Monday, January 12, 2015

Deconstructing Conservative Media Rhetoric

Today, I thought I would look at a particular article from a right wing online publication, to explore the potential problems with the arguments made and any rhetorical and or factual problems. The article in question is from Michal Walsh at PJ Media, entitled Harvard Faculty Angry About Health Care Cost Increases they Championed.
The article essentially uses the recent vote by Harvard faculty against the increases to their healthcare costs to argue that liberals are hypocrites that only like policies if they do not affect them. While that might be true of some, there is, of course, the question of whether Harvard is even a bastion of liberal thinking at all. As a constant critic of neoliberalism and the overreliance on positivism (and “objective,” and observable empirical evidence), I would instead argue the opposite is true and that Harvard has done more to push these two ideological positions than anyone. Harvard cloaks itself in the veneer of liberalism, but really they are at the heart of the rightward economic push that has been occurring since the 80s (and, in particular, the brand offered by Clinton, Blair, and a host of “liberated economies” across the globe). Ignoring this broader critique of the article’s premise, let’s look more specifically at the flaws in the specific arguments employed.

I’ve included three specific flaws, as follows: First, is the tired argument that Obamacare is a “socialist” program, mirroring the programs in most of the rest of the industrialized world, where the public essentially “owns” the industry through the government and taxes they pay. This is a completely inaccurate but rhetorically useful strategy the right employs on a regular basis. In general, socialism is the “public ownership of the means of production,” not, as many on the right argue, “every bill passed by Democrats since the beginning of time.” Social Security, on the other hand, is essentially a “socialist” policy, though really a social democratic policy, as the Europeans more accurately label it. But more generally, the notion that socialism and capitalism are incompatible is one of the most flawed conservative arguments used in the past 35 years or so, given that it was “socialist” policies that saved capitalism during the Great Depression and in other periods of economic turmoil before and after.

Second, just because a few professors at Harvard advised on the Affordable Care Bill doesn’t mean the entire faculty supported it. This is a common argument that conservatives make in one of two ways: a. They take a few people that support something, or a few people engaging in a particular activity and then generalize that to all “liberals” or all professors or all gays (ad infinitum to all people that, like, care about other people), b. They take one exception to a rule to essentially argue against an entire system. Two quick examples should suffice. The first involves the overturning of the “death tax” by Bush in 2001. He argued that some small business owners couldn’t pass their estates onto their children, because the tax burden was too high. But that was a small percentage of those who pay the federal inheritance tax and could have been solved simply by increasing the minimum at which the tax was assessed. Instead the entire tax was eliminated by Bush, using those few examples as emblematic of the entire important revenue stream. A second is on the question of welfare reform, even as it was Clinton who finally passed it – arguing that the program needed to be undermined because it was being abused, when the reality was that most participants were young single mothers (who were on the program for 5 years). A better solution was affordable childcare, but that wasn’t ideologically compatible with their ideology.

Finally, I thought I would deconstruct the conclusion in detail. In it, the author includes the following argument wrapped in typical conservative rhetoric, "American academics are so used to spouting socialist Utopian nonsense while cashing fat capitalist paychecks that their delicate psyches aren’t prepared for the reality of their leftist fantasies. Most big -government elitists are fans of programs that put the burdens on anyone but them, and that is the way that these boondoggles are usually crafted. It is natural that they thought they’d get a pass on this.” First of all, why are university professors cashing “capitalist” paychecks? Most universities are non-profit and many are public. Second, I don’t know by what definition the author is using “fat,” but with the exception of a few schools (like UCLA), professors’ paychecks don’t fit that modifier. Third, last time I checked, professors pay taxes and thus put the “burden” on themselves as much as others. This would be even truer if their paychecks are, in fact, “fat.” Fourth, how is something that has been debated endlessly and is fully open to public scrutiny a “boondoggle?”

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