NOTE: I republished this blog, which originally came out in 2017, and WOW has there been a sea-change in how conservatives in political power are behaving! Now, Bartlett seems prescient and almost kind of quaint. I mean, when you essentially mount an insurrection and those on your side of the aisle — in and out of Congress! — deny it happened, or that it was wrong, or that it was based on lies, or that it was even unconstitutional, well, we are basically living in a Ray Bradbury novel then. Now. Ok I am going to go cry.
Bruce Bartlett is a most interesting man. He is a self-described conservative, but he claims to be a more traditional, principled conservative than the modern crop of neocons, Tea Partiers, and, as I would characterize them, gross hypocrites. He was a leading advocate and theorist about supply-side economics, also called “trickle-down economics.” However, he has since come to realize that the reasonableness of tax-cutting for the top tax brackets to stimulate growth has been misapplied, abused, and inappropriately resurrected by the likes of Bush, Trump, and so on. I aim to share a bit more about Bruce Bartlett, who I am calling a conservative truth-teller, due to his willingness to call spades spades and admit how far afield the GOP has gone since the days of Reagan. I think Reagan made many missteps and was not a particularly wise leader, but at least Bruce and I could agree on much!
Here you will find a brief clip where Bruce speaks extremely candidly (almost graphically) to refer to the recent round of tax cuts that most objective observers and every liberal economist believes would disproportionately advantage the upper class and corporations. This, in a decently-performing economy! One of the reasons I hold a conservative truth-teller such as Bartlett in such high regard is because the GOP would like to have it both ways: a) Trump is a great leader and all this good economic news shows his acumen and wisdom, and b) the economy is not doing that well, and thus, a tax break is needed and warranted.
I could go on and on about how the modern GOP is just totally off the rails. The leaders lie and pillage and obfuscate and distort, and the media wings such as Fox News fan the flames of that conflagration of con-artistry.
“I really think that if we don’t start caring about whether people tell the truth or not, it’s going to be literally impossible to restore anything approaching a reasonable political discourse. Politicians have always shaded the truth. But if you can say something that is provably false, and no one cares, then you can’t have a real debate about anything.”
Yes, I get that the Democrats do not smell like a rose. I personally would have smashed that sclerotic and corrupt party to oblivion following the wholesale disenfranchisement of Bernie Sanders in 2016. Truth-teller extraordinaire, journalist Bill Moyers, noted that “The political system today is basically a cover for corruption.” Dems have wrought that as well.
However, this blog is about conservative con men and the occasional conservative truth-teller. Ever since the witch hunt of Bill Clinton and the wrong-headed and, at times, nefarious acts by Reagan, I have watched the party with a careful and skeptical eye. They never fail to disappoint. I have the misfortune, as do you, of living through a nauseatingly absurd Republican administration that, if it weren’t so dangerous, would be absolutely comical. I am not sure if the ascension of Trump to the presidency is more of an indictment of the two-party oligopoly, or the foolishness of the American voter, or the appallingly bad decision of the Dems to cheat Bernie out of the running and prop up a smug, dirty, war-making oligarch such as Hillary Clinton.
In case you don’t know how far afield the GOP has gone, here is a quote from NPR circa 1986, when Reagan was signing a tax reform bill: “Keep in mind that one of the most important elements of that deal was that Ronald Reagan agreed to raise the capital gains tax rate from 20 percent to 28 percent, because he agreed with the Democrats that capital gains and ordinary income ought to be taxed at the same rate,” says Bartlett, who is also the author of The Benefit and the Burden, a new book on tax reform.”
“The truth is, I don’t really believe that Republicans are ever going to come up with a real replacement for the Affordable Care Act. Because it seems to me that they don’t actually care about making sure that every American has access to quality, affordable health care. What do they care about? They want insurance companies to be able to sell you junk policies. They want drug manufacturers to be able to gouge people who rely on medications to stay healthy. They want to make it harder for people who’ve suffered from medical malpractice to get their day in court. They want rich people to not have to pay for health care for poor people. And, most of all, they want to keep using this issue to rally their base, reward their donors, and punish Democrats. I don’t know what’s going to happen going forward.” ~ Al Franken
This is really reached a fever-pitch with Trump, the “alt-Right,” the Tea Party, and all the “primarying” Republicans are being subjected to. It’s almost impossible for any more reasonable, sane conservative truth-teller to be elected in many, many districts. Throw in gerrymandering and we’ve got ourselves a bona fide problem. Here is how now-disgraced but previously-important and legitimate Senator, Al Franken, puts it: “But now we seem to have entered an era where getting caught lying openly and shamelessly, lying in a manner that insults the intelligence of both your friends and foes, lying about lying, and lying for the sake of lying have all lost their power to damage a politician. In fact, the
“But now we seem to have entered an era where getting caught lying openly and shamelessly, lying in a manner that insults the intelligence of both your friends and foes, lying about lying, and lying for the sake of lying have all lost their power to damage a politician. In fact, the Trump Effect yields the opposite result: Trump supporters seem to approve of the fact that he lies constantly, including to them.” His base really does get a charge out of seeing it put to the Democrats. I see where they are coming from, especially after the rout of Sanders by Wassarman-Schultz and while Nancy Pelosi looked on, but it has gotten preposterous. Now it’s just a tribal blood-sport. It’s a horrible omen for our country. Where are our leaders, our heroes?
This conservative truth-teller also has a new book out, entitled Truth Matters: A Citizen’s Guide to Separating Facts from Lies and Stopping Fake News in its Tracks. How’s that for a title!
There were some key differences between 1986 and even 2011, when efforts were made to make positive changes to the tax system. So there is a sea-change between what the GOP pulled off in 2017 and 1986. “We had a lot of grownups in both parties, people who actually wanted the government to work,” Senator Patrick Leahy said.
Glaciers [melting, due to global warming] don’t give a damn about politics – they just reflect reality.”
Indeed, there is a crippling level of partisanship and ill will, and I think at least 60% of that is due to the GOP. That’s arguable. Certainly, the GOP in the last nine years have gone off the rails with obstruction and heavy-handed tactics. Before that, they were fairly obnoxious with the Bush Administration and associated abysmal governing occurrences. What is less contestable, when we listen to a conservative truth-teller such as Bruce Bartlett, is the reasons for the tax “overhaul” in the first place. It’s all about serving the interests of the moneyed class, the oligarchs, and the plutocrats.
In the following quote, we see that fiscal conservatism that has morphed into supply-side economics which has, in turn, helped to hollow out the Commons so that the wealthy have become super-wealthy and the rest of us are working hard and getting nowhere, fast: “Why should people feel aggrieved that the rich are pulling further ahead if they are also moving forward?”
As well, the effects of the latest “tax reform” legislation are also pretty predictable: budget deficits, the corporations paying even less of the country’s bill than they currently do (which I believe is about 8%, and certainly no more than 15%). This leaves much of the heavy lifting to the middle class – one of the gross machinations that the GOP often peddles (think of the assaults on unions and fair wage efforts the GOP is almost single-handedly responsible for). Finally, remember the GOP’s favored play: cut social services, run up deficits, point to the unhappy public, and agitate for more social service reductions. It’s called “starve the beast” and it’s incredibly bad faith. It’s the wanton destruction of the fabric that makes up the Commons, and subverts the welfare state in pernicious and repugnant ways.
“Although the right has done a wonderful job promulgating the idea that Reagan and the two Bushes were and are not only great political leaders but also paragons of truth and morality, and that Bill Clinton and the Democrats are exemplars of debauchery and deceit, let us agree that neither of these extreme sentiments are quite accurate.”
In this clip, again, Joy Reid interviews Mr. Bartlett, and as you can see from her first words, it’s no small matter. She begins with what I think is a Lawrence O’Donnell quote: “This was the most draconian tax increase on ordinary Americans and the biggest tax cut on the rich, ever.” When she asked for confirmation, he said: “That’s exactly correct.”
Bartlett is a conservative truth-teller when he answers questions in that manner, and points out that Paul Krugman is also a person who tends to tell the truth, and that Wikipedia points out that “In 2005, the National Center for Policy Analysis fired Bartlett for his outspoken criticism of President George W. Bush.” As well:
“In 2006, he published Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy (ISBN 0-385-51827-7), which is critical of the George W. Bush administration’s economic policies as departing from traditional conservative principles. He compared the second Bush to Richard Nixon as ‘two superficially conservative presidents who enacted liberal programs to buy votes for reelection.'”
I don’t think you can do better than to tune in to this conservative truth-teller if you want to get an unvarnished and unadulterated version of the truth. In a world of what Al Franken called Lies: (And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them), it is refreshing to hear some truth. Our politics is desperate for it. Perhaps, just maybe, there is a small chance that the GOP will overplay its hand, and implode due to the extremism that marks the party (and the oil-and-water combination of the alt-Right and the crony-capitalists – two of the three main constituencies of the modern Republican Party). The party is a Frankenstein made up of social conservatism (e.g., “abortion is wrong”) and fiscal thievery (e.g., “let’s let banks do whatever the hell they want and then bail them out when they step in shit”).
I will end with a few quotations relevant to truth + politics:
“It is the large enterprises that pose obstructions to political democracy. Through their spending and relations with government officials they exercise much more power than do citizens… [This is] a mammoth violation of the political equality deemed necessary for genuine rather than spurious democracy.”
“The two most important things in politics # 1 is money, and the second thing I can’t really remember. It has reached that point.”
“Therefore, the simplistic and reckless idea that the way to stimulate the economy is to cut taxes anytime, anywhere, for any reason, became embedded [in the GOP]. It has become a religion, it has become a catechism. It’s become a mindless incantation.”
“What has been happening to working people is not the result of Adam Smith’s invisible hand, but the direct consequence of corporate activism, intellectual propaganda, religious literalism in the service of a partisan agenda, and a string of political decisions favoring the interests of wealthy elites who bought the political system right out from under us.”
“The economic owning class is always the political ruling class.”
“Jesus believed in healing the sick. Republicans believe in healing the sick if they happen to have insurance and can pay the medical bills. Jesus believed in helping the poor. The GOP believes in helping the very wealthiest 1% of our population. Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves. He did NOT qualify that statement with “unless they happen to be gay or Muslim.” Republicans call themselves “Pro-life”…yet they are gung ho for the death penalty and for war. Jesus was “pro-life”… all life. Republicans believe that lying is okay…and that the ends always justifies the means. I don’t think Jesus would agree with that. If there WERE Republicans in biblical times, they would’ve been the merchants that Jesus cast out of the temple…the ones who were selling their wares for a profit INSIDE the temple grounds. No, the GOP does NOT “own” Christianity OR morals…not by a longshot.”
“Given the decline in the middle class, given the increase in poverty, and given the fact that the wealthy and large corporations have never had it so good, Americans may find it strange that the Republicans in Washington would use this opportunity to make savage cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, education, nutrition assistance, and other lifesaving programs, while pushing for even more tax breaks for the wealthy and large corporations. Unfortunately, it is not strange. It is part of their ideology.”
“The politicians and media types who were upset about Senator Obama’s interference in the market should be yelling bloody murder about the bailout. Their silence shows that they care nothing about the market; they only care about ensuring that money flows upward. They are fine with ‘spreading the wealth around’ as long as it lands with those already at the top.”
“Congress, in its wisdom, has decided that all climate legislation should be sent to a committee chaired by Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, who has declared that global warming is ‘a hoax’ and added that those who demand action remind him of the Third Reich. The Environmental Protection Agency has declared that it doesn’t consider carbon dioxide a pollutant – it’s as if the Food and Drug Administration announced it didn’t consider wheat a food or the Coast Guard declared that the Atlantic Seaboard was really not a coast after all.”
“If we don’t start caring about whether people tell the truth or not, it’s going to be literally impossible to restore anything approaching reasonable political discourse.” ~ Al Franken
Here is another blog you might like if you got this far! It is about Bernie Sanders quotes. He is
Let me just note, again, that I am giving the GOP a full-court press because I think they deserve it. I get excited when I hear a conservative truth-teller who has achieved his bona fides come out and actually speak truth (as I see it). This doesn’t mean that I think the Democratic Party is above reproach or reliable or visionary. I think if a 3rd party movement such as one led by Bernie Sanders can make hay while the sun shines (in 2020) then all this chicanery and absurdity might be useful (in showing how appalling the designs and the actions of the Party of Plutocrats is).
keyword: conservative truth-teller