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Conspiracies and theories that didn't matter because they're flawed

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In a recent IMUS appearance, Monica Crowley (video) constructed the most bizarre conspiracy theory for Obama's re-election. It had to do with ideas floated by Romney himself during and after he lost his bid for the presidency of the United States.  Ms. Crowley, like Mitt Romney, posited that the American electorate consists of makers and takers. And the people who voted for Obama are takers. Like Romney's 47 percent, the takers assertion is wafted across the media as certifiable truth. Others picked it up--Laura Ingraham and Bill O'Reilly--and by so doing displayed utter contempt for people, i.e. the takers, who allegedly didn't vote for Romney. And indeed partisans on their side of the political divide accept this classification of voters into makers and takers, too. That is their version of class warfare. In fact, the introduction of takers into the conversation is nothing but red meat and "dog whistle" for their partisans. However, Ms. Crowley's conspiracy theory has some elements of structure, which makes it seem not only reasonable but also acceptable. Even so, the model of makers and takers still challenges believability. For instance, Ms. Crowley argues that African Americans, Latinos, women, Asians and young people voted for Obama because he gives them free stuff and these cohorts are takers. And democrats keep the economy depressed and jobless rates high as a ruse to keep takers dependent on government handouts. Then in order to claim their handouts (entitlements), takers vote democrats like Obama into office. This strategy of giving takers stuff is nothing more than a ploy to insure democrats are a permanent majority. In addition to directly and intentionally insulting voters, these conspiracy theories also require a level of willful mendacity by their advocates.

Two other popular conspiracy theories, Fast and Furious and Benghazi, have been elevated for the sole purpose of damaging the President. But to make them conspiracy theory arguments twist logic into a pretzel. Further, there has been an effort to hoodwink and misdirect voters into voting a certain party with flawed reasoning with The Two-Santa Claus Theory, The Other, and the Fiscal Cliff. Let's see how.

Fast and Furious: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) had a number of "gunwalking" sting operations intended to stop the flow of firearms into Mexico. The plan was to interdict straw buyers and gun traffickers in the United States.  The final objective was to track the guns to Mexican drug cartel leaders.  But the operation went sideways. And about 2,000 guns went to Mexico under "Operation Fast and Furious" that were subsequently recovered at the site of crimes. Two guns were found at the scene where U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in December 2010. Of course, Republicans could not pass on the opportunity to go after President Obama for this. Rep. Darrell Issa made it his mission. However, the Office of the Inspector General, Department of Justice found that Attorney General Eric Holder's hands are clean--there was no cover up, and no attempt to mislead Congress about it. The most egregious part of this is difficult to fathom. It holds that the Obama Administration devised Fast and Furious as a wider plan to undermine the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution and take your guns away from us.

Benghazi: This is a story of two bundled conspiracies. First, General David Petraeus, Director of the CIA, was involved in a sex scandal. Second, as we know, on September 11, 2012 there was an attack on the U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans died: Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. At the same time Sam Bacile's film "Innocence of Muslims" was a catalyst for riots and killings in Egypt. Here is where conspiracies started rolling. Mitt Romney accused the President Obama of siding with the attackers. Then Fox News and the GOP including Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. John McCain said that United Nation Ambassador Susan Rice lied to the American people on five Sunday shows about the motivation for the attack. Her credibility rested on a film versus a planned terror assault on the Embassy. Three members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Kelly Ayotte , Sen. Lindsey Graham, and Sen. John McCain want to form a temporary Select Committee to look into what happened in Benghazi. Sen. McCain even went so far as to say that he would challenge Ambassador Rice's nomination for Secretary of State if it comes to that. The lie President Obama's detractors argue, was intended to help President's re-election chances. The next leg of the conspiracy introduces General David Petraeus' tryst with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.  The gist of this bundled conspiracy is Obama lied about Benghazi and fired General Petraeus to prevent him from testifying before Congress on Benghazi, and thereby implicate the President in a lie. President Obama perpetrated all this for political reasons, and in particular to get re-elected. So far General Petraeus lost his job as CIA director. But some people are hoping for more fallout from this. The GOP behaves as though there's an opportunity here to bring down the President.

These three conspiracies have one overarching theme. Each one was seen as the next best opportunity to takedown the President. They were latched onto with tenacity far beyond their merits or ability to damage the President. The absence of evidence means nothing; the enemies of the President would just drill a little deeper for pay dirt. If the charges of one conspiracy don't pant out they just move on to the next conspiracy hoping something sticks. Some conspiracy charges are so ludicrous only diehard partisans believe them. For example, is there any sane person on planet earth who believes Obama manipulated the hurricane Isaac forecasts to delay the GOP convention in Tampa? Hardly! But Rush Limbaugh says President Obama had a hand in this. And when the unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent some people were terribly upset. Here good news was not a cause for celebration. One man who was unhappy about the jobless rate was Jack Welch. The former General Electric CEO obliquely accused the President of influencing the Bureau of Labor Statistics' report. Then of course there was Fox News "Fox and Friends" getting off on the New Black Panther Party's alleged voter intimidation in a voting place in Philadelphia.  They ran with videos of the presence of one member of the party on Election Day. This was evidence voter intimidation according to Fox News legal analyst Peter Johnson Jr. (video)

The Two-Santa Claus Theory: This is a theory for tax cuts advanced by the late Jude Wanniski. It postulates that Democrats win elections because they are "spending Santas.' They give voters stuff like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security Insurance, unemployment compensation, minimum wage, and so on. These expenditures are tantamount to growing government. Republicans are seen as Scrooge for coming out against these programs. So to win elections Republicans need to become Santas, too. But how? You have to give people stuff, Mr. Wanniski said. However, this strategy is very insidious. It cuts taxes and runs deficits. Americans will be alarmed at the deficits and be receptive to spending cuts to balance the budget. When Republicans have the reigns, they cut taxes--Reagan, and both the Bushes did this. George Bush inherited a $5 trillion surplus, which initially he declared he would be use to pay off the debt. Instead, he cut taxes (giving the people at the top the largest share of tax cuts) and went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Soon, the surplus President Clinton left him became a deficit. This led Vice Pres. Cheney to announce, "deficits don't matter." That is the first piece of the Two-Santa Claus Theory. The second piece follows logically from this. When Democrats are in control of the government, the GOP fulminates persistently about the evils of deficits left by Republicans. They denounce deficits (and the national debt) and demand draconian reductions in Democrat stuffs like Medicare and Social Security. The GOP gives stuff--i.e. tax cuts for votes. And they try to take away Democrat stuff, i.e. cuts in Social Security and Medicare to take votes from Democrats. However, Obama insists he will not compromise on social programs and wants marginal tax rates on the top 2 percent to rise to the Clinton rates. Both sides are digging in their heels. So, the result is a looming sequestration battle. If there is no deal, everybody's taxes will rise and there will be major spending cuts across the board. Military spending might go under the knife as well.

The Other: Dinesh D'Souza wrote the book The Roots of Obama's Rage (2010) and made a movie 2016: Obama's America, which has done very well at the box office. He takes many liberties in telling an Obama story, so it is difficult to pin him down easily. But the portrait he paints of the President is not entirely flattering one. For example, Mr. D'Souza seems to believe that Obama's take on America is based on his father's anti-colonialism views, plus an innate need to satisfy his father's dream of diminishing the Western world, or at any rate, the power of the United States. Do you ever wonder how it is possible for some writers to gain fame and fortune by spinning conspiracy theories out of whole cloth? Many do and D'Souza's efforts do not appear to be afflicted with soundness of scholarship.

Fiscal Cliff: About a 100 years ago, there was an earthquake in San Francisco that set in motion a series of events that produced the first Fiscal Cliff scenario in the U.S. The earthquake occurred in 1906, produced gas-induced fires that lasted days, thousands died, and the city was almost totally destroyed. A dozen insurance companies went bankrupt; the large Knickerbocker Trust in New York went under triggering a panic in 1907. Both the New York Stock Exchange and the U.S. Treasury almost failed, too. In 1907, there was no buffer against a catastrophic event in San Francisco spilling over into New York. In reaction to the Panic of 1907, in 1913 Congress passed the 16th Amendment, which states, "The Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes on income, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any Census or Enumeration." Before passage there were extensive debates about the necessity of an income tax and how it should be structured. Republicans wanted a flat tax with few exemptions, Progressive preferred a progressive tax with more exemptions, and Democrats were between these two extremes. The Democrats prevailed. (see: "Federal Income Tax of 1913," by Steven A. Bank) Also, in 1913 Congress passed a bill creating the Federal Reserve Bank, which is the central bank of the United States. Its mandate among other things is to conduct the nation's monetary policy through money and credit in pursuit of full employment and stable prices. Today, Republicans are not happy with the Federal Reserve Bank. They would like to see it abolished or absent that audited. FED Chairman Ben Bernanke has been keeping interest rates at near zero as a strategy for growing the economy. This does not sit well with many Republicans (and some Democrats) who fear inflation and high interest rates in the offing. Further, some Republicans would also like to see some aspects of the 16th Amendment repealed. Our current fiscal cliff crisis is contrived. It is misdirection, a feint (as in fencing). Deficits don't matter when the GOP is in power. Republicans have a natural dislike for social programs some of which are popular. So, a frontal assault on them carries political peril. But an indirect assault, the feint, has people thinking about deficits and taking their eyes off the real targets--i.e. spending. The prudence of cutting spending in a slow growing economy is open to question. The fiscal cliff crisis focuses debates on spending cuts for popular programs--Medicare and Social Security. And Republicans are willing to see the country go over the fiscal cliff rather than raise a penny from higher taxes on the rich. This is true. Remember the Grover Norquist Pledge--no tax increases ever!

Re-election: Why didn't these conspiracy theories, deficits and national debt, and the prospect of sequestration and the fiscal cliff, the high jobless rate, etc. derail Obama's re-election campaign? I believe the answer is the American people are much more astute and aware than we give them credit. They know at a gut level Obama had nothing to do with hurricane Issa (or Sandy). They know he did not manipulate the unemployment numbers. They see right through conspiracy theories. They want the rich to pay more. They understand "Fast and Furious" launched under the Bush Administration had nothing to do with 2nd Amendment rights. They know Obama has the best interest of America at heart, despite Mr. D'Souza's books and movie. They don't blame Obama for the great recession, their confidence is up, and the economy is on the mend and on a growth trajectory.

 

Seymour Patterson received a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Oklahoma in 1980. He has taught courses and done research in international economics and economic development. He has been the recipient of two Fulbright awards--the first in (more...)
 
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In re-electing President Obama to serve four more ... by Seymour Patterson on Friday, Nov 30, 2012 at 9:05:39 AM
... by Michael Germain on Friday, Nov 30, 2012 at 9:06:10 AM
"However, Obama insists he will not compromise... by frang on Friday, Nov 30, 2012 at 6:36:46 PM
Just a thought, but it seems the phrase "conspirac... by Peter Duveen on Friday, Nov 30, 2012 at 7:11:08 PM