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American Amnesia

Posted on Jul 22, 2016

By Allen Barra

(Page 2)

The unprecedented concentration of wealth among the few have built what sociologist Isaac Martin calls “a rich people’s movement,” which is why a vitriolic cover story in the Sept. 9, 2010, Forbes called President Obama “the most anti-business president … in American history.” Forbes has never apologized, even when the unemployment rate dropped below 5 percent. Hacker and Pierson identify the three key elements of the anti-government attack: “Christian conservatism, polarizing right-wing media, and growing efforts by business and the wealthy to back stop and bank roll Republican politics.”

Regarding Christian conservatism: “Because these voters generally care more about the party’s positions on abortion, gay marriage and other social issues than about its increasingly conservative economic stances, Republicans have had much greater freedom to head right on economic issues without worrying as much about the electoral support of their least well-off backers.”

The conservative media helps whip their people into line: “If you stray the slightest from the far right,” admits former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, “you get hit by the conservative media.” As the right wing pushed, Republican rhetoric becomes more inflammatory. As early as 1988, Newt Gingrich, in a speech to the Right Wing Heritage Foundation, called for “a civil war” with liberals: “This war has to be fought with a scale and a duration and a savagery that is only true of civil wars.” Later, Gingrich’s PAC sent out tapes to Republican candidates explaining how to “speak like Newt.” A Gingrich associate characterized the tapes as “all about how to demonize the opposition, how to use invective and scary language.” And, Democrats are the enemy of “normal [sic] Americans.”

Hangars full of Republican cash have fueled messaging experts like Frank Luntz who, among other things, has sent memos out to candidates on how to obfuscate on critical issues. Here’s one from 2002 on global warming: “Should the public come to believe the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate. The scientific debate is closing [against us] but is not yet closed. There is still an opportunity to challenge the science.”

Remarkably, Hacker and Pierson write, “even as the scientific evidence accumulated over the next decade, Luntz and his allies would succeed in prying that window open.” That window has been pried open wide enough to raise the water levels around Miami about an inch a year.

“American Amnesia” is a brisk slap in the face for an America that has forgotten that the G.I. Bill helped this country take a dominant lead in college education, and that we have now fallen to 19th in college completion, as ranked by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Or that the U.S., which once had an infrastructure that was the envy of the world, now spends just 3 percent of its GDP on improving and maintaining it. China and India spend almost 10 percent. Or that this country, which a relatively short time ago was the most upwardly mobile in the world, now trails our neighbor to the north in opportunities for economic advancement.

As Hacker and Pierson put it, “The road to mass prosperity was paved by government … the forgotten partner in the dance of prosperity.” Forgotten, but not dead. Read “American Amnesia” now and start dispersing the cloud of forgetfulness.

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