My friend Swamp Rabbit was trying to make me stop reading a lengthy op-ed with the provocative headline “Plutocrats vs. Populists.” “This paper ain’t fit to wrap fish in,” he said. “Even virtual fish.”
He’s right. The New York Times rarely publishes anything truly provocative — I thought they were trending the other way in summer 2011, but I was wrong — even if the subject is as important as corruption of government by the super-rich. The piece on plutocrats, by Chrystia Freeland, “a Liberal Party candidate for the Canadian Parliament,” makes so classic a case of false equivalence that I’m tempted to think The Times’s former editor Bill Keller helped write it. The first paragraph:
Here’s the puzzle of America today: the plutocrats have never been richer, and their economic power continues to grow, but the populists, the wilder the better, are taking over. The rise of the political extremes is most evident, of course, in the domination of the Republican Party by the Tea Party and in the astonishing ability of this small group to shut down the American government. But the centrists are losing out in more genteel political battles on the left, too — that is the story of Bill de Blasio’s dark-horse surge to the mayoralty in New York, and of the Democratic president’s inability to push through his choice to run the Federal Reserve, Lawrence H. Summers.
Populists are “taking over” what, exactly? How do you define “centrist” when one of the two major parties keeps moving further to the right? How accurate is the phrase “rise of the political extremes,” given the fact that only one party, the GOP, is pushing an ideologically driven agenda? Use of the plural “extremes” points to the big lies at the core of Freeland’s argument — that populists are undermining plutocrats and their lobbyists, who control both major parties, and that left-wing populists — whoever they are — are having an impact on Democratic policy-making.
Freeland compares the GOP’s shutdown of the government with the Democrats’ nomination of De Blasio and resistance to Summers, as if these are equally significant examples of extremist power. As if the accepted choice for the Fed, Janet Yellen, is a fire-breathing leftist. As if there is a Tea Party equivalent on the left. As if there are any true leftists in the Dem Party!
If the Dems had a left wing, Obama’s nomination for a second term wouldn’t have gone unchallenged. There would have been resistance in the party to massive tax breaks for mega-corporations, pressure to prosecute George W. Bush and other war criminals, a strong push for single-payer insurance rather than acceptance of clumsy Obamacare. We would have seen a real fight for laws to address climate change and a serious effort to create jobs programs and rescue homeowners rather than big banks.
Freeland warms up using false premises then spouts one logical fallacy after another. Her false equivalence of the GOP’s billionaire-backed “populists” with mythical left-wing foes of the Obama administration seems willfully obtuse. Honest observers know the Tea Party is on board with plutocrats, and that the left — such as it is — is not.
But The Times is interested in the appearance of so-called objectivity, not in presenting an honest assessment of our broken political system, even in the op-ed pages. The plutocrats who own The Times and the other media giants don’t allow that.