Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Hunt for Red October

“The New Communists”
Scanned by blogger Andrew Potter for

This image was a full-page ad in September 23rd’s New York Times paid for by Bill Perkins, a Houston-based venture capitalist, who’s obviously disgusted with the government’s plan to bailout Wall Street. As can be seen, it shows Bush, Bernanke and Paulson erecting an American flag (mimicking the iconic American WWII photograph by Joe Rosenthal called “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima”) with a hammer and the sickle and inscribed with “Big Insurance,” “Detroit Auto” and “Wall St. Banks.” In the background you see the tombstones of “Private Enterprise” and “Capitalism.” The message is clear. To some, the bailout is nothing short of financial socialism, and Bush, Bernake and Paulson are the New Communists.

This is a widely held opinion. Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky) has called the bailout "economic socialism and “un-American." Martin Schram’s column "The September Surprise shows Bush to be a socialist” says Bush will be remembered as a president who “brought socialism to the citadel of capitalism -- Wall Street.” Every column by Cliff Kincaid, editor of the right wing
Accuracy in the Media Report, invokes socialism: Socialist “Bailout” Could Spark Collapse (9/29), Will Conservatives Embrace Socialism? (9/27/), Senator Bunning Blasts “Financial Socialism” (9/24).

Interestingly, most of these critiques don’t actually explain why the bailout could be a bad idea. They operate under the assumption that Americans will stay true to Red Scare logic: “If the bailout looks like financial socialism and everything socialist is bad, the bailout must be bad.” Last time I checked, China’s economy wasn’t doing too badly. I wasn’t around during the Red Scare; can someone tell me what’s wrong with financial socialism?

According to Chomsky and Herman’s propaganda model in their book Manufacturing Consent, the ideology of “anti-communism” prevails in the news media. While looking at the coverage of the bailout, does this still apply?

The criticisms of the bailout that invokes socialism is coming from free market freaks on the right who want the bill to fail on principle. This opinion is by no means mainstream. Sen. Jim Bunning’s quotes are buried in the tail-end of NY Times hard news stories. The mainstream, as demonstrated by the stand taken by the two presidential candidates, supports the bill as a necessary evil.

If the anti-communism filter still prevails, the criticism would be front and center. The mainstream media's support of the bailout support is evidence of another of Chomsky's filters, the corporate ownership of the mainstream media. Of course they're going to side with the institutions that sign their paychecks, they're not going to wish destitution on their parents.

But I’d bet in a country with healthy, vigorous, independent media outlets, the bailout would have been openly opposed on the editorial pages of all ideological slants: by those on the far left, eager to see what happens when Capitalism is left to its own devices, and those on the far right, who want to keep the free market intact at all costs.

1 comment:

M. Dery said...

Fascinating post, bristling with sharply drawn opinions and supported by colorful quotes (headlines, mostly). I would have liked to have seen juicier, more substantial quotes from the opposing voices, and would have been curious to hear any bona fide socialists who APPROVE of the bailout for socialist reasons, as well as from any media critics who've tracked the use of red-baiting, Cold War 2.0 rhetoric on the business pages, in regard to the bailout. Also, you might have complexified your argument by noting the extent to which our allegedly "free" market is in fact government subsidized. (Two examples among many: the longstanding taxpayer subsidization, through noncompetitive gov't contracts, of the aerospace industry; periodic gov't infusions of cash to perform financial CPR on the chronically ailing commercial aviation industry.) As well, why not discuss the seemingly sacrosanct nature of free-market or "neoliberal" capitalism in American culture, and the newsmedia's seeming support for that orthodoxy? If socialism is so risibly impractical, so doomed to failure, what's to fear from a Marxian critique of capitalism? Shouldn't dissenting voices have a seat at the debate? Quoting media critics from the left press---Z magazine, Counterpunch, In These Times, The Nation, Mother Jones, Amy Goodman, The Progressive---would have sharpened the points of debate in your post.