The coffee tables in cafes and mall food courts across the land have been buzzing with opinions about the meaning of the November 4, 2014 midterm election. The Dumbo/Moron geezers have gloated and the geezer Asses have sat and glowered. Well, take heart, Asses! Print Kurt Eichenwald's takedown of Dumbo/Moron madness and take it to your next morning gathering. Guide the discussion through the list of Dumbo/Moron fantasies. Watch the Dumbo/Morons fume (and probably get up and leave). If this is (fair & balanced) truth to nonsense, so be it.
[x Vanity Fair]
30 Years Of Conservative Nonsense, An Explainer
By Kurt Eichenwald
Tag Cloud of the following piece of writing
Are conservatives ever right?
The question isn’t meant to suggest that liberals are never wrong. But reviewing the last few decades of conservative policy initiatives—or their objections over that timespan to policies they hate—shows a consistent pattern of failure: predictions never pan out, and intended results turn to catastrophic flops.
Given the G.O.P.’s midterm victories this week, the question is of particular import. Come January, conservatives will have control of both houses of Congress, and hold a considerable legislative advantage in the last two years of the Obama presidency. Yet not a week ago, conservative politicians and commentators were screaming out batty ideas as they demanded that President Obama close the borders over Ebola, ignoring the advice of infectious disease specialists who know that shutting borders against a disease leads people to make travel by means that aren’t easily tracked, escalates danger, and harms the ability to stop the infection at its source. Conservative know-nothings dismiss the professionals as know-nothings themselves, despite their training and expertise.
And that could be the problem. Too often, it seems, conservatives have scorned experts as incompetent, biased, or otherwise worth ignoring because they came up with answers that didn’t fit their politically desired answer. Often, they proclaim experts have a liberal bias. Of course, plenty of Democrats have voted for conservative ideas, but that is beside the point. The question is whether policies proposed by conservatives failed, not whether they were passed into law. And this question is all the more important now, with the Republicans having re-captured control of the Senate. Will they govern based on a knowledge of history and the analysis of experts? Or will they resort to faith-based, sure-we’re-right policies—like trying to impose a border ban to stop Ebola—that may lead the ignorant to cheer but will leave turn the experts’ hair white with fear.
Before venturing through the rogues’ gallery of past disasters, an exception that proves the rule: the 1983 decision by the Reagan Administration to deploy missiles in Europe to counter Russian SS-20s was a success, ultimately contributing to the Soviet collapse. But otherwise, there is not a lot in the last three decades to give conservatives bragging rights, and with almost every fiasco, they blame someone else. So let’s look at the record of the last 30-some years:
The fantasy: In 1981, as he championed massive tax cuts, President Ronald Reagan promised there would be no growth in the federal budget deficit because the economic boom that would follow would lead to higher revenues.
Reality: Budgeted federal revenues dropped, leading to a huge fiscal hole. Deficits rose to 6 percent of G.D.P. by 1983, then the highest in peacetime history. Reagan tacitly admitted failure by reversing directions and raising taxes multiple times, starting in 1982.
Blame: Conservatives claimed Democrats in Congress ran up spending so much that the growth of revenues could not keep up with the growth in outlays.
The excuse is false: According to a 2002 report prepared by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, when all appropriations bills during the Reagan administration are taken into account, the big spender was Reagan himself. All told, the report shows, Reagan requested about $4.7 trillion in his budgets submitted to Congress—including the regular annual budget, the supplementals and deficiency appropriations. In the final action, Congress spent a bit less than that amount. (I know, Republicans’ heads just exploded. Read the official report.)
The Aftermath: History is ignored. Conservatives still insist, on no evidence, that cuts pay for themselves. Trillions of dollars in debt have been run up over 30 years because of tax cuts. Republicans in Congress have introduced legislation that would force the Congressional Budget Office to change how it calculates projected losses from tax cuts to make future results align more closely to conservative predictions.
The Fantasy: In the early 1980s, Republicans championed the idea that deregulating the savings and loan industry–which historically focused on taking in savings and making mortgage loans–would increase their profits and ability to compete. In 1982, Reagan signed a law throwing off plenty of regulations and expanding the types of investments thrifts could make. On signing the law, Reagan proclaimed, “I think we hit the jackpot,” and dubbed the law the “Emancipation Proclamation for America’s savings institutions.”
Reality: Within seven years, the thrift industry was in ruins, destroyed by hundreds of billions of dollars in losses. The federal government ultimately lost about $125 billion in payouts it made to cover for insured savings. Some economists have said that the collapse contributed to bank failures and helped drive the recession from 1990 to 1991. Two factors wrecked the industry: thrift executives, whose experience was in issuing mortgages, were ill-equipped to handle their sudden reliance on more complex investment choices, and plenty of criminals—seeing the opportunity to loot or abuse the less-regulated thrifts—drained them of cash through self-dealing and speculation.
Blame: Some conservatives attempted to lay responsibility on regulators for shutting down thrifts before they had the chance to recover.
The excuse is false: Regulators acted as required under the law. The idea of allowing the thrifts to double down on investments in hopes of recovery may appeal to gamblers at the casino, but is not appropriate public policy.
The Fantasy: Aiding the government of Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s—launched by Hussein—was in the national interest of the United States. At the beginning of this policy in 1982, Reagan issued National Security Study Directive 4-82 to create a strategic opening with Iraq. That same year, the White House decided to remove Iraq from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. American military at Fort Bragg trained Iraqi soldiers in guerrilla warfare, skills that were then taught by those troops to forces in Baghdad for decades. According to declassified documents and affidavits, the administration also sent arms and high-tech components to Saddam through third countries and sent spare parts to keep Iraq’s Soviet-made weapons operational (the Soviets cut off Iraq when it invaded Iran). Finally, when Saddam gassed his own people in Halabja in 1988, American officials knew he did it but blamed Iran anyway.
Reality: Saddam was a larger threat than Iran. His invasion signaled his desire for territorial expansion, and by providing his forces with weapons and training, the conservative tilt resulted in United States troops during the Persian Gulf War facing arms procured for the Iraqis by the American government. That war began after Saddam turned his expansion desires to Kuwait and invaded, a bit more than two years after Halabja.
The Aftermath: Reversing the “Iran did it” story, President George W. Bush cited the Halabja attack by Saddam as a reason for America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. After the administration disbanded the Iraqi military following Saddam’s overthrow, the soldiers launched a guerrilla war, incorporating tactics from American training passed down over the years.
The Fantasy: By selling weaponry to Iranian moderates, the Reagan administration thought it would help gain influence in the Tehran government and obtain the release of American hostages held in Lebanon.
Reality: The sales went directly to the government of Iran (and the profits diverted to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua). The purported “moderates” had orchestrated a scam. While Reagan at first denied this scheme was also intended to gain the release of hostages, he later stated the effort devolved into this. Subsequently declassified documents showed that releasing the hostages through the arms sales was one of the driving points all along.
The Aftermath: The dealings with Iran took place at the same time as the policy of tilting with Iraq. According to declassified records, the revelation of the administration’s double-dealing with Tehran and Baghdad created chaos for American-Iraq relations, leading Reagan to step up financial and military support for Saddam.
The Fantasy: This is the corollary of the “taxes pay for themselves” canard. When President Bill Clinton championed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, it included significant tax increases on wealthy Americans. For that reason, it was often called the Deficit Reduction Act. No Republicans voted for the measure, with many publicly saying it would cause a recession. For example, Newt Gingrich, then a Republican Congressman from Georgia, stated, “I believe this will lead to a recession next year. This is the Democrat machine’s recession.’’ Then-senator Phil Gramm said, “The Clinton Plan is a one-way ticket to recession. This plan does not reduce the deficit.”
Reality: While Clinton subsequently decided the tax increases were too large and pared them back a bit, one of the largest economic booms in history followed the adoption of the law. The deficit shrank to nothing, and policy makers at the Federal Reserve began publicly fretting about how to handle a projected surplus.
The Excuse: While refusing to acknowledge that they were wrong about a recession, conservatives have attributed the economic performance afterwards to an assortment of factors other than taxes. They have denied that it was the tax increases that closed the deficit.
The Lesson: Conservatives were partially right—a lot of factors beyond just tax policy played into the economic boom. Which goes to prove that their belief in taxes as the driving force of all economic performance is wrong however you look at it.
The Fantasy: Many Democrats supported this proposal, which had been a conservative idea for years, passed in 1999 by a Republican Congress, and signed by Clinton. Legislators believed that by repealing the Glass–Steagall Act from 1933 and allowing commercial banks to purchase more securities and affiliate with Wall Street firms, the economy would benefit. Plenty of liberal Democrats voted against the idea, including Senators Byron Dorgan, Tom Harkin, Barbara Boxer, Russ Feingold and others. In a floor speech, Dorgan warned, “We will look back in 10 years’ time and say we should not have done this, but we did because we forgot the lessons of the past.” He cautioned that banks would become “too big to fail” and that the impact on government and the economy would be disastrous.
Reality: Dorgan was wrong—it didn’t take ten years for the repeal to bear poison fruit. It took nine. In the economic collapse of 2008, giant banks and insurance companies that launched into securities trading following the trashing of Glass–Steagall, particularly Citigroup and American International Group, ran into huge problems that would not have occurred had the law still been in place. The financial repercussions pushed banks all over the country out of business and led not only to the Great Recession, but also to the government being forced to pay hundreds of billions of dollars to minimize the disaster.
The Fantasy: Following years of massacres and state oppression, an attempted negotiation of a peace treaty to end the Kosovo War collapsed. The Clinton administration assembled a NATO bombing campaign to drive the forces of Slobodan Milošević, president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, out of Kosovo and impose a peace agreement. A large majority of House Republicans voted against a non-binding resolution supporting the American involvement in the NATO mission, and—engaging in the very behavior they would later say during the Bush Administration was un-American and demoralizing for troops—began to criticize the president and the operation as doomed to failure. “This is President Clinton’s war, and when he falls flat on his face, that’s his problem,’’ said Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana. And that hypocritical blowhard, Sean Hannity, joined in to blow hard: “They haven’t prepared for anything in this. And they’re running out of weapons to do it. And frankly, I don’t think Clinton has the moral authority or ability to fight this war correctly.”
Reality: The two-and-a-half-month bombing campaign of Yugoslavia was an unparalleled success. NATO suffered not a single casualty from the operation, although two Americans died when their AH-64 Apache experienced a technical malfunction. Milošević accepted an international peace plan and the Yugoslav government withdrew its forces from Kosovo. A NATO-led peacekeeping force came into Kosovo. Albanians greeted American soldiers with delight and threw flowers at their feet. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia later charged Milošević with war crimes, including genocide. He died before he could his trial ended.
The Fantasy: Up until 9/11, conservatives tended to dismiss Clinton as having spent too much time worrying about Osama bin Laden. As Robert Oakley, a top counterterrorism official under Reagan, said just before George W. Bush took office, “The only major criticism I have is (Clinton’s) obsession with Osama.” Beginning in the earliest days of Bush 2, counterterrorism officials left over from the Clinton administration pleaded for a planning meeting on dealing with al-Qaeda, but were put off until days before the attack. The F.B.I. and the C.I.A. provided briefings to the White House beginning in the spring of 2001 that they were obtaining intelligence showing al-Qaeda would soon launch a massive attack on the United States. However, still-classified records I have seen reveal that, in June, senior Bush officials dismissed the intelligence agencies’ concerns. Bin Laden, these officials said, was running a “false flag” operation on behalf of Saddam to distract the administration from the threat posed by Iraq. Intelligence officials prepared multiple briefings trying to prove this argument wrong. But members of the Bush administration continued to advance the theory even after the Iraq war began in 2003.
Reality: Bin Laden had no connection to Saddam, whom he considered to be a secular infidel. Some of the intelligence that the Bush administration relied on for its argument was false, but officials continued to advance it despite being warned of its inaccuracy.
Blame: Some conservatives who had once criticized Clinton for spending too much time on bin Laden reversed course and said he didn’t make enough effort. When, years earlier, Clinton launched missiles at an al-Qaeda camp following attacks on two American embassies, conservatives had criticized the action as a “wag the dog” moment. They argued he was trying to create a false crisis to take the public’s mind off of scandal involving his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky.
The Aftermath: After 9/11, Bush officials refused to release the documents showing how strongly they had pushed the idea that bin Laden was a stooge for Saddam.
The Fantasy: As part of the imaginary connection between bin Laden and Saddam, the Bush administration proclaimed that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction could be delivered to terrorists. Saddam allowed United Nations’ weapons inspectors into Iraq, who searched fruitlessly for W.M.D.s; Bush officials dismissed those results—the best intelligence available at the time—as the result of the weapons inspectors’ incompetence. Before the invasion, officials promised the war would last months and cost America next to nothing.
Reality: Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction other than decayed, unusable scrap leftover from the late 1980s. The war lasted almost a decade and, with the instability still in place after American troops pulled out, led directly to the growth of the terrorist group ISIS. As of 2013, the war cost America two trillion dollars.
Blame: Conservatives hold the American intelligence agencies responsible for the war. They also blame President Barack Obama for the creation of ISIS.
The Excuse is False: Declassified documents and statements by intelligence officials have revealed that the Bush White House disregarded all warnings that much of the classified information they were relying on to justify war was shaky at best. Moreover, even assuming the information was correct, top administration officials were warned that containment through weapons inspections would keep Saddam under control while a war could set off a conflagration of almost unimaginable ferocity. Obama does bear some blame for ISIS because he was unable to persuade Iraq to extend the timetable established by Bush for withdrawal. However, there is no doubt Obama, like Bush, wanted American forces out and did not see it as a high priority to push for keeping them there.
The Fantasy: The government was taking over health care. No one would sign up for the insurance. If they did sign up, no one would pay. If they did pay, premiums would fly sky-high, and beyond the ability of most Americans’ to afford it. It would increase the number of uninsured, not decrease it.
Reality: As a system that operates through private insurance companies, Obamacare does not give the government control of the health care system, although certain policies on coverage and quality of insurance are in place. Eight million people signed up for policies during the first open enrollment period; 7.3 million people paid their premiums, far more than had been anticipated by the insurance companies. In addition, more than 7 million people obtained coverage through expanded Medicaid and millions of others below the age of 26 stayed on their parents’ policies. According to Gallup, the uninsured rate has dropped from 18 percent in the third quarter of 2013 to 13.4 percent in the quarter just ended. The Kaiser Family Foundation has found that the rate of increase in premiums has slowed since Obamacare began to be introduced, and that the average premium for benchmark policies will drop next year.
Response: People whose health insurance did not provide minimum levels of coverage lost their policies, leading conservatives to falsely imply many people were being harmed.
These are just the highlights—the parade of failure goes on and on. What matters here, though, is not that conservatives have been reckless in the past. It is that ignoring expert opinion is a fatal flaw, one that has proven to do immense damage to this country—financial catastrophes, arming enemies, bloody wars, and the like.
This is not the consequence of ignorance. Many conservative leaders are brilliant. There is, however, a confidence that borders on arrogance that has repeatedly led to disaster. Add to that the constant refrain of “liberal bias,” which has proven to be a crutch conservatives use as a substitute for putting fingers in their ears and singing, “La-la-la.” (Watch what happens in the comment section below; I doubt ragers will bother to read this whole thing. If you want to criticize, prove you read it by writing the words “I disagree” in your comment.) Basically, whenever someone says they’re wrong, conservatives too often fall back on claims that those who disagree with them are biased and thus worthy of being ignored, a convenient position that allows them to avoid debating uncomfortable criticisms.
Neither side of a political debate holds a monopoly on the truth. Liberals are often wrong. However, somewhere along the line, conservatives stopped being careful and grew too dismissive of what they do not want to hear. They need to take a step back, question their own ideas—and, when the policies fail, admit it and re-think.
America needs reality-based policy. Bluster and fantasy have cost us too much. Ω
[Kurt Alexander Eichenwald is a contributing editor with Vanity Fair and a New York Times author of four books, one of which, The Informant: A True Story (2000), was made into "The Informant!" Eichenwald received a BA (political science) from Swarthmore College.]
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