Wednesday, February 3, 2010

NPR still Apologists for Right-Wingers

I've written about this before, but I continue to be amazed at the extent to which National Public Radio provides a platform for baseless Republican/right-wing talking points and otherwise enables right-wing memes.

First, yesterday (Feb. 2) they spent an inordinate amount of time on a sympathetic portrayal of tea-party activist and blogger Liberty Belle (Keli Carender) in which this blogger claimed that the reason she opposed reform of the health care system is that the government would be funding it with other people's money. Here's the quote:

"I tried to boil down in essence what makes me so angry about it," Carender says. "And it was this idea that he [Democratic Congressman Norm Dicks of Washington] and other people decide what the needs are in society. They get to decide. But in order to fund those things, they have to take from some people in order to give to the other people."

Obviously this is not a complaint about health care reform; it's not even a complaint about redistributive taxation. This is a complaint about government. It is simply not possible for a government to exist unless it takes money from some people and uses it for purposes which do not benefit those people in exact proportion to the amount they were taxed. It bothers her that people in government get to decide how to spend tax money. Seriously.

At this point, one might expect the interviewer to move on to other topics, perhaps ask after the interviewees course of medication and whether it is treating her psychological problems (or, as my spouse suggests, asks where her parents are). Instead they continued for another several minutes with their loving portrayal of someone whose only merit is that she is passionate about things about which she is completely ignorant. Nonetheless, the NPR report contained nary a word to indicate the irrationality or ignorance of her thinking. Can a puff piece on Lyndon LaRouche be far behind? I suggest the title, "LaRouche, Not a Typical Troglodyte, Thinks for Himself."

The pattern of enabling continued this morning (Feb. 3) in somewhat muted form. This morning they noted that the administration had faced criticism for the underwear bomber's failure to provide information and that this failure was a result of his being given the rights of criminal defendants guaranteed by our constitution. This narrative, according to NPR, turned out to be wholly untrue. So, kudos to NPR for actually reporting a fact, but mysteriously the source of these fabrications disappeared. (I claim these are fabrications because the claims must not have been based on the facts since the facts do not support the claims at all. There never was reason to think his being mirandized had led to him clamming up. In fact, traditional interrogation techniques had been quite successful.) We cannot have an informed discourse when one side of the debate gets to make up their own reality and, when the media actually investigates the truth of the matter (which they rarely do), the side that made up its own "facts" is then immunized from criticism for its falsehoods by having its role in the dissemination of these falsehoods completely overlooked. Simply put, when one side is lying, it's not enough to expose the lie; you also have to point out who was lying.

Totally off the topic of NPR, I watched the execrable Chris Matthews very briefly on Rachel Maddow's show last night when Matthews asserted that Obama needed to get his approval ratings up so that he could get support in Congress to pass his legislation. What I cannot figure out is why Matthews thought this would make any difference at all. Republicans have voted against, and threatened filibuster on, virtually every piece of legislation Democrats have proposed no matter what Obama's approval rating. He had no more luck with getting their votes when he had just pasted their candidate in the Presidential election, had the largest majorities in both houses of Congress in 30 years or so, and had a personal approval rating in the 60s (which was higher than Bush had for at least 5 consecutive years). Personal approval ratings mean nothing to the Republican opposition. They might have a minor effect on some recalcitrant Democrats, but passing things in the Senate requires a Republican vote now (for some insane reason), so his approval won't help with that. I think Matthews must have been examining the inside of his own colon, rather than electoral politics, for the last year if he does not know this.

Update: Reading the text of the NPR piece on Liberty Belle suggested to me that she was only arguing against redistributive taxation. Perhaps I was too tough on her, but when I heard it, the emphasis seemed to be on other people deciding how to spend money, not on the redistributive function of that spending. Perhaps that was my imagination or simply something quirky about her speech. I do maintain that it is basically impossible to tax people in such a way that they receive benefits in exact proportion to their tax burden. I suppose it is possible to have a fee-based government, but that also seems unworkable. (I would, of course, refuse to pay fees for my police department since I own lots of big dogs and big guns.) In any event, my criticism may have been slightly over the top.

The link to the first NPR piece is here.


  1. "There are four ways in which you can spend money. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money. Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost. Then, I can spend somebody else’s money on myself. And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, then I’m sure going to have a good lunch! Finally, I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it is, and I’m not concerned about what I get. And that’s government."
    -Milton Friedman

  2. "Finally, I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it is, and I’m not concerned about what I get. And that’s government."

    This is entertaining, but I cannot buy it as an argument. Anyone who really doesn't care how to spend tax money (which is partially one's own) and doesn't care whether that money is spent effectively is a sociopath. In other words, this quote depends on an overly simplistic understanding of human nature; people do not care only for themselves and their money. We are capable of caring for others as well. Perhaps this is exaggerated for humorous effect, but if he really thought no one cared about others, no one would be parents, work in soup kitchens, give money to Haiti relief, help the sick or poor. So, it's funny but inaccurate and hence an argument against government based on a false premise.