Enough already with the “Socialist this,” and the “Social Darwinist that”

One of the big topics raging through the Blogoshere this week stems from the “thinly veiled social Darwinism” meme that the left is currently test-ballooning.  Jennifer Rubin, Robert Wright, the NYT, Beck’s Blaze, Red State, etc., etc., etc.  Here at the League, its already being touched upon by awesome liberal blogger Elias E and awesome conservative blogger Mike D.  It feels like anyone and everyone with a keyboard wants to go all in by either piling on with arguments supporting the idea that the GOP are a bunch of social Darwinists, or conveying shock – shock! – at these scurrilous charges by the conniving Left.

Want to know where your favorite blogger comes down on this issue?  Here’s a pretty good litmus test: If your favorite blogger has spent the past three years writing about how Obama is a Socialist, they’re probably crying about the unfairness of this new meme. And if your favorite blogger has been pointing out that fact Obama is no more of a socialist than Bush was before him, then it’s a good bet he or she is currently pushing hard on this new meme. And I’m already tired of the whole thing.

From my point of view, both the “socialist” meme and the “social Darwinist” meme are pretty much the same, and have three major things in common:

1. Each uses a word that has been chosen for no other reason than it inspires a negative reaction with voters.

2. The use of each is totally defendable if one uses an overly simplistic definition. (e.g. socialist = someone who gets the government to do things/social darwinist = someone who uses and or allows a given system to favor one group over another)

3. Each group feels justified using their meme as a cudgel due to these simplistic definitions, despite the fact that by these same simplistic definitions their own group is just as guilty of the condemned behavior as the group they are trying to discredit.

Seriously, is there really nothing more important going on to debate than the Socialist vs. Social Darwinist pooh flinging? Do we really need this much bandwidth quibbling about marketing slogans that we all know are bulls**t?

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148 thoughts on “Enough already with the “Socialist this,” and the “Social Darwinist that”

  1. But isn’t the important distinction (Wright or someone else notes it) that liberals are calling the Ryan plan Darwinist while conservatives are calling the President himself a socialist?

    As to the merits of the name calling, I personally would prefer more socialism and less darwinism (in terms of the safety net) so while we need to debate past the labels, I’m not convinced they are inaccurate.

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    • If most of the bloggers and pundits I have seen pushing the SD meme* were writers that themselves stuck mostly to policy notes and generally avoided discussing/criticizing the personalities of politicians and pundits on the other side of the fence I might weigh this argument more heavily than I do.  Since such is not the case, it’s hard not to see it as an argument of convenient strategy rather than an attempt to shed light.

      *(and I would not count Mr. Wright here)

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      • You mean like Kevin Drum who cites numbers as to why “radically smaller government” counts as social darwinism? Or Ezra Klein who went into a vicious rebuttal on Ryan’s fantasy land numbers? In general the President himself, who was the one who used the label, has stuck to attacking the policy of his opponents and not their personalities, which is something they haven’t bothered to do for him.

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      • Barack Obama is the president.  He defines what is acceptable discourse, at least in 2012.  If he’s going to do the “social Darwinism” riff, then I don’t see how blogger or pundit [who are in the Toy Dept., not even the real world] can be out of line with “socialist.”

        As for “socialism,” it’s a descriptive term here in America.  When I’m feeling conciliatory, I take the time to bang out “communitarianism,” but frankly, that’s a lot of keystrokes.

        That “Socialist” is a dirty word in America gives me hope.  In Europe, they brag about it.

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        • I visited the Debs home in Terre Haute last year.
          Twice, actually.
          I came back with a sackful of seed pods from the honeysuckle growing in the garden.
          Something like 54 of them.
          I gave a few away as gifts; planted a few.
          I still have some, if anyone’s interested.

          Debs is best understood in the Debs/Gompers rivalry.
          Debs = Socialist / Gompers = Communist
          Debs saw a federation of unions, while Gompers wanted a requirement that everyone belong to the same union.
          Gompers outlasted Debs.
          But then Gompers’s group, the AFL, took on Debs’ ideas.
          That’s when the CIO got the boot.
          Some of us aren’t too happy about them letting them back in.

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      • Viz socialism: The issue for the adults in the room (assuming there actually are any) is that socialism is simply unsustainable for a lot of economic reasons. Once we have the utopian society recently OP’d here where everyone gets paid a “decent” wage regardless of work performed, we will quickly find a society where everyone quickly decides that “dirty work” (not the kind David promotes) is something to be avoided at all costs, and hence no longer gets done. Ryan may or may not be wrong, but he is discussing the elephant in the room. Obama denies there is any such animal.

        "Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has no heart; and any
        man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains."
        
        While the sentiment is certainly astute and wise, the saying did not
        originate with Churchill. In fact, that wording is a variation of,
        "The man who is not a socialist at twenty has no heart, but if he is
        still a socialist at forty he has no head", which belongs to the
        former French Prime Minister Aristide Briand, who was himself a
        recovered socialist.

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        • Socialism comes in many flavours.  Here’s why Americans don’t like socialism in principle:  in the USA, the round-trip between taxation and payoff is very long.  In smaller countries, it’s a short round trip.

          Which isn’t to say Americans don’t practice socialism, they do.  When property taxes pay for excellent district schools, Americans rather like the idea.   Good schools keep up property values.   Short round trip.   Value for money.

          See the difference?

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          • Blaise, remember the recent posts about sitting on one’s duff collecting money that some thought was an April Fool’s joke? It was mere days ago, so it can’t be that far out of mind. Yes there are gov’t programs that have a socially beneficial effect, but that is NOT to be confused with a society geared around the gov’t owning the means of production and thereby granting those programs (usually to keep a small coterie in power) to “the people” however they might  be defined. Greece had riots when the populace (largely socialist if you recall your recent Greek history) was told their free lunch would soon be over. As Thatcher said, “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money”.

            The left quickly careens to the moral high ground of shoving grandma off a cliff when the right starts talking about who is going to be picking up the tab. When Obamacare passed, the Chinese made a specific point of directly discussing that (communist) country’s discomfort with buying treasuries just to support our welfare state (while they were doing a non-existent job of supporting their own).

            It is a fact that the responsibility for the budget rests with the legislature, not the president. But the circling of the wagons and 1000+ days without a budget whatsoever rests at the feet of /this/ administration. In the normal scheme of things, the president submits a budget and the House and Senate horse trade back and forth on a few things and it passes. In this politically poisonous Chicago-politics world, it is all about scoring points and political capital, there truly is no one minding the store. No wonder the USA got a credit downgrade.

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            • For all this vast hoard of gilded truisms you set before us like some ersatz Ali Baba, you have predicated your case, rather unwisely in my opinion, on the premise that Socialism is Unaffordable.   You would tell us the Dirty Work would never get done.   Ryan’s Elephant in the room is the Debt, which we are told is a very scary thing indeed.   Fiscal Rectitude demands Sacrifices, like so many virgins cast into the volcano to appease this baleful Elephant God.

              Now I will tell you of another Elephant God, Sri Ganesha.   Sri Ganesha is a rather nice god as gods go, and hope Murali will concur, for I believe he is a practising Hindu.   There are various stories about how Sri Ganesha got his elephant head: one says his father accidentally beheaded him when he was caught between his quarrelsome parents.   Another says it got burned off by the Evil Eye.  My favourite version of the story says he was created by his father Shiva’s laughter and the boy was simply too beautiful, so they put an elephant head on him.   At any rate, he’s the god of beginnings, especially the beginning of financial undertakings to remove obstacles.   He is also the god of writing and learning.   In summary, an appealing god to millions of people.   But he is also the creator of obstacles, a god of fate, of careers and of hope.

              Your Elephant God is entirely unappealing.   He’s reduced you to fear and hysterical shock.   His prophet Paul Ryan is entirely ridiculous, trying to cure dandruff with decapitation.  He is that most disreputable and quarrelsome of Libertarians, an unrepentant Objectivist.   This country will do just fine without his fire and brimstone sermonising.   The world is advancing, Asia and Africa are beginning to enter modern times, industrialising, becoming educated, increasingly connected to the markets of the world.   We have absorbed the most terrible financial blow in history:  we have shouldered the debt of the Wall Street shysters and still our economy presses on.   The equities markets are recovering nicely.   All the prophecies of doom have failed and the followers of your Elephant God all stand around, biting their nails and wishing these things were not so.

              Our welfare state is not the problem.  Crony capitalism proved to be the problem.   The Objectivist gospel of Selfishness and Fear of some horrible future have blinded Paul Ryan to the entirely reasonable prospects for a full recovery.   When the Internet boom took off, the government ran surpluses.   Tax rates have never had any correlation to the economy’s rise and fall.   The only time I reckon such a downturn happened was when FDR obliged the banks to increase reserves in 1937, which was only a temporary setback.

              The Dirty Work always gets done.   The proletariat got exported but a great many of them arrive in the dead of night, having crossed the Sonoran Desert, just linin’ up to be exploited.   America has always depended on a fresh crop of proles.   They arrive on schedule like the dandelions in springtime.

              Greece got into trouble because it wouldn’t face facts, not because it was a socialist regime.   Tax avoidance became an art form and banks were all too willing to loan money to the Greek state with false promises of repayment.   Sweden nationalised its failed banks:  it was the first of the European states to recover.   Socialism works when the bills get paid.   All this fear mongering and harum-scarum is frankly ridiculous and you’re too smart by half to buy into the GOP Elephant God.

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              • Sheesh you replace one elephant with a white elephant of your own imagination. Socialism works? Do tell, I’m all ears. Please don’t bring up Sweden, I’ve already provided plenty of links elsewhere why that is a false example. Perhaps Cuba? All your flowery language aside, socialism is economically impossible. There are numerous examples, too numerous to cite here. Do I need to write an OP or why don’t you prove that it DOES work? Just to be fair let’s keep to first principles here, socialism as defined meaning the gov’t owns the means of production. Whether you choose to add a soviet or worker’s council to run things is up to you. Best of luck with your utopian fantasy don’t mind me showing the dystopian warts, I’m funny that way.

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                • You lobbed a nice easy one at me.   Sweden’s doing just fine.  Doing a conference call tomorrow with a developer in Karlsborg.

                  We’ve already established Americans like socialism when the round trip is short.  You didn’t contest the property tax example.   I pointed again to Sweden as a socialist country which pays the bills and nationalised the banks when they went bad and now all goes swimmingly.   Again, the point goes uncontested.

                  See, if you want to point to a socialist system which doesn’t work, you need to find an example from among all those you haven’t mentioned and find the one with the longest round trip and the most bureaucrats and Congresscritters crowding up like so many piggies to the trough, squealing for more.   The odds of finding a failed socialist state varies with the length of the round trip.

                  Socialism doesn’t mean the government owns the means of production.   That’s Communism, command economies.   Socialism features social ownership, up to and including the government itself, again, think school district and tax referenda.  Your definition requires that we believe the old Communist lies about State Socialism seriously and you will not find a more ardent anticommunist alive today than Yours Truly.   I have this visceral hatred of Communism, indescribable.

                  But it’s conceivable those lies have influenced your thinking, so I’m not yet ready to say you’re wrong about socialism.   We just have to come to terms about what Socialism isn’t.

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                  • You forget that I have a good friend who is an economics professor at Uppsala University. I’ll call your Sweden and raise you two EU’s. I used to do business with Ericcson, their employees regularly struggled to get transferred to the US so they wouldn’t have to pay such high taxes on their earnings (about 75% all in). I heard tons of dirt on Sweden. They are lucky to have the economic powerhouses (such as they were) that they did. That said, the Swedes are naturally hard working and industrious people as my many other links have attested. And I’m fond of quoting Friedman about Scandinavian poverty here versus there, but won’t bore those who’ve already read it.

                    Property taxes meet diminishing returns, just ask New Jersey. I pay something like $12K per year in property taxes, the kids are not so swift however, more money!=superior outcomes. We spend about 3rd highest per student and land in the high twenties in achievement rankings. If we doubled our spending would we even hit 10th? You’ve interviewed these kids nowadays, how many “straight A” graduates have you met who couldn’t put together a coherent thought? Our education system is crony unionism at its peak.

                    The Socialist Review defines socialism much as I have. Perhaps you can point me to a different definition we can both agree upon? Communism embraces socialism and to finalize the deal, embody politics in it as well just to keep that unlevel playing field unlevel.

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                    • oh. you’re from Jersey. Suddenly a lot more of your skepticism makes sense now.

                      I’m from pennsylvania, home of the flat 3% income tax and 6% sales tax (basic clothing and food exempt). We may not get your trains, but PA is fairly middling in all accounts. Our government generally works, and when it doesn’t, we vote it out.

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                    • Again, I’d like to distinguish, however artificially, a distinction between Socialism and Communism.   Citing the Communist Manifesto for a definition of Socialism is a bit of a cheap shot.   Let’s agree on two things:  that we want people owning the government and not the other way round, that’s one.  Two, ownership means making tough decisions:  all this silly finger-wiggling about the Bad Owd Gummint only scares the ignorant.  We need a government but more than that, we need to make tough decisions about what sort of society we want and the price we’re willing to pay for it.  Merely shouting for “Less Gummint” is just as stupid as yelling “More Government.”   We need enough government, by and for the people.   That’s us.

                      For all this talk about Ericsson employees trying to get to the States, my guy’s an American who moved there and has lived there, raised three sons (sent one to Afghanistan) and has no plans of moving back.   We’ve been at this since about 1998.   My daughter’s married to a Finn, she’s living in Turku and Chicago, they go back and forth.

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            • Under both Reagan and Clinton this was true: “In the normal scheme of things, the president submits a budget and the House and Senate horse trade back and forth on a few things and it passes.”

              The rest of this is crap.

              Stipulating that using Rush Limbaugh as a source is a mortal epistemological sin:

              This was last summer sometime, and I had a meeting with Boehner here at the EIB Southern Command some months before that.  I just casually asked him what it was like working with Harry Reid. And he said, “You know, it’d surprise you. If it were just Reid and me we could get a deal done.”  Of course I thought he was off. “Oh, gosh. Don’t tell me he really believes this.”  He did.  He said, “If it was just Reid and me we’d get a deal.” He said, “Harry gets it.”

              This rings true for me, because this doesn’t feed Rush’s agenda.  Nancy Pelosi is an ideologue; Harry Reid is just a pol.  John Boehner is just a pol.  Pols understand each other.  Ideologues do not, and this is our current crisis.  Running this story through my head, re-evaluating the Harry Reid I have seen and heard, this charitable take on him makes perfect sense, and makes him the real hero of this story in my eyes.  Dude’s OK.

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              • Tom, were you talking to ME? I don’t get it, not your tone and not your conclusions (if any). However I invite you to bring this over to Burt’s excellent post. As for the reference he makes to Obama’s statement that was July 2011 and a lot never happened. I find it interesting that Obama apparently championed a budget that failed HIS 60 member Democrat ruled Senate 97-0. Not sure what alternate reality the “pols” were playing in, but the reality on the ground was the GOP proposal and… nothing from the other side. You’re welcome to argue for the Democrats on this one, should be interesting.

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                • I meant the rest of the discussion is crap.  Soldier on, brother.

                  I find it interesting that Obama apparently championed a budget that failed HIS 60 member Democrat ruled Senate 97-0. 

                  Another one retrieved from the memory hole.  Another thing he has in common w/Jimmy Carter: BHO does not play well with others.

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    • So then, what… one marketing slogan is only a little bit bulls**t and the other is hugely bulls**t, and so it’s much better we focus on this and not – for example – HCR, or Iran, or revising the tax code, or _______?

      Everything does not have to be an “equivalent” in order for it to be a waste of time.

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      • a fire hose and a squirt gun both direct water.  i don’t think the effects of both of those are equivalent and i will not imply that one cancels out the other.  you can.  but i reserve the right to make fun of it.  i don’t want to focus on terming something or someone social darwinism v. socialism.  it’s your framing that they’re both the same.

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        • Cutting the social safety net is “Social Darwinism” if and only if conservatives (who propose cutting the social safety net – for whatever reason) are engaged in other activities that can be explained using the same term.

          But conservatives go to church, have a track record of good association with their worse-off neighbors, and are generally pretty charitable folks.  So “Social Darwinism” is obviously a cudgel to explain “they don’t want government doing this, for whatever reason” as “they don’t want government doing this BECAUSE THEY WANT THE POOR TO DIE.”  Instead of, yanno, tackling their arguments on their merits.

          I think that’s *as* grossly unfair a characterization as “every government program designed to help the poor is SOCIALISM”.

          This isn’t a squirt-gun and fire-hose affair, in my opinion.

          Now, if you want to tackle a squirt-gun and fire-hose false equivalency, let’s talk about tax policy.

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          • This is a quibble, but it’s the distinction Ethan makes above. Specifically there’s a difference between describing a policy as social darwinism and a person as a socialist. The Ryan Plan taken by itself is certainly social darwinism. It’s irrelevant whether or not Paul Ryan attends church regularly, is kind to his neighbors or whatever. The budget plan itself is a thinly veiled excuse in social darwinism.

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            • This assumes a lot of facts not in evidence.

              Paul Ryan may have come up with this plan because he’s a Social Darwinist.  He may have come up with it because he honestly thinks the government is not the correct venue through which to perform most of the social safety net functions that are currently associated with the government.

              People who are conservative may or may not support the Ryan plan.  They may support it because they’re Social Darwinists, or because they themselves give 15% of their income to their church and they don’t think the government should be taking another 35%.  In fact, I know a nice little cadre of people who give far more to charity than I do and they help their neighbors out more than I do and thus I can’t really say for certain that their voting for something like the Ryan plan has anything to do with Social Darwinism more than it may have a lot to do with “I don’t think the government does a good job of this.”  There’s lots of reasons going on, in there.

              In any event, drawing a bunch of arrows in there is skipping over all the work of trying to figure out why people on the Right are supporting the Ryan plan.

              You can make all sorts of principled cases in there that I’d agree with (or at least find compelling, such as, “Maybe the government is bad at running the social safety net, but having NGO’s do the lion’s share of it would be worse”), but that’s not the same thing as mislabeling the thing.

              This is just, “This sounds bad.  We’ll call it that and get the vote out in November”.  And hey, if that’s your reasoning, that’s an argument to be had in and of itself.

              I’m not so sure that Ethan’s distinction is a distinction with a difference.  “Obama is a socialist!” is a stand-in for “Pelosi and Reid and Obama are a bunch of Socialists!” which is a stand-in for “Those hippie liberals are freakin’ Socialists!”, iff’n you ask me.

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              • You’re conflating the people who support the plan and/or Paul Ryan with the plan itself. An “experiment in social Darwinism” or “thinly-veiled Social Darwinism” is a perfectly valid descriptor for the budget itself or at least what the practical outcome of the budget would be. The particulars of the policy itself, with an emphasis on gutting social programs and providing additional tax incentives to the wealthy, without any corresponding increase in say tax incentives for charitable giving gives it the air of a policy that’s explicitly designed to further the haves at the expense of the have nots.

                You’re putting far too much emphasis on the INTENT of the people behind it/who support a measure. Bank nationalization even if supported by ardent capitalists as the lesser of evils with regard to dealing with a banking crisis would still be a socialist policy as it would end in some means of production (or finance) being owned by the government. Ditto to say the NHS in Britain. David Cameron is no doubt a capitalist, but his intention to continue funding the NHS and NOT dismantle it means that his health care policy is in effect socialist.

                Describing the budget as a social darwinist piece of policy doesn’t say anything about the persons supporting it. It’s simply a descriptor of what its effects would be. Whereas if I called Paul Ryan a social darwinists it’d imply he wanted to kill off the poor.

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                • gives it the air of a policy that’s explicitly designed to further the haves at the expense of the have nots.

                  Emphasis added.

                  I don’t disagree with this, Nob.  In fact, if I was a GOP strategist I’d be explaining to my crowd exactly why they ought not to support this budget on exactly that line, because appearances are indeed important in politics.

                  But cutting that aside, it may be an error to put too much emphasis on INTENT, but it’s also a different sort of error to not put enough emphasis on intent.  Because (IMO), if you’re attempting to actually produce better outcomes, instead of just wrangling over who has the most control over the steering wheel, then the intent part is pretty important.  You’re not going to get any nonpartisan anything without appealing to the other side’s intent, after all.

                  It’s just generally the case right now that neither party’s public punditry wants to give the other party’s constituency any understanding (forget the leaders for a moment, I’m talking about the guys and gals who show up to ink a blot or tap a touch screen).  And thus they argue either fully on Intent, or discard it entirely (when it suits their purpose).

                  Rather than hanging a label on a thing that is going to result in every conversation effectively beginning with both sides thumbing the other guy in the eye, why don’t we drill down and discuss the particular that is broken?

                  “The problem that I have with the Ryan plan is that it removes a lot of support for social safety net programs without providing any incentives for the private sector to pick up the slack.  In the short run, regardless of the long-term viability of the plan, this is going to result in a what amounts to a lost generation for the working poor.  If it is the case that you’re supporting this bill because you’d rather see private organizations pick up some/most of the social services net, can you tell me if you’d support putting in some incentives to make that happen?  If not, why?”

                  This is constructive language, yes?  You want constructive language, yes?

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                  • Constructive language for the last two years when we’ve discussed the Ryan Budget has led to most of the constructive language being ignored in favor of the “centrist” sensible people in the Village talking about how wonderfully “bold” the Ryan plan is and how it offers an actual step toward fiscal sanity and whatever other blather.

                    This one line by the President has actually shined a sensible light on the shortcomings of Ryan’s budget, and forced pundits to actually address that yes, in fact, it would screw over the poor. (But of course they’ll come up with reasoning why it’s still a good idea, but let’s not pretend for a moment that these upper middle class opinion writers have the faintest idea of what it’s like to require food stamp assistance for example)

                    In that, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. Because otherwise, we’d just keep hearing about how the Ryan Plan is an “honest, bold alternative”. It’s neither honest, nor bold, and it’s a tax giveaway to the rich and a burden shifting to the poor.

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          • Really, it’s not a matter of “cutting” the social safety net so much as paring it back.
            In real terms, we need to take a look at the books and see how much of a social safety net we can afford, how much we are willing to be taxed.
            My understanding is that everyone is free to contribute beyond their base level of taxation– just don’t claim all of your deductions.
            Something For Nothing is not a sustainable policy, and it really doesn’t matter how dire the need is.
            We need to set reasonable limits.
            And that implies setting reasonable limits as to how much personal need is the problem of the government.
            We can do something, sure; but we can’t do everything.
            Somebody’s not going to like it no matter what we do.

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        • I’m framing it that way because both are irrelevant pissing matches where each party accuses the other of doing something that it also does as a regular matter of course.

          Now, you may agree or disagree, but if criticizing the party faithful for spending an inordinate amount of time focusing on marketing slogans at the expense of doing policy work is all that is needed to get a “High Broderism!” shout out these days, then that label doesn’t seem like it means very much.

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          • Yeah, this. Most of the time when I write about some irritating or counterproductive behavior and point to examples from multiple sides, it’s not that I believe that everybody is equally guilty. I do believe that “both sides do it” because, well, both sides are composed as people. But in some cases, it’s one side doing it the vast majority of the time. However, by pointing crossways, it keeps the focus on the behavior rather than “Oh yeah, but what about this case when the other side does it. I guess that’s completely okay with you!” or a contest over which side does it more often or is worse about it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the latter conversation, but it’s not the conversation that I prefer to have because it’s the conversation that’s everywhere. You don’t have to believe that both sides are equally good or equally bad to find chest-thumping to be unenlightening.

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          • Now, you may agree or disagree, but if criticizing the party faithful for spending an inordinate amount of time focusing on marketing slogans at the expense of doing policy work is all that is needed to get a “High Broderism!” shout out these days, then that label doesn’t seem like it means very much.

            Disagree. Strenuously. I mean look, these are only marketing slogans to Above The Fray -Both Sides Do It types. For others, they reflect, but don’t explain, the content of the policies and corresponding criticisms. The Ryan Plan has been sold by republicans and other types of centrist moderate above the fray non partisans like yourself as a serious plan, a bold plan, a legitimate counter-proposal to what Obama and the Dems are offering. It’s none of those things, for all the reasons people have mentioned. So when you say that when liberals offer an accurate description of the policy itself – that it leads to a survival of the fittest in the social-economic realm – is just mudslinging and hyperbole, your just flat out wrong.

            And when you say that you want to see more constructive discussion about resolving these issues and that both sides are to blame,  you’re really fucking missing the point. If the right’s proposal is just plain shit, and liberals point that out, then why are both sides to blame when things become controversial? Just because someone objects to a statement of truth doesn’t mean that the statement is controversial. It only means that lots of people don’t agree with it.

            Look, I realize that you think a constructive conversation could resolve these types of issues. But you’re just flat out wrong. People disagree. And on top of that, there are significant differences in policies and the underlying motivations for those policies which cannot be bridged.

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          • Well, comparing Elisas’ post, which is about Ryan’s plan and Reihan Salam”s defense of it, with Mike Dwyer’s post, which is snark for the sake of being snarky, smacks of “both sides do it!”, sorry to say.

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  2. The Republican dog that has snapped and snarled and cast aspersions on his ancestry and called him a Socialist and told him to his face their only goal is to drive Obama from office has at last gotten its long-delayed and entirely-deserved kick in the head after one too many bites.

    Boo friggin’ hoo.  Nobody’s sicker of this than I am but I’ve watched the mustering of the ass-biting myrmidons from Team Red long enough to know they’ve never fought fair.   Time to break out the lawn chairs and watch the fireworks as Obama hoists the Stark Fist of Removal and gives these buttmunches fair dinkum.

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  3. This article made me think of one man half beating the other to death. The beaten man stumbles up kicks the aggressor in the nuts; Tod Kelley rushes in to proclaim, “Can’t we all just get along!”

    Conservatives will never stop slandering liberals, and Tod Kelly’s pious concern trolling is cloying. As an earlier commentator said, he’s only one or more two posts like the OP from being invited to start a blog on the Washington Post.

     

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  4. Here’s my problem with the piece: rather than address the problem it (correctly and succinctly) identifies, it contributes to it.  If people are spending too much time talking about slogans and not spending enough on the actual policies in question, write about the policy! It would be more useful and more interesting.  Because let’s face it–the Ryan budget really does represent a sharply differentiated policy vision than the status quo.  Surely the impacts of that–whether you think they’re good or bad–hugely outweigh the impacts of what particular language supporters and opponents use to attack the plan.

     

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  5. Great post Tod. While I don’t have the slightest inclination that this was aimed at casting negatives towards me (how could I when I get labled awesome) I still feel like I should explain my post a little bit…

    I’ve actually been completely out of the blogosphere loop for the last couple of weeks because work has been busy. I had zero idea that this whole conversation was going on. When I read Elias’ post this morning I pondered it for a few minutes and the ‘social intelligent design’ idea popped into my head. Thus the off-the-cuff post. Having read some of the links people have been throwing around today I my idea was a case of Simultaneous Invention.

    Going back and reading my post in the context of this week’s hot blogging topic it certainly looks like I was pulling the, “Oh yeah, well, you’re a poopy head too!” trick. My goal was really just to point out the silliness of the Social Darwinism angle. While I am no fan of liberal social policy I’m not quite that militant about it.

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      • I thought Mike was referencing a post I read somewhere (I can’t remember) where someone said that not understanding how the market works is kind of like being a creationist. In both cases, there is a failure to appreciate invisible hand processes and a preference for visible hands producing desirable outcomes.

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        • Apparently, Colbert has made the joke that we all know that Republicans are social creationists, which is pretty cute.

          I’m actually wondering if this site isn’t a bit too much in the blogospheric loop as of late. Not thinking of anyone in specific, but I’m wondering if the most interesting stuff we publish here isn’t the least in tune with what’s going on in the blogosphere, which often seems a term for that part of the media atmosphere with the least amount of oxygen.

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            • I tend to think of it as paying for my keep. Like, when I write about the political story d’jour it drives enough traffic for me to justify writing stuff like my post on being around guns as a kid – which I thought was the best post I’ve done here, and which almost no one read.

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              • No, Tod, here’s the secret- everyone reads posts like that and many of us enjoy them more than the political posts; we just don’t know what to say about them or what arguments to have over them. As a result, they get less comments. I thought that post was great too.

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                • Stop it, you guys.  There’s no positive correlation between quality of post and # of comments, and you know it — you’re obviously just fishing for compliments.  Which you certainly deserve.

                  [Note: the use of “fishing” above was not intended as a euphemism]

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                    • An interesting but ultimately futile thought, Rufus, absent intervention by a higher power.  That Elias Isquith’s mainpage “think piece” got fewer comments than Mike Dwyer’s droll “Off the Cuff” refudiation indicates to me that far more come here to fight than come to learn, teach, share, persuade, or discuss.

                      Anybody can fight.

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                    • I just think that, if there’s something everyone’s talking about on the Internet, and we talk about it here, they’ll come and talk about it here too. One thing I like here is when we’re talking about stuff that nobody on the Internet is talking about.

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                    • I’m worried that focusing too much on the number of comments is going to turn this place into the Huffington Post.

                      Rufus, fwiw, if you appear on This Week with Cristianne Amanpour, I would watch, as long as you agree to speak with an accent.

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                    • Tom – It was meant to point out the silliness of applying those kinds of terms to economic policy. A good % of the comments were liberals over-reacting which sort of makes my point, which is that slinging ‘social darwinism’ in 2012 is completely designed to tick people off and has no basis in promoting the highbrow dialogue you are looking for.

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                    • Understood, Mr. Dwyer.  Among gentlemen, it’s a convention not to gang up together or high-five, which is why I didn’t high-five the pith of the OP, nor did defend its author from petty and rather humorless crapulations.

                      Gentlemen do not travel in packs, and would rather win the respect of a single opponent than garner the approval of the entire mob.  The OP stands quite well on its own.

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                    • which sort of makes my point, which is that slinging ‘social darwinism’ in 2012 is completely designed to tick people off

                      Was your point to expose the lefty-crazies? Or was to take a shot at liberals? Cuz what you wrote upthread made me think it was the latter.

                      That’s not to say that you don’t have another point here. It’s just that using social darwinism as a boomerang to prove your point doesn’t really make the point you think you’re making.

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                    • Stillwater, it’s really not a partisan thing. The Social Darwinism thing is a stupid tactic of the Left. There will be dozens of equally stupid tactics coming from the Right between now and November. My problem is really just with dumb labels designed to fire people up.

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                    • You’re supposed to think that some things are of enduring value, while others are of passing interest.
                      Those things which are of enduring value will remain fresh and pertinent for a very long time. They will be every bit as meaningful ten years from now as today.
                      Those things which are of passing interest are more susceptible to the passions of the day; and these vicissitudes will even themselves out over a period of time, as the the waves from a rock thrown into a pond break upon its banks, and are no more.
                      The best writing that you do will be those things of enduring value.
                      Do not measure them by the passions of the day.
                      You’re a fine writer, and I can see that you do put a lot of thought into your posts. Frankly, that is a somewhat uncommon thing to see in such a medium.
                      For myself, there are a number of times where I would rather sit back and digest the material rather than to comment off-handedly.
                      In those times when you stimulate me into deep thought in such a manner, please do not take my thoughtfulness as unappreciative.
                      By all means, please continue.

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  6. Comparing a policy advocated by a devotee of Ayn Rand with social Darwinism is actually quite accurate.  On the other hand, Obama is not in fact a socialist.  So I’m not clear on where you’re finding the equivalence.

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  7. To the extent that the terms are memes, I’m with you, but I’m open to hearing informative arguments in support of their use as accurate adjectives.  My chief issue is with how the terms are used, not their mere appearance in political rhetoric and discourse.

     

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    • Yes, there were some.  But interestingly, most of them did feel the need to intelligently design/engineer social evolution by such means as forced sterilization and strict immigration controls on “inferior” races that would “outwork” and “outbreed” “superior” European stock.  Social Darwinists had a really really weak understanding of evolutionary theory.

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  8. The Ryan budget would gut the social safety net in pretty much every meaningful way you can think of while awarding huge tax cuts to the wealthy.  The common sense meaning of Social Darwinism is that you’re on your own, that the ancient theory of “the strong take what they can, the powerless suffer what they must” is not only an accurate statement of what happens in the world but is morally just.  I’d say that the Ryan budget is much closer to the beating heart of Social Darwinism than Obama (health care plan pre-approved by the Heritage Foundation!) is to socialism.  This post just reads like Villager-style “both sides do it!” moral equivalence BS.

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    • Scott,

      Ryan’s plan is designed to offer tax cuts to the wealthy and everyone else. He plans to increase revenue by eliminating loopholes and certain deductions (for example, no more home credits if you make above a certain income). This is fairly straight-forward tax policy. Far more revenue stands to be gained in this way than by simply increasing taxes on the rich.

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      • Bullshit.  It’s already been well-discussed that Ryan waves at what these loophole closures would actually be.  For decades, I’ve heard politicians claim that we could achieve nirvana if only we closed the loopholes and am still waiting for the promised paradise.  Ryan is no different, and his party’s record of piling up massive deficits on the back of hefty tax cuts to the wealthy over the last 3 decades doesn’t engender any confidence that he will eventually call a spade a spade and deliver the fiscal nirvana.  It’s a con, and it’s not impolite to say so.

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        • I’ve also heard for decades that if only we tax the rich more our problems would be solved and yet we all know that isn’t true either.

          But since we’re really talking about policy in theory and not in practice I think there’s some merit to his proposals. There’s more money to be had by closing loopholes and eliminating deductions than by increasing tax rates. So on paper, isn’t that the better solution?

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          • Highly doubt that, Mike. Ike’s highest tax bracket was well above 75%. If you really want to raise taxes, you can get more than eliminating deductions.

            But me? I just want SS to work on the whole of someone’s income, not just the first $100K. That’s the type of loophole I wanna see fixed.

            Honestly? I don’t see anything different about “loophole closure” vs. tax raise. looks like he’s doing it on housing? harumph.

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            • Well, yeah, and taxing them 80% would raising even more. So let me clarify:

              There’s more money to be had by closing loopholes and eliminating deductions than by increasing tax rates to the highest % the public will tolerate.

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              • Incentives distort. Change the incentives by eliminating some but not all the loopholes, and you get people going after the other ones.

                Right now we’ve incentivized investing, in a whole host of ways. Reagan’s Ponzi Scheme has yet to collapse completely, but some rich dudes got rich off it a while ago.

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          • The distribution of revenue increases is always important.

            If you propose eliminating capital gains taxes entirely, but then close off loopholes on all other ordinary income, then you’re going to be making sure most of the revenue will be coming from people who get their money via ordinary, salary means, rather than carried interest or other investment vehicles.

            That is to say: the middle class and working class. Moreover, the deduction removals would be removing substantial amounts of loopholes. Meanwhile someone like Mr. Romney who made 8 figures in carried interest last year would have his taxes reduced from 15% to 0%.

            Does that sound right to you?

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            • I wouldn’t eliminate taxes – I would just leave them where they are or even lower them slightly.

              Or go the other direction, which is to raise taxes on everyone back to Clinton levels. The Left won’t tolerate that though.

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                • Yeah, and now I’ve revealed that I’m to the left of Pol Pot.  Oh, well.

                  I’m a deficit hawk much more than I’m a libertarian. I wish to hell our country spent a lot less, but since I’m in the majority, I’ll accept, so long as we actually pay for it.  (Well, of course we ultimately do pay for it, but you know what I mean.)

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                    • This is one thing that really irks me.
                      Success in business depends a lot on marketing.
                      If you believe that government does not sufficiently advertise its products, then a businessman would be your best bet.

                      Government is not established to generate a profit.
                      End of story.

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                    • There are practical differences.   For one, governments issue currency.   Two, they provide a framework for actual businesses, you know, ones that issue Profit and Loss Statements and pay taxes.

                      A government acquires debt in bad times and pays it off in good times, or that’s the way it ought to work.   Anyone who calls himself a Deficit Hawk is actually a Deficit Buzzard, his naked head thrust into the carcase of a dead wildebeest.   They’re necessary for the ecology, but factors play the same role in any bad debt.

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                    • will,

                      Actually it depends on the business. a LOT. Some don’t need to advertise much at all — they produce “industry standards” and when someone needs it, that’s where they buy it.

                      I’m not saying that government should be making a profit (even for a liberal like me that seems odd)…

                      But my non-profit place of work also runs on leverage….

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                    • Anyone who calls himself a Deficit Hawk is actually a Deficit Buzzard, his naked head thrust into the carcase of a dead wildebeest.  

                      Blaise, where do you buy those extra-broad brushes?  I’ve been to Lowes and Sherwin-Williams, but the widest they have is 6 inches, nothing near what you’re using.

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                    • @James:  the Deficit Buzzard has no working knowledge of how a financial system works.   He presumes debt is an entirely bad thing.   History shows the Deficit Buzzard cannot conceive of other people’s money finding safe haven in his own business or nation, being put to use in productive ends.

                      Curiously, today’s Deficit Buzzard was yesterday’s Deficits Don’t Matter-ite.   I have no faith in the likes of Paul Ryan, who was curiously quiet while this nation paid for two hugely unproductive wars with Chinese money.    He also voted for that porkulous Medicare Part D, the TARP bailout also.   I have no faith in such as these.  Nor should you.  For these Deficit Buzzards only feign concern about the national debt when their party is not in power.

                      There is a reason the buzzard has a naked, featherless head.   All the better to stick into the wet, slimy guts of some dead thing.

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                    • Let’s face a few facts here:  today’s Deficit Buzzard is an innumerate idiot, entirely devoid of any practical awareness of modern finance, the banking system or the basics of capitalism.   Show him a chart of accounts and it’s like a pig looking at a bicycle.   For all his blethering and roaring about Fiscal Prudence, every single Deficit Buzzard in politics today cannot provide an iota of numerical evidence of how they would balance the budget.   They’re awfully big on tax cuts, oh yeah.   Fucking idiots, every one of them, their Faith Based Economics is so much Objectivist Neoplatonism.

                       

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                    • Blaise,

                      What part of “painting with a broad brush” don’t you understand? Nobody’s going to doubt that your critique is relevant to some people out there, but by pretending it’s true of everyone who claims to be a deficit hawk, all you’re doing is showing how unwilling you are to make relevant distinctions.  Consequently you’re not actually making a reasoned or reasonable critique; hence you’re boring.

                       

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                    • You started this out saying you were a Deficit Hawk.  You wish the country spent a lot less.   That, James, is a very broad brush.   Rather than expand on this thought, you seem content to leave your answer at Less, with no particular exceptions.

                      But when I point out the Deficit Hawk is nothing but a carrion feeder, and he manifestly is, I’m the one with the extra-wide brush.   Mhm.

                      Get this.   It’s our government.  We saw what the so-called Free Market did when the Libertarian philosophies of Alan Greenspan were in force, the deregulation on his watch was criminal neglect.   We’ve seen Paul Ryan change his tune over the years:  back in 2008, he was for a national health care system.  Funny, that.   Ron Paul publishes damned-near traitorous newsletters.   Which noted Deficit Hawks or Libertarians might prove exceptions to the general rule I have set forth, that the Deficit Hawk is only a carrion-feeding buzzard?    I notice you haven’t.

                       

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