Saturday, March 10, 2012

Name-Calling from Limbaugh, Krugman

Two of the most reliable political figures when it comes to name-calling -- no, that's not a compliment -- are radio pundit Rush Limbaugh and columnist Paul Krugman. I can turn on Limbaugh's radio show or read Krugman's column and it's almost guaranteed that I'll find an example of some sort of derisive misrepresentation of their opponents.

And March 8, 2012 was no exception.

Take a look at Krugman's column from that date, lovingly titled "Ignorance Is Strength":
"One way in which Americans have always been exceptional has been in our support for education. First we took the lead in universal primary education; then the “high school movement” made us the first nation to embrace widespread secondary education. And after World War II, public support, including the G.I. Bill and a huge expansion of public universities, helped large numbers of Americans to get college degrees. But now one of our two major political parties has taken a hard right turn against education, or at least against education that working Americans can afford. Remarkably, this new hostility to education is shared by the social conservative and economic conservative wings of the Republican coalition, now embodied in the persons of Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. ... So whenever you hear Republicans say that they are the party of traditional values, bear in mind that they have actually made a radical break with America’s tradition of valuing education."
Republicans certainly differ from Democrats when it comes to education policy, but it's not at all fair to say they don't value education or that they view ignorance as strength.

Basically, Republicans believe that a lot of government policies intended to help education are wasteful. For instance, the U.S. spends a lot on education K-12 compared to other countries, but U.S. students get mediocre test scores on international rankings for math and science.

They also believe that too much student aid drives the cost of college up. Less aid might cause the price to come down, or force students to choose majors with more reliable incomes, such as in engineering.

Maybe Republicans are wrong on these points -- predicting outcomes in education and the economy more generally is often difficult -- but it hardly makes them actively opposed to education.

Limbaugh on the same day shared these thoughts on his program:
"I think he likes high gasoline prices because he wants to change what people drive. He wants... (sigh) What I'm gonna tell you is the truth. It's unbelievable. You don't want to believe it. It doesn't sound possible. Not in this country. It's so unbelievable, you're going to reject me saying it. You're gonna cast it off as, "Ah, that's a bit far out." Obama wants you to have less freedom, less mobility, less ability to move around. There are people like that. Most people that run countries are like that. We are the exception. That's what's been so wonderful, what's such a blessing about the United States. Most of the people who have ever lived had lived under rulers, not people who govern them. He wants you to have less money. You're right: He wants you depending on him. Food stamps or whatever it is. But ultimately it's about usurping your freedom and transferring it to the government. He doesn't think you're smart enough to live your life responsibly. He doesn't think you'll willingly turn over your power to him. He's going to have to find ways to trick you out of it. That's what's going on with this regime."

In other words, the reason President Barack Obama opposed the Keystone Pipeline is because he wants higher gas prices, and the reason he wants higher gas prices is because he wants Americans to have a harder time making ends meet so that they have to turn to government to take care of them because he believes Americans aren't smart enough to take care of themselves.

Just like with Krugman, this is a derisive caricature. There's all sorts of reasonable motives that Obama could have instead, right? He might believe that the pipeline does more environmental damage than economic good. Or he might believe that more time is needed to study the pipeline's economic effects, so that green-lighting it now is premature.

Maybe he doesn't want to spawn more dependency among Americans, maybe he just disagrees about which economic policies -- again, economics being an area of reasonable disagreement -- will have the best results.

Interestingly, both Krugman and Limbaugh are dismissive of calls for civility.

Krugman dismisses Republican calls for civility because he sees that Republicans are hypocrites who don't live up to that standard themselves, they just want to impose it on Democrats.

Limbaugh dismisses Democratic calls for civility because he sees that Democrats are hypocrites who don't live up to that standard themselves, they just want to impose it on Republicans.

They're great at noticing the hypocrisy of their opponents, but not their own hypocrisy. And that's why we have such a problem with incivility, because people aren't going to own up to how they and their own side are contributing to the problem.

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