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Serving the Establishment instead of questioning it

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Matt Bai's piece in the New York Times magazine is a sad display of a writer who is clearly angry about his own cognitive limitations and inability to see beyond his insulated little world - and thus spastically lashes out at his ideological opponents because he simply doesn't know what else to do. In writing a piece about the long-term future of the economy and lamenting about those who are supposedly clinging to the past, he shows that he is the one caught in the past, as if totally brainwashed by the corporate propaganda he is undoubtedly flooded with as a journalist.

Bai's major limitation in his current piece is that he simply assumes as fact that all of the trends in America's current economy - lack of job security, stagnating wages, etc. - are just the natural way of things, and that there's positively nothing we can do to make the world's most powerful economy actually work for ordinary people. To him and many other pundits in the political chattering class, this is just an unquestionable axiom, which is particularly sad since journalists are actually supposed to question the power Establishment, not bow down to it and kiss its ass. For Bai et al, the sky is blue, water is wet and ordinary Americans will continue getting the economic shaft - and there's just nothing the people's government can do about any of it, other than maybe to throw more taxpayer cash at the wealthy.

After laying out this thesis, Bai then posits different ideas about how government can properly operate in this world that he asserts can't be changed. But even in undertaking that tiny exercise, he actually omits the biggest obstacle to realizing his incredibly short-sighted dream.

Specifically, Bai basically argues that we should not expect businesses to finance health care plans for their employees because foreign competition with slave-wage work in the developing world would put those businesses at a disadvantage. He then seems to advocate for "government" picking up the tab to provide health insurance for everyone.

Beyond the fact that Bai simply accepts the "free" trade orthodoxy that creates this ridiculously unfair playing field is the fact that he is simultaneously arguing that taxpayers must relieve businesses of health care mandates, but that the government should pay for health insurance. But here's the thing - where does he think we're going to get the money to pay for a universal health care system?

Frankly, it seems as if he is arguing for a universal health care system that exempts businesses from having to pay additional taxes for that health insurance system. Without additional corporate tax revenues, then, the system he advocates for would have to be financed by massive tax increases almost exclusively on the middle class.

This is a good description of what I have written about before: the difference between liberalism of the past, and progressivism of the future. For all of his dismissive rhetoric about how the Democratic Party is clinging to ancient priorities, Bai and much of the pundit class are the ones caught in the past, advocating the worst kind of tax and spend policies liberals have been chastised for: handing over huge amounts of taxpayer dollars, financed by middle class tax increases, in order to do what government refuses to force Corporate America and the wealthy to do, which is pay their fair share like the rest of us. Of course, that outlook from the punditocracy is likely no accident - it's no secret that many of today's media are more interested in serving power than questioning it.

But make no mistake about it - a real vision for the future is not Bai's wet dream of a corporate welfare state. It is a progressive ideology which says that the big economic players must play by certain rules if they want access to the American market. One of those rules should be providing health insurance to workers, or coughing up a fair share of cash to help the government provide that health insurance itself. Otherwise, we continue to sit by as our economy serves only the wealthy, and perpetuates a war on America's middle class.
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David Sirota is a full-time political journalist, best-selling author and nationally syndicated newspaper columnist living in Denver, Colorado. He blogs for Working Assets and the Denver Post's PoliticsWest website. He is a Senior Editor at In These Times magazine, which in 2006 received the Utne Independent Press Award for political coverage. His 2006 book, Hostile Takeover, was a New York Times bestseller, and is now out in paperback. He has been a guest on, among others, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and NPR. His writing, which draws on his (more...)

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