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Last week’s Gallup poll headlines “Obama Still Wins on Likability; Romney on the Economy,” and reports that Americans think that Mitt Romney would be better for reducing the federal debt, and generally better for the economy, but that Americans like Barack Obama more, think Obama cares more about people like themselves, and think he would do a better job on the things that produce a better economy and that would reduce the federal debt, such as taxes, healthcare, Medicare, energy, and foreign policy (the latter of which includes international trade issues, avoidance of starting needless wars like Iraq, and many other factors that will strongly affect the federal debt and the overall U.S. economy).Here are the details from this poll: By 54% to 31% Obama is the more likable candidate, but by 52% to 43% Romney would “better handle … the economy,” and by 54% to 39% Romney would “better handle … the federal budget deficit.” However, although Romney has this 15% edge on “the federal budget deficit,” and that 9% edge on “the economy,” it is Obama who has a 9% edge on “Taxes,” a 9% edge on “Healthcare,” a 15% edge on “Medicare,” a 13% edge on “Energy,” and a 14% edge on “Foreign Affairs,” and who thus has edges on the major driving forces behind federal deficits and the nation’s future economic competitiveness. (This Gallup report didn’t mention the issue of education, but a Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa Poll was headlined in the Christian Science Monitor on August 22nd, “Poll: Americans favour Obama over Romney for strengthening public schools,” and reports a 5% Obama edge on that issue, too; so, Obama sweeps all of the major factors that drive a nation’s economic success).
Why, then, is Romney preferred on the economy, and on the debt, even though Obama leads on all of the factors that would improve both?
Any assumption that the public is rational is disproven by this (and many other) polls. Most people don’t even notice their own illogic, and so they consider acceptable providing answers that, essentially, contradict each other. Public affairs don’t matter to the average person enough to think their viewpoints through carefully; the result, on these electoral surveys, is a mush that’s driven more by ideological prejudices than by anything else.
So: what might these ideological prejudices be, which would explain such internally contradictory polling results?
Ever since the era of post-Franklin-Delano-Roosevelt liberalism became replaced by post-Ronald-Reagan conservatism, there has been a widespread American belief that, as Reagan himself phrased it, in his first inaugural address, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” FDR’s liberalism has thus been replaced by Reagan’s libertarianism. (Reagan, in the July 1975 Reason – the leading libertarian publication – explained: “I believe that the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.” He reiterated this statement onmany occasions; he was a libertarian conservative.)
Government provides schooling, the highways, the infrastructure, Medicare, Social Security, and protection from foreign invasions, and (according to the post-Reagan ideology) it is the problem and not the solution, which means that it should all be privatized. This task was left to George W. Bush to start doing on a large scale, by his introducing private-insurance alternatives in Medicare, with vast taxpayer subsidies going to private insurance companies, via the 2003 Bush-Republican-created Medicare Part D program, which “added $15.5 trillion (in present value terms) to our nation’s indebtedness, according to Medicare’s trustees,” as Bruce Bartlett wrote in Forbes during 2009, when most other Republicans were screaming against Obamacare. Bartlett also noted: “Just to be clear, the Medicare drug benefit was a pure giveaway with a gross cost greater than either the House or Senate health reform bills how being considered [the drafts of Obamacare].
Together the new bills would cost roughly $900 billion over the next 10 years, while Medicare Part D will cost $1 trillion. Moreover, there is a critical distinction – the drug benefit had no dedicated financing, no offsets and no revenue-raisers; 100% of the cost simply added to the federal budget deficit, whereas the health reform measures now being debated will be paid for with a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, adding nothing to the deficit over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.” As Bartlett explained, Medicare Part D was party-line Republican-passed and -signed legislation; Democrats tried to block it but failed. It was an enormous Reaganite victory, notwithstanding that this former Reaganaut Bartlett courageously disowned his former Reaganism.
Romney and Ryan favour doing more of the same that Bush had done, and Americans (ignorant of history) mistakenly think that this will be effective to reduce the federal debt and to improve the nation’s economy – they just don’t think that it will be good for themselves personally (which it won’t), and these schizoid beliefs are reflected in their polled answers.
So, Americans think that what will be good for the national economy and for the Federal Government will be bad for themselves.
Americans thus feel guilty about wanting the government services they do. (After all: “Government is the problem.” They don’t want to be “leeches.”) Americans feel that they’re doing wrong when they use a government service. Americans similarly feel guilty about wishing that “the job-creators” (as Republicans call people who live mainly off of capital gains and dividends) would pay the same 35% tax-rate on their capital-gains and dividend-based incomes that ordinary working Americans would pay on their “mere” labour-based wages (if they earned that much).
Americans similarly feel guilty about any sentiment that accumulated wealth (cap-gains etc.) should cease being tax-favoured over “mere” wage income. Polls show that most Americans even favour eliminating altogether the federal tax on inheritance of large fortunes (the tax that now applies only to the less-than-1% of estates that are worth more than $2 million); they want only earned income to be subject to taxation, no such unearned income (to the heirs) to be taxed, at all: just zero taxed. Americans do their darndest to avoid “class-warfare” against “the job-creators.” Americans have come to respect the aristocracy more than themselves. It’s capitulation to the aristocracy.
Americans have, in short, been brainwashed; they have already lost the class-war, to so extreme an extent that they feel, deep down, that the upper class (“the job-creators”) are actually superior to them: As Warren Buffett said, “There’s class warfare, all right, … but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” The extent of their victory is shown by the prevailing public sentiment that it’s the “leeches” who are waging class-warfare against “the job-creators,” instead of the reverse. That pro-aristocratic sentiment drives a great deal of today’s Republican vote.
Americans have been brainwashed to think that wealth trickles down from “the job-creators,” rather than percolates up from the public: the workers and the consumers. “Supply-side economics” (such as Bartlett once championed, but now disdains) still predominates in our national ideology, and demand-side economics (Keynesian) is thus held in suspicion (since it basically contradicts libertarianism).
Seven questions were asked in today’s Gallup poll about the “characteristics and qualities” of the two candidates, and Obama has a 5% to 23% edge on each one of them except “Can manage the government effectively,” where the two men are virtually tied. This fits: the richer man is now generally considered to be the more-likely-successful CEO for the national government. This idea, that the successful aristocrat will run the national economy better than someone who hasn’t been “a job-creator” in the private economy, is part of libertarian legend – Horatio Alger, Ayn Rand, “John Galt,” or whatever – but it’s being extended into government now, where it doesn’t work.
Extending this idea into government is, in fact, shown by history to be thoroughly and profoundly false. Two previous Presidents had eerily comparable backgrounds and ideologies to Romney’s, as successful tycoons. George W. Bush, like Romney, was an aristocratic Harvard MBA who became President. The other such case was Herbert Hoover. A squib for him if you google the phrase (in quotation marks) “Herbert Hoover” is: “Herbert Hoover, acting as a main investor, financier, mining speculator and organiser of men, played a major role in the important metallurgical developments that occurred in Broken Hill in the first decade of the twentieth century, developments that had a great impact on the world mining and production of silver, lead and zinc.
In later years Hoover liked to think of himself and his associates as having been ‘engineering doctors to sick concerns’, and so hence his reputation as the ‘Doctor of sick mines.'” Mitt Romney’s background is a combination of George W. Bush and Herbert Hoover. This doesn’t mean that he will necessarily be the kind of President they were, but it does mean that his background has thus far gone badly in the White House, rather than being something he should brag about to voters. Why, then is this background instead his chief electoral draw? (Without that background, where would Mitt Romney even be now?)
Here is the reason why: According to the post-Reagan U.S. ideology, the most effective person to run the U.S. economy will be someone who has been extremely successful at growing his own private fortune; “Greed is good”: only a person who is wealthy as a private businessman possesses the necessary executive skills and “toughness” in order to be an “effective” President of the nation. (Since there is no class-warfare in this ideology, the question “effective for whom?” is not even permissible to ask in this context, though it’s the crucial question.)
Heading a nation is like heading a private firm, except that it’s a bigger firm, and it has voters instead of stockholders – but corporations have “elections,” too, so even that is no difference, in this fantasyland view of politics, and of corporations. The problem with Obama, in this view, is that he just doesn’t have “executive experience.” Obama was no tycoon, and Americans thus expect Romney to do a better economic job as President.
However, regardless of what one might happen to think of Obama (and I don’t think much of him, though I think more of him than I do of Romney), none of the great Presidents was a tycoon, either: FDR, Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington, weren’t. Should people like Astor, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, and Morgan, have been Presidents instead of them? The post-Reagan ideology would say yes. But all of America’s great political leaders were politicians; none of them were tycoons. So, if anything, Romney has the disadvantage here, from the actual historical standpoint.
However, this seems to be the exact opposite of what Americans believe. A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll taken on “February 7-8, 2006” and published on “9 February 06,” included the question: “Which one of the following would you rather see as our next president?” The highest percentage of respondents, 33%, chose “a business leader.” Tied in second place were “a military general” (another authoritarian icon), and “a career politician,” both at 21%. No other option scored higher than mere single digits. The most popular choice, “a business leader,” reflected the widespread view that this heavily Republican category had been the people magically selected by “the invisible hand” of God, and were therefore the best leaders. However, even if “a business leader” is good at business (and was Richard Fuld, who was the head of Lehman Brothers, or Bernard Ebbers, the head of Worldcom/MCI, actually good at business?), then there is still an enormous difference between being good at business, and being good at government. History proves it.
Further evidence of this post-Reagan libertarian-conservative ideology came on 25 May 2012, when Gallup bannered “In U.S., Nearly Half Identify as Economically Conservative.” It was 46% conservative, 32% moderate, and only 20% liberal. Prior to Reagan, “conservatism” was virtually a dirty word, and “libertarianism” was derided as outright loony. The ideological contest at that time was between moderates versus liberals. That was the post-FDR ideological period. It didn’t even start to change until 1964. The change culminated with Reagan – and with the sudden soaring of the federal debt that started with his Presidency.
So: Republican trickle-down economics is more respected than is Democratic percolate-up economics. That’s how people feel, according to the polls. But what does the historical record show on this incredibly important matter, of economic policy? Is this belief, in the economics of people such as Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan – and Mitt Romney and today’s Republicans – justified by history?
No, not at all. To the contrary: The middle section of my previous article, “Mitt Romney’s Three Big Lies,” documented that each one of the nine separate studies (all of the studies that have been done) of the performance of U.S. stock markets under Republican versus under Democratic presidents and congresses, has shown consistent and overwhelming superiority of economic performance with Democrats in the White House, and also with Democrats in Congress, as compared to Republicans. The popular myth to the contrary is unquestionably and decisively empirically false. Furthermore, in my recent book, They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, I document, from these and from many other studies, that this Democratic economic superiority extends not only to the performance of the stock markets, but also to employment, wages, economic equality, and all other major economic variables. This economic record is consistent during at least the past 100 years. Should one expect that the next four years will be any different – the lone exception to the past hundred years? That would be foolish.
If the two Parties are to be judged on their economic records, then voting a straight Democratic ticket will be the inevitable result. Oddly, this will be true even for people who live primarily off of capital gains and dividends. (After all, those grow best under Democrats.) However, at the very top end, among billionaires and centi-millionaires, hundreds of millions of dollars are being poured into defeating Democrats in Congress and in the White House. Many in this top 0.1% fear the top-end tax-hikes, and especially the removal of the privileged low 15% taxation-rate on capital gains, etc., and they also fear increased regulation and enforcement of rules against fraud, pollution, and other violations that tend to be practiced the most by those individuals and that have given many of them competitive advantages against more-honest competitors in a weakly regulated environment, and that have often largely produced their wealth. However, despite their “invisible hand” (of God, not of the aristocracy) arguments, their interests are not really the public’s interests. The interests of the lower 99% are more for safe food, clean air, honest and clear mortgage and other debt-contracts, enforcement against consumer-fraud, and otherwise for a government that functions, instead of for a government that does not (such as those tycoons want). A government that does not function is the libertarian ideal, but it actually punishes the public.
A schizoid ideology has produced today’s schizoid Gallup Poll results, and Warren Buffet has already explained them in a single sentence, which has just been greatly expanded upon here, so as to show its relevance to these poll-results.
Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.
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