behind the modern right’s fondness for violent rhetoric: many activists on the right really do see taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty.
Let us dissect that second paragraph about the would-be views of his conservative opponents. All conservatives, he argues, oppose taxes since they do not want their wealth to help others. Secondly, that position leads them to adopt violent rhetoric, since they believe taxation is tyranny. And unlike those of his persuasion, they oppose any social safety net and want to return to the bad old days of no regulation and cut-throat competition — “tooth and claw,” as he puts it — and let the less well-off depend entirely on their own resources.
As Krugman has it, there is no serious discussion about health reform. His side favors a “moral imperative” to give everyone universal free health care; the other side wants only those who can afford health care to have access to good care. This is, he writes, a “deep divide in American political morality.” Ah, for those wonderful days when even Republicans “accepted the legitimacy of the welfare state.” But today, Republicans see any government programs as “illegitimate,” while Democrats do not.
I do not know whom Krugman is talking about. Does he not, for example, read his colleague David Brooks’ columns? Brooks, a rather moderate among conservatives, is generally the self-styled conservative most liberals always cite as proof that they respect conservatives who are serious and moderate. He is the conservative liberals always seem to quote and to love. Yet a few days earlier, Brooks himself pointed out sharply and eloquently the serious negative effects of ObamaCare.
Writing the week before, Brooks pointed out the many unintended consequences of the very health care program Krugman defends. First, Brooks notes the false cost projections that somehow did not work the way they were supposed to. He writes, “For example, New Hampshire’s plan has only about 80 members, but the state has already burned through nearly double the $650,000 that the federal government allotted to help run the program. If other projections are off by this much, the results will be disastrous.”
Next, he talks about what he calls “employee dumping,” in which favored unions and corporations are seeking and getting exemptions from the program, since they quickly learned that they were better off not being forced into the government health care program. “They induced poorer and sicker employees to move to public insurance exchanges, where subsidies are much higher,” and as a result, health care costs will double. The country will see what Brooks calls new quasi-monopolies, which will lead to less competition and no cost control.
Most shocking of all is Brooks’ citation of polls that show that many doctors — 60 per cent of those in private practice — will be forced to close their offices … or restrict their practices. That means many will not take new patients, will opt out of Medicare, or will move to concierge practice for the very well-off. No wonder, Brooks writes, that “people will blame the Obama law for everything they hate about the health care system.”
What Brooks realizes is that there are serious conservatives who are indeed going beyond merely calling for repeal of ObamaCare. Rather, they are offering serious alternatives about how to structure the health care system to make it more cost effective and to end current deficiencies and problems revolving around those who are uninsured without creating a bureaucratic monster in its place. These writers, some of whom Brooks cites, include James Capretta, Yuval Levin, Thomas Miller, Tevi Troy, Paul Howard, Stephen Parente and others. Just go to publications like National Affairs, Commentary, The Weekly Standard, and National Review and you will find many examples of serious articles about the real problems with the current Democratic and Obama administration program.
None of these conservatives dismiss the need to create a viable health care system, or only want a system that provides for the wealthy and lets everyone else suffer. Indeed, one of their basic arguments is that the proposed health care program will create a new two-tier system that benefits only the wealthy and makes access to doctors problematic for most everyone else.
As for the issue of the social safety net, another brilliant conservative commentator, William Voegeli, as I pointed out a while ago, does not want to eliminate the entire welfare state edifice built up over the years. He writes: “The [Paul Ryan] roadmap will transform America’s social contract, enshrining the New Deal principle that the nation has a collective responsibility to alleviate and prevent poverty through government actions, while stipulating that these actions should be targeted and limited, replacing the open-ended, universal approach that defines New Deal and Great Society liberalism.”
If a writer like Krugman were to acknowledge that this is the conservative approach, it would immediately destroy his straw-man picture of heartless conservatives who want the majority of our countrymen to suffer. And it is Krugman and liberals like him who are demonizing opponents; not serious conservatives. And what he calls “eliminationist rhetoric encouraging violence” is not coming from these sources. Has he, for example, not heard of Chris Matthews saying on the air two years ago that “at some point somebody’s going to jam a CO2 pellet into [Rush Limbaugh’s] head and he’s going to explode like a giant blimp”? This, I guess, does not count in Krugman’s world as eliminationist rhetoric, since by definition, it only comes from the conservative side. Indeed, on this point, Krugman is even worse than his colleague Frank Rich, who at least acknowledges today that “rhetoric can indeed be as violent on the left as on the right.”
Rich, of course, goes off the beam when he asserts that although Jared Lee Loughner had “no coherent ideological agenda,” he still thinks “antigovernment hysteria” had an effect on him and other “crazed loners out there.” In other words, Rich also blames the right. And Rich too asserts what he thinks as fact, when he actually has no evidence whatsoever about what words, if any, effected Loughner. And Rich argues as well the violence proves the need for gun control. Does he not know that Giffords herself supported the Second Amendment, and actually owned a glock gun similar to that used by the man who tried to kill her? That truth, of course, does not fit into the scenario he and Krugman regularly paint.
So yes, civility and dialogue is necessary. But so is honesty. And that is something we can no longer expect from the liberal and left columnists at the New York Times.
Ronald Radosh is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute; Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, and the author of many books, including "The Rosenberg File;" "Divided They Fell: The Demise of the Democratic Party, 1964-1996," and most recently, "Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left."
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