Success in America: No Plutocrat is an Island

Lacking the intellectual wherewithal and the editorial courage to do its own dirty work, the Leesburg Daily Commercial routinely employs the syndicated columns of professional, right-wing propaganda merchants to attempt to influence its readership. While some readers of the newspaper are naive enough to believe that the Daily Commercial endeavors to cover both sides of the major issues, those of us with functioning olfactory glands cannot miss the fetid stench of Republican dross that overpowers the Voices section. Whenever a national election approaches, we are hammered with relentless messaging from Fox News regular Cal Thomas, who has made a career out of preaching simplistic, Reaganesque mantras (many of which Reagan himself ignored). In previous posts, we have exposed Cal Thomas’s outrageous misrepresentation of Occupy Wall Street, and his hypocrisy on such issues as immigration and, most recently, on the conservatives’ beloved concept of judicial restraint. But on Friday, July 20th, the Daily Commercial treated us to a veritable smorgasbord of deliberate distortions, outright falsehoods, and laugh-out-loud lack of self-awareness.1 And in doing so, they revealed – once again – their mean-spirited contempt for truth and decency.

Without missing a beat, the pundit who clearly favored Newt Gingrich in the Republican primary/soap opera used his column to faithfully echo the recent theme of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Romney – quite laughably – is attempting to deflect attention from his enormously profitable and rapacious tenure at Bain Capital by accusing the president of wanting Americans to be “ashamed of success.” This pathetic plutocratic whine is – naturally – accompanied by the steady drumbeat of attacks on big government, with Obama being cast as the representative of this socialist nemesis of freedom-loving Americans. We all know this song by heart, having been subjected to it for some three decades now, but the current version is even more fantastic than the golden oldies.

Taking umbrage at the president’s recent, and eminently reasonable, remark that successful business people owe some – not all – of their success to the larger society and public infrastructure that supports us all, Thomas launched into the following diatribe:

President Obama said… “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” He mentioned roads and bridges as examples. Did he mean we should thank government for the structures because without them we might not be able to travel to a job interview, or to work? The subplot in the president’s campaign remarks seems to be that none of us can make it without government. So what happens to those who do manage to succeed on their own? Are they to be taxed and regulated to death as a lesson to other upstarts? […]

As the Obama campaign attacks Mitt Romney’s business success – and by association all who have succeeded or wish to succeed – Romney should turn the tables and attack… government….

For those who care about intellectual honesty – which obviously excludes the editors of the Leesburg Daily Commercial, who publish Thomas’s distortions without comment – the president’s complete remarks are worth reviewing:

But you know what, I’m not going to see us gut the investments that grow our economy to give tax breaks to me or Mr. Romney or folks who don’t need them.  So I’m going to reduce the deficit in a balanced way. […]

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me – because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t – look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.  You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something – there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.

What a difference a little context makes. When the president made his unfortunate remark that the private sector is doing fine, the task of the spinmeisters was relatively easy. All they had to do was exploit the electorate’s lack of understanding of just how high corporate profits are – a simple task when all that wealth and income is being hoarded by a fortunate few, leaving everyone else feeling less than fine. But in this case, the propagandists have deliberately distorted remarks that could easily have been uttered by Dwight Eisenhower were he alive today. The internet is today’s equivalent of Eisenhower’s interstate highway system: both projects required public-sector investment and brought immeasurable benefits to the private economy. Thus, the misrepresentation involved this time has descended to a far deeper level of intellectual dishonesty, requiring the reader/viewer/mark to be not just ignorant of economic statistics but willing to accept a wholesale warping of reality.

This website is no admirer of Barack Obama; indeed, we have gone to great lengths to expose the valuable services he provides to the oligarchy. From our point of view, Obama’s remarks are not just common sense but part and parcel of the government’s facilitation of private profit. The vital truth here is not that Obama is some kind of socialist monster intent on confiscating private wealth for the government’s amusement; rather, it is that the private sector uses the government to create the legal and physical structures that make its massive profits possible. Would Wal-Mart be able to profit if its customers were unable to reach its stores and its delivery trucks had no way of distributing merchandise fHawaii Interstaterom warehouses? How much profit would the pharmaceutical giants be making without federal protection of their copyrights and Medicare payments that keep seniors living for years with expensive surgeries and cocktails of medications? And how much money would Wall Street have made in the last twenty years had it not owned both political branches and exhorted them to rewrite the law in its favor? We could be here all day, but there really should be no need to illustrate this basic fact of life any further.

Thomas’s contention that we can “make it on our own” without any assistance from society as a whole is absurd. If he wants to test that hypothesis in the real world, he could give it a go in Liberia, where there is little government to speak of, and therefore nothing “getting in the way” of private enterprise. Curiously, however, very few Americans seem to be interested in trying that – least of all the Koch brothers, who finance so much of this ridiculous propaganda while profiting enormously from the very system they attack. Sadly, it is a measure of their enormous success in the war for America’s heart and soul that they can so thoroughly undermine the public institutions that bind us all together while a potential plurality of voters believes that their henchmen are the most patriotic. Obama’s hilarious attack ad against Romney – underscoring Romney’s offshore holdings with his tortured rendition of America the Beautiful – doesn’t even begin to address the deeper treachery of the plutocrats who are plundering the nation for all they can get. (Obama doesn’t necessarily want to go that far, because that would be dangerously close to the truth we’re not supposed to see.)

The idea that Obama’s attacks on Romney constitute an attack on “all who have succeeded or wish to succeed” beggars belief and insults the intelligence of the reader. (That’s fine on Fox News, of course, as studies have proven that watching Fox News actually reduces intelligence, but we do not have to tolerate this from the Leesburg Daily Commercial.) Romney’s success might be impressive to the spiritual successors of the Robber Barons, but we do not generally hold up people like Jay Gould as paragons to be emulated. Apart from that, however, Obama – contrary to Romney’s jab that he doesn’t understand what makes America such a “unique country” – positively venerates success. His history is that of an ambitious social climber; had he been born white in a country club setting, he could easily have been a venture capitalist himself. Instead, he sniffed out a different arena in which to advance, full of gullible “marks” who (mostly) failed to perceive the neoliberal heart beating under a superficially progressive (and conveniently dark) skin. And for those who do not share our assessment of Obama’s character, just ask any Wall Street banker who somehow managed to escape criminal prosecution for the world’s greatest systemic fraud. The great irony here is that Romney and Obama both work for the same broad interests. We must not be misled by public posturing during the quadrennial, ritualized courting of the American electorate whose seal of approval, while still technically required, is of little real meaning to the functioning of the “unique” American system of corporate oligarchy.

Similarly, Thomas’s suggestion that any American who succeeds is going to be “put in his place” by punitive taxation is ludicrous. Just ask Mitt Romney, who has refused to release any more years of his personal tax returns for the blindingly obvious reason that ordinary Americans would be flabbergasted by just how little tax he actually pays. Romney and the class he represents somehow managed to survive without the Bush tax cuts that made massive concessions to the owners of capital, and they will continue to be the undisputed winners in our strange, materialistic race even if capital gains should be exposed to the same rates as ordinary income (which I do not expect to see no matter what happens in November).

And this brings us to Thomas’s bill of particulars against what he terms “highly ineffective government,” a broad brush which of course is supposed to smear Barack Obama. At the top of Thomas’s list (who would have guessed?) is high taxes. There’s just one, small problem with that charge: federal taxes are actually at their lowest level in decades as a percentage of GDP (which is the only meaningful way to assess the overall tax burden). As we have discussed before, the decline in federal tax revenue is part of the reason for the government’s budget deficits. Second on the list (again, quelle surprise!) is excessive regulation, which is said to impede the performance of the private sector. This, too, has been discussed before: one has to wonder about the burden of regulations when corporate profits continue to break records. Even in today’s rather uncertain global economy, General Electric – the country’s largest conglomerate on a revenue basis – recently posted a rise in profits that exceeded Wall Street’s expectations.2  With points one and two on Thomas’s list shot down, there is little need to waste any time looking at the rest of his list. For any unbiased, rational observer, his concepts are DOA.

Without a shred of self-awareness, Cal Thomas attempts to hold himself up as an example of someone who has succeeded because of his own hard work, assisted by a few others but not – oh, no – by the evil government that “stifles initiative.” (Apparently, the GI Bill that helped so many of his cohorts was an exception to the rule.) But Cal Thomas has based his career on attacking “big government.” Without the Reagan Revolution, he would never have had anything more than a fringe following. He owes a debt to the entire right-wing and all its wealthy sponsors. But above all, without a government to write about, he would have been nothing. While we should all be grateful for the many benefits our government brings us, Cal Thomas owes the government a special thank you for the particular benefit it has conferred on him. Somehow I doubt that he is capable of perceiving that irony.

The propaganda of Cal Thomas and his kind is not really intended to dismantle the government, for that would be to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. The objective here is to control and harness the government in order to maximize the slice of the national pie consumed by the owners of America. Broad-based anti-government sentiment, even if stoked up insincerely, prevents the government from ever enacting truly meaningful social reforms – a second New Deal, or real “hope and change” – that could potentially upset this bountiful apple cart. If opportunities can be created for privatization of previously public functions, such as mail delivery, then ownership and profit will both be further concentrated in the hands of the few. And if regulations that protect the public can be removed, that will indeed make profit-taking easier. But we must not forget that well-crafted (i.e. well-purchased) regulatory frameworks and large government programs (defense, anyone?) can be enormously profitable. What the plutocrats want is not the absence of government but government on their terms, not ours. The distributions of wealth and income in America – strangely unmentioned by Cal Thomas – strongly suggest that they are already tasting more than their fair share of success.

  1. On Monday, July 23rd, as if we didn’t get the message already, the Daily Commercial ran a similar piece of propaganda from plutocratic sycophant Star Parker, who, unlike Thomas, didn’t even make a passing concession to the larger context of the president’s remarks.
  2. Yahoo News removed this story from their site 10/19/12.

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