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Analysis Last Updated: Dec 31st, 2005 - 13:52:10

Neoconservative disinformation creates a democracy gap
By James Pyland
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Nov 8, 2005, 00:58

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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 society.� [1] 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.�[2] 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,[3] 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.�[4] �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 activities.

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.[5] For the entire three-year period 1999�2001, Heritage received $28,569,700 from philanthropy.[6] 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.[7]

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 privatization.[8] 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,�[9] 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.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13]

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 privatization program.[14] 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.[15]

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,�[16] 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 . . ."[17]

�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.�[18] [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 aspirational people.�

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.[11] 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.[19] 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.[20]

�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 evidence.

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.�[21] 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.[22] Barro�s attempt to be balanced is commendable, but the evidence suggests that there is actually a significant difference in Democratic and Republican policy outcomes.

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.[23]

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 deficits.[24] 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.[25] 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.[26] 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 500 index.[27] 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.[28]

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.[29] 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.[30] 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 approximately doubled.[31]

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.�[32]

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.[33] 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.�[34]

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.�[35] 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.[30] 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.[31]

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.[36]

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.[37]

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 overseas investments.�[38] 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.[39]

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.[40]

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.�[41] 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 . . ."[42] This organization recently allied with Americans for Tax Reform, headed by Grover Norquist, another organization listed in the NCRP�s �Axis of Ideology� report.[43]

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 repeal.�[44]

According to Bartels� study, the public was not fooled by reframing the name of the tax to �death tax.�[45] 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.�[46]

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 inheritance tax.

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.[47] These figures suggest a tax more targeted on the unrealized capital gains transferred at death, not the entire estate.

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.[48] 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.[49]

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.[50]

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.[51]

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.�[52]

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.�[53]

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 global warming.[54] 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,[55] 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.[56] 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 this option.

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.[57]

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.[58]

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.[59] 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.[60]

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.�[61]

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.[62]

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.[63] 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.[64] 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 confidence.�[65] 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.�[66]

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.

2Rockridge 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.

4. �The caveman cometh.� The Economist, 29 March 2001. Accessed 26 November 2004.

5 Axis of Ideology, 19.

6 Ibid., 46.

7 Ibid., 18.

8. �Social Security Briefing Room.� Heritage Foundation. Washington, DC. Accessed 21 August 05.

9. �The Fear Myth.� The Economist, 18 November 2004. Accessed 25 November 2004.

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..

13Poll: 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 November 2004..

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 November 2004.

24. Dan Ackman. �Special Report Presidents And Prosperity.� Forbes, 20 July 2004. Accessed 26 November 2004.

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.� 22 January 2004. Accessed 26 November 2004.

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 2003): 34�35.

30. Ibid., 8�10.

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 Outcalt, Lesbian, 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. 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.

41Estate Tax Malarkey.� Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania 6 June 2005. Accessed 3 September 2005.

42About 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.

47 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 September 2005.

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.

60Public 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.

63. �Voter turnout highest since 1968.� 3 November 2004. Accessed 28 November 2004.

64. �US electorate at a glance.� 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), 275.

James 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 at

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