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You can keep your not-so-new nationalism

I’ve always found Teddy Roosevelt to be among the more repugnant of the already repulsive batch of grifters and autocrats we’ve been unfortunate enough to call “Mr. President.” He managed to combine militarism, authoritarianism and economic collectivism with a cult of the state that he called “new nationalism.” As presidential scholar Richard M. Abrams puts it in his discussion of the 26th president, “He spoke righteously for freedom but placed individual liberty in the context of a greater obligation to the nation. He acknowledged that most individuals probably preferred business as usual, to be left to cultivate their own gardens and to pursue modest livelihoods and comforts, but he viewed such an outlook with scorn.”

In economic terms, TR was obsessed with “national efficiency” — a principle he expounded in his (in)famous new nationalism speech in Osawatomie, Kansas. He called for powerful federal and state governments, with all-encompassing powers that allow for no “neutral ground” where people might hide from the government. Said he, “I do not ask for the over centralization; but I do ask that we work in a spirit of broad and far-reaching nationalism where we work for what concerns our people as a whole.”

People who disagreed with his views, he implied (or explicitly stated) were unpatriotic.

If he’d made his speech 20 years later, Teddy Roosevelt’s views could have comfortably clothed themselves in brown shirts (as could those of his cousin who was actually in office at that time).

So, when Barack Obama tramps back to Osawatomie to deliberately echo TR’s speech and views, color me nauseated. “[I]n America, we are greater together – when everyone engages in fair play, everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share. … [A]s a nation, we have always come together, through our government, to help create the conditions where both workers and businesses can succeed.”

Once again, the appeal to tribal identity, the call to submerge individual interests in the name of the greater good of the group — as identified by the speaker. And if you don’t agree with the speaker’s very specific idea of what’s good and right? Well, Teddy Roosevelt called you a “reactionary”; Obama, in our psychologized age, insists you and your co-dissidents have “collective amnesia.”

But we live in an age that’s not just psychologized, but fact-checked, and even the Washington Post called bullshit on much of Barry’s supporting evidence for his exhumed not-so-new nationalism.

On Obama’s insistence that “expensive” tax cuts for the “wealthy” are responsible for the current economic mess:

Obama certainly inherited an economic mess, and we have argued he does not deserve blame for the massive loss of jobs early in his administration. But it seems odd to keep blaming poor job growth on the Bush tax cut, especially because Obama himself pushed through a nearly $1-trillion stimulus and took other actions that have affected the economy, for better or worse.

Finally, Obama blames the Bush tax cuts for “massive deficits.” It is certainly true that the Bush tax cuts helped blow a hole in the budget. But they did not do it all by themselves. We looked at length at this issue earlier this year, assisted by new Congressional Budget Office data.

The data showed that the biggest contributor to the disappearance of projected surpluses was increased spending, which accounted for 36.5 percent of the decline in the nation’s fiscal position, followed by incorrect CBO estimates, which accounted for 28 percent. The Bush tax cuts (along with some Obama tax cuts) were responsible for just 24 percent.

And on the president’s insistence that the uber-wealthy are even more successful at tax avoidance than even the Occupiers have charged in their wildest fever-dream accusations:

“Some billionaires have a tax rate as low as 1 percent — 1 percent. That is the height of unfairness.”

This is a striking statistic. But the only evidence that the White House could offer for it was a TV clip of a conversation on Bloomberg TV, in which correspondent Gigi Stone made this assertion during a discussion about the tax strategies that the very wealthy use to avoid paying taxes.  The TV clip was promoted by the left-leaning website Think Progress.

Stone quoted from a Bloomberg News article last month that reported on such tax strategies, which mostly involve complicated ways to defer paying capital gains taxes. But the article never made the one-percent claim. It also noted that the IRS had gotten more hostile to such transactions in recent years.

An administration official conceded the White House had no actual data to back up the president’s assertion, but argued that other reports showed that some of the wealthy pay little in taxes.

The Post even quoted Judge Learned Hand pointing out that “Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury.”

So, calls for authoritarianism founded on appeals to tribal identity, based on manufactured data. Thanks anyway, but I’ll pass.

Posted in Awful Officials, Submission to the State

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