A number of ideas are currently in circulation in the US
regarding the reasons for the recent electoral failures of the Democratic
Party. In fact, it is not clear to many liberals, progressives, Greens, or
other leftists what any party would do to win against the Republican Party,
which currently controls all three branches of the federal government.
If there is one factor that separates successful political
movements from those that have failed, it may be that the members and leaders
of successful movements understand more completely the powerful influence of
ideas over public opinion and political discourse within a society. The body of
ideas that describe the proper relationships between individuals and
institutions are the bedrock of policy proposals, and ideas outside the
accepted limits of political discourse will be rejected by the public a priori.
The last 30 years has seen a huge rise in the number of private institutions,
called think tanks, designed to influence public opinion.
What can we say about the state of political ideas in the US
today? A recent development in American politics has been the explosion of
institutions specifically developed for the purpose of advancing ideas in the
political arena. One is the Rockridge Institute, a think tank whose goal �is to
help achieve a just, democratic, environmentally sustainable, and humane
The statement describes a progressive manual, which �will provide those working
in policy and advocacy with a concise summary of core progressive concepts and
values. It will show how those concepts and values support a broad range of
policy directions involving environment, education, health care, jobs,
security, and other areas.� According to Rockridge, �Conservatives
benefit from a powerful idea factory, a system of dozens of think tanks,
created over 40 years with more than $2 billion in cumulative funding.�
The �powerful idea factory� is worth describing in more detail.
In its 2004 report, entitled �Axis of Ideology,� the
National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) describes a policy
network of 331 neoconservative think tanks and policy advocacy groups, funded
by 79 grant-making organizations. For just the three years 1999 to 2001, total
grant-making by these 79 organizations amounted to more than $254 million, a sum consisting
only of the philanthropic portion of the organizations� budgets. The
Economist has reported on this policy network, stating, �Hillary Clinton
was right about the existence of a vast right-wing conspiracy,� noting in early
2001 that it �has finally captured the White House.� �Conspiracy� is a misnomer; the network of
ideologically related organizations is hardly concealed, although members of
the network will not exert themselves in attracting attention to their core
One such right-wing organization in the policy network is
The Heritage Foundation, a preeminent example of a neoconservative think tank.
During 2002, 27 percent of its budget came from philanthropy. Fifty-nine
percent came from individuals, although no information is provided regarding
the size of individual donations. Corporations provided 7 percent, and the remaining
7 percent came from other sources.
For the entire three-year period 1999�2001, Heritage received $28,569,700 from
Assuming for the whole three-year period the same budget breakdown as in 2002,
then Heritage�s total yearly budget is about $35 million. And while Heritage is
officially non-partisan, it is a purely ideological organization dedicated to
spreading neoconservative philosophy.
The NCRP report summarizes the scope and nature of
Heritage�s activities. In its 2002 annual report, Heritage notes that ideas,
proposals, scholarship, and other views and positions of Heritage�s analysts
were seen on 600 national and international television broadcasts and 1,000
national and major market radio broadcasts, and were featured in 8,000
newspaper and magazine articles and editorials. It produced 230 research
papers, and 6,000 people attended its lectures and seminars. During the second
quarter of 2002, Heritage staff briefed three cabinet secretaries, 164 senior
administration officials, 33 Senators and 48 House Representatives. The
foundation also nurtures the next generation of reactionary leadership. In
2002, 62 students received intensive training in reactionary principles,
theories and ideas at Heritage. Thirty congressional staffers completed a new
32-week course in its Congressional Fellows program.
The alleged crisis in Social Security is a perfect example
of the Heritage Foundation�s ideas, proposals, and scholarship. Heritage has
been a major proponent of personal accounts, otherwise known as partial
By constant production of articles about the need for Social Security reform,
the neoconservative policy establishment has effectively disseminated its
message among major media outlets, and the story has by now become rote. For
example, an article which recently appeared in The Economist, called �The Fear Myth,�
asserts that the Republican Party has won not through the manipulation of fear,
as claimed by some progressives, but because it is addressing issues of concern
to Americans. According to �The Fear Myth,� the Republican stand on the Social
Security issue is an example of �exuding optimism,� demonstrating how
Republicans �address the aspirations of an aspirational people.�
The claim is worth examining, both to determine its validity
and to illustrate the effect of concentrated but largely unrevealed message
campaigns that come from the neoconservative policy establishment.
According to the Social Security Board of Trustee' 2004
report, Social Security will be able to pay all benefits until 2042.
After this point, the program will be able to pay 70 percent of the promised
benefits. That is still more, in real terms, than what it pays today. The
Congressional Budget Office independently arrived at its estimate that Social
Security will be able to pay full benefits until about 2050. Moreover, the
trustees' report assumes an unwarranted decline in the growth of worker
productivity, predicting that after growing 3.8 percent in 2002, productivity
growth will drop to 1.6 percent by 2012. Finally, the trustees assume
abnormally low rates of economic growth-contradicting claims of high returns on
private accounts invested in the stock market.
Yet large numbers of Americans continue to believe that
Social Security is financially threatened. Fifty-five percent of Americans
think that Social Security is either �in crisis� or �serious trouble,� and 57
percent think that action to fix the program must be taken immediately.
The reason for this gap between reality and perception may
be found in the neoconservative policy network. The American public has been
subjected to continual bombardment from the neoconservative think tanks about
the insolvency of Social Security. The Heritage Foundation is one such think
tank; another prominent example is the Cato Institute, located in Washington,
D.C., also mentioned in the NCRP�s report.
According to the New York Times, financial companies such as American Express, the American
International Group (AIG), and State Street are active in the campaign to
privatize Social Security, and they donate to Cato�s Social Security
As revealed by The Washington Post,
AIG holds the assets of millions of people around the world who live in
countries that have privatized their social security systems, and therefore AIG
collects profits for managing these accounts, giving them an enormous financial
incentive to use their political clout to push privatization elsewhere.
In the Fall 1983 issue of the Cato Journal, in a chapter
called �Achieving a Leninist Strategy,� the Cato Institute laid out its plans
to create the political environment necessary to privatize Social Security. A
coalition of �banks, insurance companies, and other institutions that will gain
from providing such plans [private IRAs] to the public,� was to be formed. The coalition had two
tasks to perform:
�The first element consists of a campaign to achieve small
legislative changes that embellish the present IRA system, making it in
practice a small-scale private Social Security system . . ."
�The second main element . . . involves what one might
crudely call guerrilla warfare against both the current Social Security
system and the coalition that supports it.� [italics added]
It is difficult to square such cynical backroom manipulation
of public opinion with the Economist�s description of how
neoconservatives �exude optimism� and �address the aspirations of an
As a result of such �guerilla warfare,� other facts of
privatization are hardly known. Under the Bush plan, a 15-year old, just
entering the work force today, can expect a cut in guaranteed benefits of about
40 percent, or $200,000. Private accounts would only allow the recovery of
about $9,000 of the $200,000.
Privatized systems do not provide the promised payoffs, due to administrative
costs, which could be eight to 25 times higher than public systems. In England,
15 percent of paid benefits are wasted on fees, compared to 0.6 percent for the
public system in the U.S.
Chile began a privatized social security system in the early 1980s. Workers who
began contributing then and retired in 2000 had lost an average of 50 percent
of their pension in fees.
�Saving Social Security� is just one example of a carefully
crafted message not necessarily aligned with reality, but serving a
neoconservative policy goal nonetheless. In fact, the story �The Fear Myth�
repeats several assertions and claims that serve to promote the
corporate/conservative agenda while being based on flimsy or misleading
Another such assertion is that Republican policies create a
broad base of economic growth. But Robert Barro, writing in a recent issue of BusinessWeek, states �For the entire post-World War
II period, average economic results under Democrats have been similar to those
under Republicans. I�m trying to be balanced here.� Barro is a senior fellow at the Hoover
Institution, another corporate-sponsored think tank, covered in the NCRP�s
report, and is ideologically similar to the Cato Institute.
Barro�s attempt to be balanced is commendable, but the evidence suggests that
there is actually a significant difference in Democratic and Republican policy
Studies have been conducted to determine the effects of political
choices on economic outcomes in the U.S. for the post-war period. A study by
Larry Bartels at the Department of Politics and Woodrow Wilson School of Public
and International Affairs, Princeton University, finds that families at the
95th percentile have experienced identical income growth under both Republican
and Democratic presidents. In other words, the well-off do just as well under
either Republican or Democratic presidents. At the 20th percentile, the bottom
20 percent of the population, Democratic presidents produced four times as much
income growth as Republican presidents. In other words, Democratic presidents
help the poorest Americans four times more than Republican ones, and
without lowering the income growth of the well-off. This result is, in turn,
due to unemployment being 30 percent less under Democratic presidents, and GDP
growth being 30 percent higher under Democratic presidents.
Multiple, independent sources support similar conclusions. A
recent article in Forbes shows that of the 10 presidents from the end of
WWII to President Clinton�s last term, Democratic presidents produced higher
GDP growth, higher real disposable personal income, more employment, and lower
Writing in the Wall Street Journal,
Roger Altman compares the returns on capital between the two Bush terms and the
two Clinton terms and finds that the Democratic president prevails.
A study by two finance professors at the University of California at Los
Angeles, Pedro Santa-Clara and Rossen Valkanov, covering the years 1927 to
1999, shows that the stock market had a return 5 percent higher under a
Democratic White House.
An article in Slate describes the 2000 edition of Stock Trader�s
Almanac that shows that Democratic presidents have produced a 13.4 percent
annual return on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, whereas Republicans have
produced 8.1 percent. Slate obtained similar results using the S&P
While causal links between presidential administrations and economic metrics
remain unexplored, surely the above evidence suggests that Democratic policies,
in fact, do not lead to economic disaster as many neoconservatives would like
people to believe.
The question of who benefits from Republican economic
policies then arises. It is useful to answer this question historically, by
examining wealth and income effects over time. The Progressive era at the
beginning of the twentieth century ushered in the first wave of legislation
aimed at correcting the excesses of wealth concentration created during the
Gilded Age. The era saw the introduction of the progressive income tax, the
estate tax, and capital gains taxes. The Great Depression caused a huge shift
in public opinion toward acceptance of unionization and income equality, and
high marginal tax rates, which would climb to over 80 percent in the postwar
period. During the Depression, the federal government added redistributive
programs like Social Security and Aid for Families with Dependent Children. As a result,
while the top 5 percent of the population received 31 percent of the income in
1935, by 1973, the top 5 percent received only 21 percent of the national
income. What is crucial to
understand is that over roughly the same period, from 1947 to 1973, even as the
top shares were declining, real incomes across every quintile
What happened in that next decade, spanning approximately
the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s, was the resurgence of the discredited
laissez-faire economic ideas of the Gilded Age. This was the period when many
organizations of the right-wing policy network described in the NCRP report
were founded. As the New York Times wrote in 1979: �Quietly, cautiously,
but with growing success, the business community has been moving to influence
legislation . . . it has already had a major impact on policies involving
labor-management relations, the environment, consumer affairs, tax policy,
trade, competitive practices, and monetary policy.�
During this period, William Simon, former Secretary of the
Treasury for Presidents Nixon and Ford, became president of John M. Olin
Foundation, and wrote A Time for Truth, calling for the return of
laissez-faire capitalism. He said that �businessmen have been financing their
own destruction� by funding universities from which scholars launch
intellectual attacks against business. The John M. Olin Foundation is prominently
featured in the NCRP�s �Axis of Ideology� report.
Also during this time, activist Paul Weyrich set up the
Heritage Foundation, stating, �We are different from previous generations of
conservatives. We are no longer working to preserve the status quo. We are
radicals, working to overturn the present power structure of this country.�
Further illustrating the intensity of their political
activities at the time, Jack Abramoff, former College Republicans National
Chairman, stated �we are not just trying to win the next election. . . . It�s
not our job to seek peaceful co-existence with the Left. Our job is to remove
them from power permanently.�
The burgeoning right-wing policy establishment would have substantial input
into the Reagan administration�s policies.
Recent corruption scandals involving Abramoff provide
insight into what neoconservatives meant by �overturning� the left and
liberals: what was to be overturned was a civil society where ordinary
Americans were protected from rampant unchecked political corruption and cronyism,
where �co-existence with the Left� meant observing the rule of law.
By 1986, when the top 5 percent of the income distribution
was receiving 23 percent of the national income, the trend of decreasing
inequality was reversing, so that by 1998, the top 5 percent was back up to 29
percent of national income. Crucially, from 1973 to
2000, while the top quintile enjoyed a gain of 61.6 percent in real income, the
other 80 percent only saw a 21 percent increase, while the lowest fifth saw
only a 10.3 percent real gain.
Data also show that in the early half of the twentieth
century, top marginal tax rates were much higher that they are today, running
at about 94 percent right after WWII for incomes over $2 million in 2002
dollars. They have declined slowly but steadily since, standing at 38.6 percent
in 2002 for incomes over about $300,000.
That such regressive changes would occur was predictable.
Research across 16 industrialized countries from 1966 to 1994 shows that many
reforms typically associated with free market policies, such as privatization,
lower unionization, lower percentages of public spending, and higher volume of
trade with developing countries, actually exacerbate income inequalities.
Author and former Republican analyst Kevin Phillips notes in
his book Wealth and Democracy that �Liberals, for their part, had built
much of their 1932�68 politics around collectivizing the risks of old age and
indigence through programs like Social Security, welfare and Medicare.
Conservative government, especially in the eighties, undertook to collectivize
a different set of risks, this time the peril to investors of seeking high
returns by putting money in precarious financial institutions, currencies, or
Part of the conservative government�s strategy was to shift taxes away from the
wealthy and onto the lower classes. Phillips tracks the tax rate of a median
income family and a millionaire family�s effective tax rate from 1948 to 1989.
Taxes tracked are income and FICA (Social Security). In 1948, the median
family�s effective overall tax rate was 16.1 percent, and the millionaire
family�s rate was 68.6 percent. By 1989, the median family�s rate was 24.4
percent, and the millionaire family�s rate was 26.7 percent.
Another example of neoconservative disinformation trumping
informed debate is the issue of the inheritance tax. The campaign of deception
is a study in how the power elite control democracy and use it to further their
own interests. Author and tax writer for the New York Times David Cay
Johnson describes how President George W. Bush frames the estate tax for the
public in his book Perfectly Legal.
�To keep farms in the family we are going to get rid of the death tax,� was
Bush�s promise. Yet attempts to find such lost farms unearthed exactly one
example where a widow was unable to pay the estate tax upon her husband�s
death. When Bush heard that farmers in Iowa were mocking the idea of family
farms being threatened by the estate tax, he continued with the rhetoric,
proclaiming that �I�ve talked to people who were forced to sell their farms in
order to pay for the death tax.� Yet the White House did not�or could not�respond
with names of people that Bush had talked to.
In addition to pronouncements of conservative figureheads,
right-wing lobbying groups produce propaganda which is broadcast on television
and radio, featuring WWII veterans who �freed the world from tyranny, then came
home to build family businesses and farms. . . . They paid taxes all their
lives, but not[sic] the IRS hits this �Greatest Generation� with an unjust
double tax, the death tax.�
This particular advertisement is paid for by the American Family Business
Institute, an organization �devoted to the singular goal of the permanent
repeal of the Federal Estate Tax . . ." This organization recently allied with
Americans for Tax Reform, headed by Grover Norquist, another organization
listed in the NCRP�s �Axis of Ideology� report.
The effects of such propaganda are predictable: the American
public is confused and conflicted, often holding contradictory beliefs about
tax policy and priorities. Another study by Larry Bartels, the allegorical
�Homer Gets a Tax Cut,� illustrates the profound confusion of the American
public about tax policy. Particularly revealing were attitudes about the repeal
of the inheritance tax. He found that:
�among those with family incomes of less than $50,000 who
want more spending on government programs and said income inequality has
increased and said that is a bad thing and said that government
policy contributes to income inequality and said that rich people pay
less than they should in federal income taxes . . . 66 percent favored
According to Bartels� study, the public was not fooled by
reframing the name of the tax to �death tax.� Instead, what Bartels found was that:
�people who think they are asked to pay too much in federal
income taxes are substantially more likely to support repealing the inheritance
tax�despite the fact that the vast majority of them never have been or would be
subject to the tax.�
But the last phrase is crucial. Proponents of the estate tax
are mystified because they understand concretely that very few pay this tax.
That is exactly why neoconservative opinion leaders have been intent on
creating the misperception among the public that ordinary families do pay the
Other lines of reasoning should not be so quickly dismissed,
such as the argument that the tax is unfair. It�s difficult to argue that one
should not be able to allocate inheritance to one�s progeny. What is unfair,
however, is for the unrealized capital gains locked away in the vast fortunes
of the very rich to remain untaxed, as they would without an inheritance tax.
Excluding the Forbes 400, the proportion of estates� values held in unrealized
capital gains is about 36 percent, and the proportion for households of net worth
over $10 million is 56 percent. These figures suggest a
tax more targeted on the unrealized capital gains transferred at death, not the
The initiator of the estate tax repeal was Patricia Soldano,
who operates an estate planning firm in Southern California, and about 50 of
her clients, with the Mars and Gallo families leading the way. Other backing
came from the Campbell soup and Krystal hamburger fortunes. Frank Blethen,
whose family controls the Seattle Times Co., also chipped in.
The public relations firm Patton Boggs advised Soldano on how to lay the
groundwork for repeal of the tax by producing �studies, focus groups, and
polls� using biased and exaggerated information, and set lobbying groups such
as the Family Business Estate Tax Coalition to disseminate the results through
the conservative media �megaphone.� Soldano has enlisted about 65 wealthy
families in 25 states. In 1997 and 1998, Soldano�s other group, the Policy and
Taxation Group, reported $522,500 in lobbying income.
Not surprisingly, as Mr. Johnston shows, a Gallup poll shows
that 17 percent of Americans believe they will have to pay estate taxes, which
is 18 times higher than the number who actually do.
Neoconservative distortion extends to environmental issues
as well. Researcher Naomi Oreskes and her assistants read 928 abstracts of
scientific papers published between 1993 and 2003 retrieved by a database word
search on global climate change. None of the papers surveyed disputed the
hypothesis that human-induced climate change through the production of
greenhouse gasses is occurring.
Yet global warming �dissidents� such as Pat Michaels, Robert
Balling, Sherwood Idso, S. Fred Singer, and Richard S. Lindzen, some of the
�scientists� who disagree with the scientific consensus on global warming,
manage to receive wide media exposure. They testify to Congress and also appear
on conservative talk radio programs and other media outlets. They appear in
�documentaries� funded by fossil fuel associations such as the Western Fuel
Association�s The Greening of Planet Earth, propaganda which claimed that global warming will be beneficial.
The attitude of the fossil fuel industry is well summarized
in internal documentation, as exemplified by the following passage:
�When [the climate change] controversy first erupted at the
peak of summer in 1988, Western Fuels Association decided it was important to
take a stand. . . . [S]cientists were found who are skeptical about much of
what seemed generally accepted about the potential for climate change.�
Echoing the fossil fuel industry�s position, Republican
pollster Frank Luntz coached Republican members of Congress on how to deal with
global warming. �The scientific debate is closing (against us) but not yet
closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science,� Luntz
wrote. He warned, �Voters believe that there is no consensus [italics in
original] about global warming in the scientific community. Should the public
come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about
global warming will change accordingly.�
But voters, or the public, might be smarter than Luntz and
many others give them credit for. Data from a study conducted by the Program on
International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland from 1997
to 2002 show that roughly less than 20 percent of the public outright dismisses
Data from 1998 show that 68 percent of respondents felt that they were more
likely to support action to curb global warming than the average person, while
only 22 percent thought they were less supportive. This suggests that, on
aggregate, the public does not know what the public supports, even though
individuals remain concerned about the subject and wish more was being done.
Turning to foreign policy issues, a recent study by the
Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland
recently provided proof of the power of mass media to deceive. Their study
examined public knowledge of three basic questions of fact about the Iraq war
in the summer and fall of 2003, and the link between such knowledge and the
source of information used by the respondents. Sixty-seven percent of Fox
viewers believed a connection to al Qaeda had been found; 16 percent of NPR/PBS
users made this error. Thirty-three percent of Fox viewers believed WMD had
been found, while 11 percent of NPR/PBS believed this. Thirty-five percent of
Fox viewers believed world opinion favored the war, while only 5 percent of
NPR/PBS users believed this. As a result, among those who had none of the three
misperceptions, support for the war was only 23 percent. Among those with all
three misperceptions, however, support was 86 percent. FOX �news� is well known not only for
pushing the Iraq war, but also other items of the neoconservative agenda,
including massive tax cuts.
PIPA recently conducted a very illuminating study on public
opinion about multilateralism and foreign policy. Participants were asked to
choose one of the following options regarding solutions to international
problems: 1) U.S. should continue to be the preeminent world leader; 2) U.S.
should do its fair share in efforts with other countries; 3) U.S. should
withdraw from most efforts to solve international problems. In four studies
from 1996 to 2003, answers to question one ranged from 11 percent to 17
percent. Answers to question two ranged from 71 percent to 74 percent. Question
3 responses ranged from 9 percent to 15 percent.
But the astounding results from the study on multilateralism
are the following. In 2003, 16.4 percent of respondents favored the response
that the U.S. should be the world leader. But respondents simultaneously
believed that 35.3 percent of all respondents supported this option. The
percentage of respondents who believed that the U.S. should do its fair share
with other countries was 71.1 percent. But respondents only thought 43.4
percent of all respondents supported this option. While 12.5 percent of
respondents favored that the U.S. withdraw from efforts to solve international
problems, respondents believed that 21.6 percent of all respondents supported
In other words, the respondents grossly overestimated the
group�s collective support for a unilateral approach to world problems.
Another question in the study asked for respondents to
choose the most important lesson of September 11: 1) U.S. needs to act on its
own more to fight terrorism, or 2) U.S. needs to work more closely with other
countries to fight terrorism. Option 1 was chosen by 22.6 percent of
respondents, and Option 2 was chosen by 77.4 percent of respondents. But
respondents believed others chose Option 1 48.7 percent of the time, and only
chose Option 2 51.2 percent of the time.
Once again, respondents grossly overestimated the group�s
collective support for a unilateral response to terrorism.
Subgroups of respondents also had misperceptions, and
therefore came to a false consensus. For example, the 17.2 percent of the
respondents holding the attitude that the U.S. should be the preeminent world
leader thought that they represented 53.8 percent of the respondents. The 73.6
percent of the respondents that actually held the attitude that the U.S. should
do its fair share in efforts with other countries thought that they were only
49.3 percent of the respondents. Finally, the 9.2 percent thinking that the
U.S. should withdraw from most efforts to solve international problems
perceived themselves to be 42.8 percent of the respondents.
In other words, the subgroup favoring that the U.S. should
do its fair share in efforts with other countries underestimated the degree of
its own consensus, and the subgroups favoring dominance or withdrawal overestimated
their own consensus.
The study also examined the effects of the misperceptions on
the attitudes about the Iraq war. As a result of these misperceptions, the
study found that respondents who incorrectly perceived that the unilateral view
was the majority view were more likely to support the US unilateral invasion of
Iraq. They were also more likely to support the concept of a preventive war.
The misperceptions have a powerful legitimizing effect. Respondents who
believed that the foreign policy of the administration reflected public opinion
�a great deal� were 3.5 times more likely to support the invasion without
support of the UN Security Council. Crucially, individuals are likely to
support specific foreign policy decisions they personally do not agree with
when those individuals perceive that the majority support those policies.
Thus, controlling the perception of what the public believes would allow
control of what the public supports.
Other polls consistently reveal other priorities that are
shared by the public but ignored in political campaigns. Sixty-four percent of
the public favors a government guarantee of health insurance for all, while 30
percent oppose. Even among conservative Republicans, support for universal
government health insurance runs at 41 percent. Currently, 69 percent of the
public favor providing more generous government assistance to the poor.
An extremely effective way to prevent action in spite of the
popular desire to tackle social problems is for leaders to foster the false
impression that they are interested in acting in the people�s best interest
when they have no intention of doing so. The crux of the success of such a
strategy may be found in a focus group study done by Democracy Corps, a
self-described progressive research organization. In a report from August of
2005, the group noted that �The problem is not Republican popularity�indeed,
most voters in these groups were tremendously upset over the current direction
of the country . . . President Bush and Republicans in Congress were faulted
for their lack of effective leadership,� the report notes, regarding �the lack
of progress or a clear plan in Iraq, a stagnant economy without job security,
and skyrocketing health care costs.� �However,� the report continues, �as
powerful as the concern over these issues is, the introduction of cultural
themes�specifically gay marriage, abortion, the importance of the traditional
family unit, and the role of religion in public life�quickly renders them
almost irrelevant in terms of electoral politics at the national level.�
The mechanism of deception is described in detail:
�Particularly among non-college voters, cultural issues not
only superceded other priorities, they served as a proxy for many voters on
those other issues.� Because �most voters express[ed] little understanding of
the differences between Democrats and Republicans . . . they felt it safe to
assume that if a candidate was �right� on cultural issues . . . [then] . . . that
candidate would naturally also come closest to their views on these other
issues.� The definition of �right� in this case is to be opposed to abortion
and gay marriage, and to vociferously defend the role of faith and traditional
Judeo-Christian values in public life.
A popular recommendation concerning the Democrat�s electoral
misfortunes is an abandoning of the New Deal economic platform, as well as
environmental and social justice themes, further solidifying a rightward turn.
But if the public desired an overall shift to the right among political
candidates, one would expect voter turnout to hold constant, perhaps even
increase, as the political establishment became more conservative. But voter
turnout patterns suggest an electorate who feels that its interests have been
abandoned by the political leadership. Turnout in the 2004 election was, in
fact, just above 55 percent of eligible voters. Voters are more likely to be in the middle
and upper-middle classes than in either the lower classes or highest classes.
In 2000, 14 percent of the electorate made less than $15,000 a year; 25 percent
made between $15,000 and $35,000; 30 percent made between $35,000 and $65,000;
26 percent, between $65,000-$125,000�but only 5 percent above $125,000.
One possible explanation for the lowest turnout in the highest income category
suggests that the richest understand that the true methods of political
influence lie in behind the scenes maneuvering and in convincing other, more
numerous groups to inadvertently support them.
A study in the autumn 1979 issue of Public Opinion
Quarterly supports the idea that white, uneducated workers left the
Democratic Party in droves because they no longer felt the party represented
their economic interests. This perception may in part have been due to a lack
of class-consciousness in the US, but also to President Carter�s wooing of
Business could be even more confident in the Democratic Party by the 1990s, as
indicated by James Robinson, a corporate lobbyist who pushed for the passage of
NAFTA: �NAFTA happened because of the drive Bill Clinton gave it. . . . He
stood up against his two prime constituents, labor and environment, to drive it
home over their dead bodies.�
Yet stories like �The Fear Myth� continue with the advice
that �The Democrats, on the other hand, have all but forgotten the lessons of
Clintonism,� because Al Gore talked of fighting for �the people against the
powerful� or that Mr Kerry lambasted �Benedict Arnold corporations.� The
Economist chides, �Having built a bridge to the 21st century under Mr
Clinton, the Democrats have since been busy building another one back to the
19th century.� In fact, the data show that Democrats need to abandon
�Clintonism� as quickly as they possibly can, if they want to remain relevant
to real Americans at all.
The evidence and data suggest that both media and political
leadership act to marginalize many views of the public, and that such
marginalization occurs without the public being aware of it. This would explain
the popularity of many progressive actions such as helping the poor, taking
action on global warming, preferring multilateralism, or providing universal
health insurance. Marginalization would explain why people perceive themselves
to prefer progressive solutions while simultaneously thinking that their
preferences are in the minority. The promotion of reactionary points of view by
leaders and the media would explain why minorities holding these views are
emboldened to perceive themselves in the majority.
The correct diagnosis of the Democratic Party�s failures is
crucial for their survival; acting on a slipshod, lackadaisical analysis will
render great damage, perhaps even be fatal, to the party. Perhaps the American
left would benefit from its demise. In any case, further abandonment of those
who would benefit the most from a resurgence in liberal politics will doom any
nascent left-wing movement.
Perhaps the greatest challenge lies in convincing the white,
male, uneducated voter that his interests are ultimately the same,
economically, as the minority groups he is often taught by the Bush/Limbaughian
reactionary right to despise.
The positive vision that the left in America must re-ignite
is the one of democratic, economic populism, where the function of government
is to free individuals from the hazards and risks of nature and chance, not to
aggregate more wealth, power, and security to those who already have them.
1. �About Us.� The Rockridge
Institute. Berkeley, CA. Accessed 20 Aug 2005.
Announces the Progressive Manual Project.� The Rockridge Institute.
Berkeley, CA. Accessed 20 Aug 2005.
3 �Axis of Ideology: Conservative Foundations
and Public Policy.� National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. Washington,
DC. 2004. 7.
caveman cometh.� The Economist, 29 March 2001. Accessed 26 November
5 Axis of Ideology, 19.
6 Ibid., 46.
7 Ibid., 18.
Security Briefing Room.� Heritage Foundation. Washington, DC. Accessed 21
Fear Myth.� The Economist, 18 November 2004. Accessed 25 November
10. The Board Of Trustees Of The Federal
Old-Age And Survivors Insurance And Disability Insurance Trust Funds. The 2004 Annual Report.
Washington, D.C., 23 March 2004. 2. Accessed 21 August 2005
11. Dean Baker, David Rosnick. �Basic Facts
on Social Security and Proposed Benefit Cuts/Privatization.� Center for
Economic and Policy Research. March 2005. 2. Accessed 21 Aug 2005
12 Matthew Yglesias. �Wait
and See.� The American Prospect Online, 14 December 2004. Accessed 22 August 2005..
Social Security No Crisis.� CBS News. 18 June 2005. Accessed 21 Aug 2005.
14 Landon Thomas, Jr. �Wall St. Lobby Quietly
Tackles Social Security.� The New York Times, 21 December 2004. C1.
15. Dan Morgan. �Think
Tanks: Corporations� Quiet Weapon,� The Washington Post, 29 January 2000. A1. Accessed 25
16 Stuart Butler and Peter Germanis. �Achieving
a Leninist Strategy,� Cato Journal 3, no.2 (Fall 1983): 548.
17 Ibid., 551.
18 Ibid., 552.
19. Dean Baker, David Rosnick. �Basic Facts
on Social Security and Proposed Benefit Cuts/Privatization.� Center for
Economic and Policy Research. March 2005. 4. Accessed 21 Aug 2005.
20. Indermit S. Gill, Truman Packard
and Juan Yermo. Keeping
The Promise Of Old Age Income Security In Latin America (Washington,
D.C.: World Bank, 2004), 117. Accessed 7 October 2005.
21. Robert J. Barro. �Debunking The Myths
Of The Kerry Campaign.� BusinessWeek,
8 November 2004. 32.
22. In records submitted for tobacco
settlements for Phillip Morris, it was revealed that the Hoover Institution,
and other right-wing corporate front groups, worked with Phillip Morris to
undermine President Clinton�s universal health care initiative. �Tobacco Strategy.�
Philip Morris. Text ID: DTV34E00. Bates Number: 2022887066/7072. March 1994.
Accessed 29 April 2004.
For extensive coverage of Hoover�s link to funding for
corporate propaganda see Media Transparency's Hoover
Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace.
23. Larry M. Bartels. �Partisan Politics and the
U.S. Income Distribution.� Princeton University. February 2004. Accessed 26
24. Dan Ackman. �Special
Report Presidents And Prosperity.� Forbes, 20 July 2004. Accessed 26
25. Roger C. Altman. �The
Democrats Are Better for Business.� The Wall Street Journal Online,
20 October 2004. A16. Accessed 28 November 2004.
26. Alexandra Twin. �Surprise:
Dems are better for rallies.� www.cnn.com 22 January 2004. Accessed 26
27. Carol Vinzant. �The Democratic Dividend.�
Slate. 4 October 2002.
Accessed 26 November 2004.
28 These and other interesting results are
tabulated at eRiposte.
29. Thomas Picketty, Emmanuel Saez. �Income
Inequality in the United States, 1913�1998.� The Quarterly Journal of
Economics 118, no. 1 (February
31. Lawrence Mishel, Jared Bernstein,
Heather Boushey. The State of Working America 2002/2003 (Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press & Economic Policy Institute, 2003), 57.
32 Philip Shabecoff. �Big Business on the
Offensive.� The New York Times, 9 December 1979. SM34.
33 �Simon: Preaching the Word for Olin.� The
New York Times, 16 July 1978. F1.
34 John Saloma, Ominous Politics: The
New Conservative Labyrinth (New York: Hill and Wang, 1984), 49.
35 Jack Abramoff, National Chairman,
College Republicans 1983 Annual Report, Quoted in: Shepard, Yeskel, and
Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Campus Organizing
(Washington D. C.: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 1995),
299. 28 March 2004. Accessed 7 October 2005.
36 Top US Marginal Income Tax
Rates, 1913�2003. TruthandPolitics.org. Accessed 4 September 2005.
37. Gustafsson, Bjorn,
Johansson, Mats. �In Search of Smoking Guns: What Makes Income Inequality Vary
over Time in Different Countries?� American Sociological Review 64, no.
4 (August, 1999): 585�605.
38 Kevin Phillips. Wealth and Democracy
(Broadway Books: New York, 2003), 93.
39 Ibid., 96.
40 David Cay Johnston, Perfectly Legal
(New York: Penguin Group, 2003), 71�75.
41 �Estate Tax Malarkey.�
Factcheck.org. Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania
6 June 2005. Accessed 3 September 2005.
42 �About the American Family
Business Institute.� American Family Business Institute. Washington, D.C.
2005. Accessed 3 September 2005.
43 Alicia Mundy. �Estate-tax
foes target Cantwell.� The Seattle Times, 7 July 2005. Accessed 3 September 2005.
44 Larry Bartels. �Homer Gets a Tax
Cut.� Center for the Study of Democratic Politics. Woodrow Wilson School of
Public and International Affairs. Princeton University. Princeton, NJ. 5 March
2004. 18. Accessed 29 August 2005.
45 Ibid., 14.
46 Ibid., 22.
James M. Poterba, Scott Weisbanner. �The
Distributional Burden of Taxing Estates and Unrealized Capital Gains at the
Time of Death.� NBER working paper 7811. National Bureau of Economic
Research. Cambridge, MA: 2000. 36.
48 Jonathan Weisman. �Erosion
of Estate Tax Is a Lesson in Politics.� The Washington Post, 13
April 2005. E01. accessed 3 September 2005.
49 Bob Thompson. �Sharing the
Wealth?� The Washington Post, 13 April 2003. W08. Accessed 3
50 Perfectly Legal, 76.
51 Naomi Oreskes. �Undeniable
Global Warming.� The Washington Post, 26 December 2004. B07 Accessed 8 September 2005.
52 Ross Gelbspan. The Heat Is On: The
Climate Crisis, the Cover-Up, the Prescription (Perseus Books Cambridge,
MA. 1998) 35�36.
53 Elizabeth Kolbert. �The Climate of
Man�III: What can be done?� The New Yorker. 9 May 2005. Posted 2 May 2005. Accessed 8 September 2005.
54 Program on International Policy
Attitudes. Global Issues. Global
Warming. The Reality and Urgency of Global Warming. University of Maryland.
Accessed 7 October 2005.
55 Program on International Policy
Attitudes. Global Issues. Global
Warming. Perceptions of Others� Support for Action. University of Maryland.
Accessed 7 October 2005.
56. Steven Kull et. al. �Misperceptions,
the Media, and the Iraq War.� Program on International Policy
Attitudes/Knowledge Networks. College Park, MD. 2 October 2003. 13�15. Accessed
28 March 2004.
57 Alexander Todorov and Anesu N.
Mandisodza. �Public Opinion on Foreign Policy: The Multilateral Public that
Perceives Itself as Unilateral.� Public Opinion Quarterly 68, no.3 (Fall 2004): 329.
58 Ibid., 332.
59 Ibid., 343�345.
60 �Public Divided on Origins of
Life, Religion a Strength and Weakness for Both Parties.� Survey Report.
Pew Research Center For The People & The Press. Pew Forum on Religion &
Public Life. Washington, D.C. 30 August 2005. 17�18. Accessed 6 September 2005.
61. Karl Agne, Stan Greenberg. �The
Cultural Divide & The Challenge of Winning Back Rural & Red State
Voters. Focus Group Observations.� Democracy Corp. Washington, DC. 9 August
2005. Accessed 6 October 2005. 1.
62. Ibid., 2.
turnout highest since 1968.� www.cnn.com.
3 November 2004. Accessed 28 November 2004.
electorate at a glance.� www.news24.com.
19 October 2004. Accessed 28 November 2004.
65. Howard Reiter. �Why is Turnout
Down?� Public Opinion Quarterly 43,
no. 3 (Autumn 1979): 310.
66. John R. MacArthur, The
Selling of Free Trade (University of California Press: Berkeley, CA 2001),
Pyland is a resident of Houston, Texas, and is a mechanical engineer. He reads,
studies and researches history, economics, globalization, and politics. He has
taught and facilitated globalization and economics related seminars at his
church, has been involved in local anti-globalization groups, and has a website