Of the many transgressions against logic and civility committed by Glenn Beck, perhaps the most heinous are his spurious rants about the national economy. By delivering his deceptions in a ready-to-swallow gelcap of panic and hostility, Beck perpetuates the economic illiteracy of a great many Americans who will subsequently vote against their own (and my own) economic self-interests. And this country takes another bold step towards global irrelevance.
Beck has lately devoted enormous energy to the national deficit, for which, of course, he blames Obama. This ignores quite a number of facts. In times of significant economic stress, with unemployment at a quarter-century high, it is more important to focus on job creation and the health of the financial sector, which lubricates markets and, in turn, stimulates occupational growth. Has the Obama administration made mistakes here? Surely. But by simultaneously castigating the president for stimulus and dismissing environmental initiatives, Beck is deliberately thwarting recovery and foreclosing America’s best shot at future growth through the research and development towards, and patenting and licensing of, green technologies.
Let’s get back to the deficit — the convenient boogeyman of freedom-loving patriots everywhere. Though the current president has committed to spending that will increase the deficit, it by no means matches the previous guy’s policies, which were not enacted for the benefit of getting through a massive recession, but rather to expand American capital markets and provide crony corporations with cushy contracts while stripping away anything resembling a tax obligation. All that money, straight out of the Treasury and into the hands of shareholders, never to be paid back in any way shape or form.
George W. Bush inherited a budget surplus of $230 billion, which folks like Beck always fail to mention. This is money that could have been used to reduce our national debt. But instead of, ahem, capitalizing on this windfall, Dubya proceeded with policies that would erase the surplus almost overnight, while ballooning the deficit to previously unknown proportions. Here’s how he did it:
Bush also presided over the Wall Street derivatives and credit-default-swap binge that brought on the global economic downturn and likely permanently damaged a key sector of US growth — the housing market. Certainly, Dubya didn’t instigate these trends, and there are plenty of Democrats to blame for the lax regulatory policies that hastened the collapse. Yet the cancer in the home ownership market, with its foreclosures and unsalable properties, has now spread to the commercial sector, which means we’re hardly done feeling the effects. Rather than assigning blame for this situation, I’m merely using it as an example of the tremendous handicaps facing Obama on almost every front.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that some of Obama’s contribution to the debt comes from putting straight the untold number of “creative accounting” arrangements authorized by Dubya. Bush had a lot of really neat ways to obscure the true costs of things, from the “emergency supplemental spending” for Iraq and Afghanistan to the inflation-indexing of the Alternative Minimum Tax, to playing fast and loose with Medicare, to ignoring or improperly accounting for the actual cost of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina. Then there’s the evisceration of the public sphere, which only continues due to the shedding of jobs at nearly all levels of the economy.
Yes, the stimulus package has increased our national deficit, and there are likely going to be associated costs in reforming health care. But the former is now largely viewed as having staved off total system collapse, and the latter will (hopefully) drive down long-term health care costs for Americans and their employers, which should have positive economic (and quality-of-life) multipliers.
Glenn Beck is offensive for countless reasons, but by using his powerful megaphone to deliberately obscure factual reality, he is committing a kind of treason, albeit not one that comes with conviction in a court of law. And there’s nothing we can do about it but tell the truth and hope that enough voters get the message. That, and work to reform media to allow for more voices in American broadcasting with a realistic and forthright read on contemporary American civics.