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Bachmann/Ryan Overdrive: A High-Speed Escape From Economic Reality

Richard (RJ) Eskow : Consultant, Writer,  Senior Fellow with The Campaign for America’s Future – Posted: 04/14/11 04:11 PM ET


Remember all those mini-movies that summarized a broad topic in two minutes? Whether the subject was the Civil War, the magical things that happen when you multiply by ten, or the complete history of Western Civilization, these little films covered it all in one rapid-fire shot after another, giving you a whole lot of information — and a splitting headache — in a very short period of time.

The first couple minutes of this Michelle Bachmann Today show interview are like that. She runs through the entire litany of conservatism’s disproven economic cliches in 100 seconds or less. without even getting short of breath. If someone ever wants to make one of those two-minute movies and call it The Ideas That Crushed the American Dream, Rep. Bachmann’s already written the script.

Fire it up and watch her go! We’ll sound the bell every time she floats a discredited idea. Ready?

Raising taxes for the wealthy shouldn’t be “on the table,” says Bachmann, because “tax rates are high enough (ding!), and history shows (ding!) that when we raise taxes, particularly on job creators (ding!) we actually bring in less revenue (ding! ding! ding!) rather than more.”

Forget what I said about two-minute movies. Michelle Bachmann could cover Western Civilization in ten seconds.

I was on a talk radio show from St. Louis yesterday with a guy from the Heritage Foundation who used the same “history shows us” line. What history actually shows us is that we lost jobs after the Bush tax cuts, even before deregulation brought down the economy. History also shows us that our periods of greatest economic prosperity occurred when taxes were higher than they are now.

The history of the Great Depression shows that it took a lot of government investment to get people working and the economy growing — and that this investment paid off handsomely. FDR listened to the Bachmannites of his time in the late 1930’s, and that’s when everything started falling apart again. So history shows us that we need government investment to reduce persistent unemployment.

And “job creators”? Oh, please. Wall Street financiers have regained their pre-crash parasitical economic stranglehold, seizing nearly 40% of corporate profits. They’re getting rich by not creating jobs, and sometimes by destroying them through destructive hedging. Corporate profits are at historic highs and taxes for the wealthy are at historic lows, yet people in the real world are still taking the world’s longest unemployment gut-punch. Which raises the question:

If these guys are “job creators,” where are the jobs?

“Do we want more revenue or more taxes?” Bachmann asks rhetorically. Because the two don’t go together.”

As the young people say (picture a finger snap here): Oh no she didn’t!

Did she cite the Laffer Curve? Yes, she did. Michelle Bachmann just brought out the most discredited theory in modern economic history: the notion that people will stop making money if taxes are too high, so overall government income will fall and not rise. There’s only one thing that contradicts that theory: The economic history of every single nation on the planet.

The Laffer curve argument goes like this: if you taxed everybody 100% of everything they earned, nobody would ever bother to make money. So it must be bad to increase taxes. That sort of reasoning cuts both ways: If you paid everybody zero for their work, nobody would bother working. But they never use that logic to fight for a higher minimum wage.

Economists like the name “Laffer curve” because this theory is always good for a laugh.

“You could actually confiscate (ding!) all the wealth that people make at $200,000 or more,” says Bachmann, “and that would only yield about six or seven months of revenue to run the government.”

Hey, that’s half the whole cost of government! She’s selling the idea pretty well!

Conservatives love that word “confiscate.” They’re the same ones who say they’d lay down their lives for their country. But pay four pennies on the dollar on six-figure income? Forget it. That’s dictatorship! Think of it: Our highest tax bracket under Dwight D. Eisenhower was 91% percent. He must be the greatest dictator of all time!

This is the type of person who loves to sing along when they play that song about sacrificing everything for this country — you know the one. All the Democrats are proposing is a four-and-a-half percent increase on income over $250,000. “There ain’t no doubt I love this land” — but not enough to chip in for it.

Here’s the song they should really be singing.

Know what’s funny? Bachmann and her colleagues are the same people people who think we can’t afford to pay thirty million dollars per year to predict coastal storms and floods and plan for disasters. These floods create an average of $11 billion in damage every year, along with loss of life — and they think we can’t spare a few million to lower that cost and save some lives. Yet they’ll give away hundreds of billions in tax expenditures like it was peanut butter in a smoke-filled college dorm.

For the Representative from Minnesota it’s “confiscate” this and “take 100 percent” of that… on and on and on… until all of the ridiculous rhetorical tricks that got us into this mess begin to flicker stroboscopically and the rational listener is in danger of having a seizure, like those cartoon-watching kids from a few years back.

Bachmann goes on in this vein for what seems like forever, but which in reality is only four minutes or so. This alteration in subjective temporal experience is produced by something physicists call the “Mind Dilation Effect,” in which time appears to be moving more slowly as the flow of bullsh*t approaches the speed of light. We see every single conservative cliche simultaneously, as if …

Well, almost all. She left out one of their favorites, the one that says “If you could go back in time one day for every dollar the government spends, you’d be face to face with Jesus.” Just as well. With all their cuts to life-saving health care and law enforcement programs, it looks like a lot of other people are gonna wind up face-to-face with Jesus too.

“Already again,” she says later, “the top 1% of income earners pay about 40% of all taxes.” (That’s not the right number, because it leaves out other forms of taxes, but whatever.) Why do the top 1% pay a large share of taxes? Because the top 400 families in America are richer than the bottom fifty percent of the entire country! So of course they pay a big chunk of income tax, even after they’re coddled with tax breaks galore.

Rep. Bachmann sure has a lot of talking points, but here’s an odd thing: When Matt Lauer asked about the CBO’s report on, which documents the devastating financial impact their Medicare cuts would have on seniors, suddenly she tells us she “hasn’t had a chance to look at the study.”

“But it’s important for us to understand,” Bachmann continues, “that individualism (ding!) and personal responsibility (ding!) have always been a bedrock of this country.”

When it comes to the whole “devastating financial impact” question, I’ll take that as a “yes.”

There’s more, but you get the gist. Some people think she’s a little nuts, and they’ll even get a little personal by mentioning that Children of the Damned-ish glint in her eyes. Actually she’s very polished and effective here. Somebody’s been coaching her, both on presentation and on talking points.

Still, her ideas are as radical and as detached from reality as ever. But as Dave Johnson points out, Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposed budget is too extreme even for her.

And that’s how it is on the Right these days. You can always tell that a movement’s degenerating into extremism when the radicals start attacking each other. Think Stalin vs. Trotsky, or that big squabble among birthers a couple of years back. And don’t forget the Judean People’s Front vs. the People’s Front of Judaea. (“Splitters!”)

Now we’re in Bachmann/Ryan Overdrive time. These Representatives and other members of the Right are in a high-speed race to see who can outbid the other to win the extreme vote. I’m not against radicalism — it’s can be a laboratory for new ideas — but they’ve seen that responsible members of the far Right like Ron Paul are suddenly at risk of being thrown over by the Tea Party. That means that the Ryans and Bachmanns are going to keep upping the ante as long as they can. It’s like the game of chicken in Rebel Without a Cause where neither driver will take his foot off the accelerator until somebody goes over the cliff.

Hope it’s not us.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.


Richard (RJ) Eskow

Richard (RJ) Eskow, a consultant and writer (and former insurance/finance executive), is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future. This post was produced as part of the Curbing Wall Street project and the Strengthen Social Security campaign. Richard also blogs at A Night Light.

He can be reached at “”

Website: Eskow and Associates

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