I Read Jeff Ackerman’s Op-Ed, So You Don’t Have To

propaganda2I only read Jeff Ackerman’s Op-Ed today (“Mailbox filled with bills, lies“) after my wife tried to explain it to me, and her explanation didn’t make any sense. It sounded like she was describing several unrelated editorials shuffled together. One about elderscam, one about lying government officials, one about the federal deficit, and one about poor insurance companies maligned by hypocritical government officials.

Now that I’ve read the editorial myself, I see that although it appears to discuss a number of unrelated lies and scams, it’s actually organized around a single overriding theme: No matter how badly you are harmed by private scammers and insurance companies, you should direct your anger primarily at the government.

Ackerman writes that “lying politicians, who have been stealing from the Social Security fund, now have the audacity to call insurance company liars.”

He also says, “the irony here, of course, is the notion that government is concerned about misleading information in the first place. Part of government’s job is to mislead its citizens.”

There’s an important difference between the banal observation that government often makes mistakes, often acts in a venal or murderous fashion, and the categorical assertion that government is always wrong, can never do anything right, is relentless in lying to us. The second idea is propaganda, made plausible by the grain of truth expressed by the first statement.

What’s most insidious in this propaganda/conservative talking point is the fallacy that government is an other, that it is — in fact — other than us, other than “we the people.” Pogo’s observation — “We have met the enemy and he is us” — is not liberal pap, but rather an expression of a deep and fundamental principle upon which our form of government is based.

The harm in such propaganda is that it teaches people that government is an other, an enemy to be hated and reviled, it encourages people to reach for their pitchforks rather than to seek the bully pulpit.

Government is “we the people.” The extent to which this sounds like a romantic fantasy is precisely the extent to which this insidious conservative propaganda has been effective.

Ackerman’s editorial merely parrots this tired propaganda.

Ironically, the long central section of his editorial, in which he describes the vulnerability of the elderly in our community to scams and fraud, could — if separated from the tired anti-government rhetoric —  stand by itself as a separate essay on that important subject.

Too bad Jeff Ackerman didn’t write that editorial instead of this confused and confusing one.

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2 Responses to “I Read Jeff Ackerman’s Op-Ed, So You Don’t Have To”
  1. Don Pelton says:

    Don: The trouble with what you’ve written here is that you make it sound like government is really running just fine.

    But we’ve all just lived through a year of economic meltdown — with huge giveaways to banks at taxpayer expense — and the most dysfunctional health care debate you could imagine. We face the prospect of so-called health care “reform” that may end up being a huge giveaway to health insurance companies. Several generations of Americans now face the prospect of unsupportable deficits.

    And before last year, we had eight of the worst years in our history, leaving our Constitution severely frayed.

    Our current president — a Constitutional scholar — is continuing some of the worst policies of his predecessor.

    So, sorry, but I don’t buy your praise for the excellence of government.

    Here’s how I’d refine what you said:

    In our modern era, there are two huge actors doing battle on the world stage: governments and corporations.

    Corporations are like leviathans driven by one goal, and one goal only: profit.

    Governments, on the other hand, in this era of democratic ascendancy, exist — are supposed to exist — to serve the interests and the will of their citizens.

    The key point is that in this battle of giants, only governments have — or potentially have — sufficient power and authority to reign in the greedy excesses of corporations, which have shown themselves unable to self-regulate.

    And the conservative idea that the market will restrain the excesses of corporations is now shown to be totally discredited.

    Thus the world faces two stark choices:

    (1) An increasing drift toward corporatocracy — the complete takeover of government by corporations (we’ve gone dangerously far in this direction already), or …

    (2) A return of government to democratic control by its citizens, for the purpose of improving their lives in a myriad of ways.

    Complicating this struggle — at least in the US — is the ascendancy over the last thirty years of a huge conservative propaganda machine (think Fox News), which continues to promote a number of stark lies: the market will restrain corporations, socialism is bad, health care reform must necessarily be socialistic, government can’t do anything right.

    It’s that last one — government can’t do anything right — that you took issue with above, and you’re right to take issue with it. But what you failed to point out is that it is a kind of self-fulfilling statement.

    To the extent that government has been taken over by conservatives who preach that government is dysfunctional while deliberately performing badly (and privatizing functions that are better left to government), the meme becomes a fact. There’s a long tradition in our country of appointing industry hacks to the regulatory agencies that are supposed to restrain their sphere of business. This has always had the effect of weakening the regulatory agencies (to the benefit of corporations).

    Thomas Frank has described this process brilliantly in his book, “The Wrecking Crew”.

    So, bottom line, I agree with you that the constant rhetorical attack on government is insidious, but not — as you imply — because it is false, but rather because it is self-fulfillingly true.

    Ackerman’s constant knee-jerk attacks on government as the primary bad actor on the world stage serves the radically greedy interests of corporations.

    In our modern struggle, corporations grow stronger precisely to the extent that governments grow weaker.

    So, you always have to ask who benefits from bad-mouthing and effectively weakening government. As the old saying goes, “follow the money.”

    The best hope of “we the people” is to reclaim the promise of our founders, and behave like the powerful citizens that we are.

    To do that, we must see through the “government-is-always-bad” meme.

    To make government good again, we must believe in its power to do good.


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  1. […] so the reader was me (in the comment section of my Ackerman article). Still, the criticism seemed important enough to post here as a new blog […]

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