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The state of American infrastructure pre-1935.

New Deal road projects put Americans to work.

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A WPA-built bridge.

Airports built by the WPA advanced the age of commercial aviation.

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"Rugged Individualism" from Herbert Hoover to Ayn Rand to Paul Ryan

September 4, 2012

Tags: Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand, Herbert Hoover, "rugged individualism", Great Depression, Mitt Romney, Barack Obama

Facebook and email reveal that we've come a long way from our high school and college selves, and that our political paths have diverged. How can that teenage crush have turned out to be a tea party conservative, or that fraternity brother an anti-tax zealot? We've all had different life experiences that have shaped our thinking, that is true. But I'm always amazed that intelligent people, faced with the same facts, can reach radically different conclusions. The only answer is that ideology is more persuasive than history; people believe in their ideology because they want it to be true whether it is or not.

This was prompted by an email joke forwarded by a college friend. It's why one guy in line for a vasectomy gets laid by a nurse while six other guys are jerking off. The one guy has Blue Cross and the six have Obamacare. It shouldn't, but this stuff sets me off, and I got into an email argument. Here's part of what followed:

I was wrong in my response to Chet's original post. I don't believe Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan want to fuck the country. I do believe, however, that the policies they embrace will have that result. Ronald Reagan was the first to prove that supply-side economics don't work. Lower taxes don't lift revenues, and so after Reagan cut taxes he raised them eighteen times. Lower taxes don't prompt businesses to invest in new plant capacity and hire more workers. Customers do that. Customers like teachers and public safety workers and other members of the embattled middle class that is growing poorer every year under the policies that the Republicans espouse while millionaires put their money into trust funds for their kids.

I also don't think Dean believes that Obama has been fucking the country, and I apologize for my own intemperance that no doubt set him off. But the facts are that Obama inherited the greatest fiscal crisis since the Great Depression. Any honest look at spending and the deficit places most of it on George W. Bush's watch. Obama came into office with the Republicans vowing to make sure he failed. His failure would mean they can resume deregulation of the markets, dismantling the safety net, and hastening the ascent of the wealthy to even greater heights of inequality.

The Republican ticket embraces a philosophy of "rugged individualism" and less government. That was Herbert Hoover's philosophy, too. On Hoover's watch, banks speculated with other people's money, a stock bubble inflated and burst, stocks fell 90 percent, 25 percent of workers had no jobs, and there was no safety net. The unemployed weren't "moochers," as Ayn Rand put it. They were victims of the vicissitudes of life, in this case the Depression. It took a Democratic administration eight years and World War II to rebuild a sound economic footing in this country. "Entitlements" enacted during the Depression such as Social Security and unemployment compensation were expressions of humanity and the recognition that people need and deserve a measure of dignity that we in this country can afford to pay for. Medicare and "Obamacare" are the same, and we can afford to pay for them, too, through a combination of benefit adjustments and adequate funding.

Paul Ryan is a big Ayn Rand fan. He believes in a world that she envisioned, a world in which rugged individualism triumphs over the enervating intrusions of the government. She wrote fiction. History is a better guide than wishful thinking.

My friend answered: I am not upset at your comments but I am amazed that you are amazed “that intelligent people, faced with the same facts, can reach radically different conclusions.” Politicians are particularly adept at taking the truth and bending it to suit their own purposes (re-election being the most important). Each blames the other party (or in the primaries his opponents in his own party) for all the ills that he will put right, just given the chance to serve the people and the country.

In the case of the presidency, as one very honest and frank president said, “The buck stops here.” Inevitably, when it comes time to run for re-election, the incumbent blames the Congress, the Senate, the other party and any other entity he can enjoin for his failure to do all the things that he promised. The party to which he belongs is irrelevant. They all do it.

I wouldn’t give you a plugged nickel for either Romney or Obama. I voted for Obama and desperately wanted him to be successful. God knows, the country needed him to be successful. I feel like I hired Obama with my vote. He did not do the job and he, along with every other politician regardless of party that made empty promises to do great things if elected and failed to keep their promises, should be replaced. If we do this enough, perhaps we could cull out the liars and select some elected officials that are more interested in helping the country than getting re-elected and falling into step with the same power brokers that continue to manipulate our government for their own selfish motives.

I am sure you are confident that Obama will do a better job than Romney. We thought he would do a better job than his opponent when we elected him. A growing national debt, regardless of where it originated, and twenty-three million out of work make that a difficult position to defend. I truly wish that Hilary had won the nomination rather than Obama.

Here's my answer: It's not a difficult position to defend at all. Obama did do a better job than his opponent would have done. And he'll do a better job than his current opponent. The Bush tax cuts and two unfunded wars, followed by the intervention needed when the economy fell off the cliff due to the housing bubble, are primarily responsible for the growing national debt. A fair mix of increased revenues and decreased spending would start to solve the problem. A larger stimulus would have gone further toward addressing unemployment. Neither were possible for Obama given lockstep Republican opposition to even tax increases for those who can well afford it.

Hillary might have done a better job at wrangling Congress. I suspect she would have been harder to say "no" to. She's probably a better wheeler-dealer and negotiator behind the scenes, more involved, less cerebral. But she didn't get the nomination, so why go there? And indeed, why replace Obama with a set of policies virtually guaranteed to reduce revenues, increase the deficit and unemployment, widen the equality gap, worsen the environment, limit women's control over their own bodies, to say nothing of resuming a bellicose foreign policy that provokes our enemies and disappoints our friends?

Obama may have disappointed, sometimes by his own fault, others not, but he didn't have a magic wand, and he's still far and away the best option in this race.

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