By Ralph Nader
A friend who works in Congress and actually reads the Congressional Record suggested that a collection of excerpted falsehoods by Republicans on the floor of the House of Representatives and Senate would make compelling evidence for the truth of economist Albert Hirschman’s book, The Rhetoric of Reaction (1991).
Professor Hirschman, a very original political economist, found throughout American history the following three propositions were commonly used to counter social justice efforts:
The Perversity Thesis states government action only serves to exacerbate the problem being addressed;
The Futility Thesis holds that attempts at social policy will simply fail to solve the problem;
The Jeopardy Thesis argues that the cost of the proposed change or reform is too high and will lead to disaster.
The only people who know more about this sequential rhetoric than Mr. Hirschman are corporate lawyers and their corporate clients’ publicists. For over two hundred years they and their corporations have opposed virtually every advance for better and fairer lives of the American people using propaganda which fits into Hirschman’s frameworks. Whether it was the abolition of slavery, child labor, and the 70 hour week, or women’s right to vote, trade union rights, the progressive income tax, unemployment compensation, social security and, of course, the various regulatory standards protecting consumers, worker safety and the environment, the arguments against them have been pretty much the same.
As the fascinating “Cry Wolf Project” (http://crywolfproject.org/) staff observed: “We’ve heard these all before. Perversity: if you raise the minimum wage, you’ll increase unemployment. Futility: tobacco warning labels won’t stop people from smoking. And Jeopardy: it’s a ‘job killer.’”
The “Cry Wolf Project” presents verbatim quotations from the corporate bosses from years past and then lets their words speak for themselves. Here is a sample:
Henry Ford II, in 1966, on long-overdue safety standards such as laminated windshields, dual-braking systems, collapsible steering wheels and seat belts: “Many of the temporary standards are unreasonable, arbitrary and technically unfeasible… If we can’t meet them when they are published we’ll have to close down.” To his credit, ten years later on national television, Mr. Ford recognized that due to federal regulations, cars were safer, more efficient and less polluting.
His fiery vice-president, Lee Iacocca, said in 1970 that The Clean Air Act “could prevent continued production of automobiles… and is a threat to the entire American economy and to every person in America.” Mr. Iacocca did recant his opposition to air bags as head of Chrysler in a full page ad headlined “Who Says You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks?”
Other corporate barons were more intransigent. Reacting to a law that established the federal minimum wage and ended child labor, a spokesman for the manufacturing industry in 1938 unleashed this volley: “The Fair Labor Standards Act constitutes a step in the direction of communism, bolshevism, fascism and Nazism.”
Social Security received a broadside from the Chairman of the Board of Chase National Bank. In 1936, top brass banker, Winthrop W. Aldrich, called it a “grave menace to the future security of the country as whole and to the security of the very people it is designed to protect.”
His down the line executive successor, the haughty James Dimon has been spouting cataclysmic claims about the Dodd-Frank reforms that are modestly designed to avoid another multi-trillion dollar Wall Street bailout by Washington. Haughty, that is, until last week when Mr. Dimon, CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. revealed at least a two billion dollar gambling bet that his company lost in the high-flying business of complex derivatives trading linked to corporate debt.
What a cruel irony. Mr. Dimon’s bank and half a dozen other giant banks are now corporate welfare kings deemed “too big to fail” (as well as too big to be taxed fairly). Unfortunately, social security recipients and other tax payers are still the ones who will pay for any future bailouts. This is what America has been reduced to by the multinational casino capitalists who long ago abandoned any allegiance or patriotism toward the country that bred them into present day giants.
Outlandish assertions are not restricted to members of Congress or the corporate world. Ronald Reagan was a jovial-genius at nutty declarations. As when he told reporters that submarine launched nuclear missiles can be recalled or that approximately 80% of our air pollution stems from vegetation. So prolific was the former Hollywood actor that Mark Green collected Reagan’s pronouncements in a classic 173 page paperback titled Reagan’s Reign of Error (1987).
With the velocity of modern communications, media and the Internet, who can keep up with the separation of facts and truth from lies, propaganda and what is now called “magical thinking?” Far more people have become rich and famous for telling lies and falsehoods than people who have a habit of telling the truth and reciting facts. The former get promoted, host radio shows, get large advances on books and get elected to office.
In 2002, the ultra-corporatist Senator Saxby Chambliss defeated incumbent Georgia Senator Max Cleland, whose legs were amputated as a result of injuries he suffered in the Vietnam War, with ads showing a photo of Cleland along with photos of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, by way of questioning Cleland’s patriotism. Fellow Republican, Senator John McCain, called Saxby’s ads in 2002 “worse than disgraceful, reprehensible.” In 2008, Saxby was re-elected.
The forces of accountability for what public personages exclaim have to come from a more demanding citizenry. People have to punish these charlatans, who think they can distract, degrade or fool the public. Don’t buy their garbage or let the prevaricators garner your votes.
A handy question people can always ask is “What’s your evidence?” That starts an entirely new dialogue, doesn’t it?