Not Born Yesterday: Why Can’t We Have an Honest Political Discussion?

When I attended BlogHer 2011, I came across a booth labeled “Bankrupting America.”  This was a supposedly non-partisan organization that was looking to foster interest among bloggers in advocating for a balanced Federal budget.

Non-partisan, my ass.

I listened politely to what they had to say: that the Federal budget deficit is a terrible legacy to leave our children.

Guess what? That’s a fact that Democrats, Republicans and Independents can all agree on.

The difference is in how to address it, and that’s where this “non-partisan” organization shows its very partisan underpinnings.

I would not have given them much thought today, if not for the fact that I left my card with them last year and so now receive their emails. And today’s mailing made me see red:

“HELP US PUT ECONOMICS BEFORE POLITICS!”

which linked to a petition (emblazoned with both the GOP elephant and Democratic donkey) urging both parties to “address our economic challenges and cut government spending.”

As if budget cuts alone would work. While the economy at large is still wobbly.

How disingenuous can these people be? It is impossible to divorce politics from a discussion of the Federal budget, because the document itself is a policy statement: a result of decisions we make on how what our government does for us and how we pay for it.

And this is what makes me want to scream when I listen to conservatives. They are all for government spending when it comes to defense. Believe me, I also want us to have a strong military. But I also think we should honor our troops by paying them wages that will allow them to support their families, by taking care of them after they have served our country with medical care (including mental health services) and college opportunities.

Bankrupting America is a project of a group called Public Notice, whose mission statement claims “Our goal is to provide Americans with clear, unbiased, and useful information about key economic and fiscal issues. Because America’s future should rest in the capable hands of a knowledgeable people.”

The information Public Notice offers sounds an awful lot like the Tea Party platform: Reduce spending on social programs and cut taxes for the wealthy. That doesn’t sound non-partisan to me.

A non-partisan organization devoted to educating the American public might acknowledge that the budget surplus we had at the end of the Clinton administration was squandered by George W. Bush, between tax cuts we did not need and his decision to fight TWO wars with borrowed money.

A non-partisan organization devoted to educating the American public might offer information on the entire spectrum of solutions to our fiscal woes. Where is the opinion of Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman, who has pointed out that thanks to a rush of foreign investors who are parking their money in dollars, now is the perfect time to invest in much-needed infrastructure — which will have a ripple effect on our economy (infrastructure projects will create jobs, which will put money in people’s pockets and tax revenue in the government’s coffers)?

How about the People’s Budget, put forth last year as a counter to the Ryan Plan by the Congressional Progressive Caucus?

The People’s Budget eliminates the deficit in 10 years, puts Americans back to work and restores our economic competitiveness. The People’s Budget recognizes that in order to compete, our nation needs every American to be productive, and in order to be productive we need to raise our skills to meet modern needs.

Our Budget Eliminates the Deficit and Raises a $31 Billion Surplus In Ten Years 
Our budget protects Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and responsibly eliminates the deficit by targeting its main drivers: the Bush Tax Cuts, the wars overseas, and the causes and effects of the recent recession.

Our Budget Puts America Back to Work & Restores America’s Competitiveness
• Trains teachers and restores schools; rebuilds roads and bridges and ensures that users help pay for them
• Invests in job creation, clean energy and broadband infrastructure, housing and R&D programs.

But the only facts you will see on the Bankrupting America site are the ones that support their premise that spending on “entitlements” like Social Security and Medicare are the problem, and if we just eliminate that, our problems will be solved.

The Executive Director of Public Notice and Bankrupting America is a woman named Gretchen Hamel, a former PR specialist for the Bush administration. In 2010, FactCheck.org listed Bankrupting America as a “Conservative-leaning group that focuses on federal spending:”

Public Notice runs a project it calls “Bankrupting America,” dedicated to criticizing federal spending and the stimulus measure in particular. Its slick website contains an interactive “Spending Fail Map” of the U.S. listing supposedly wasteful stimulus projects, and a video spoof in which a woman with a microphone describes ridiculous-sounding spending projects and asks people on the street whether they are “real or fake.” (Spoiler alert: They’re all real examples cited by Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and John McCain of Arizona.) The website is bipartisan to this degree: It contains a page criticizing both President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush for their “unfortunate similarities,” saying they both “love to spend.”

Hamel would tell us nothing about who gives to her organization, or even whether or not it accepts corporate funding. “We do not discuss our organization’s finances,” she said in a telephone interview on Oct. 5. The group says on its websites that it is organized as a Limited Liability Company with tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code. That leaves it legally free to accept corporate funds, without disclosing its donors publicly.

The Center for Media & Democracy points out that a refusal to reveal its funding is one of the most common features of a political front group… and that Gretchen Hamel attended the Koch brothers’ June, 2010 strategy meeting. So I think we can lay to rest any pretense of Bankrupting America being non-partisan.

And that’s what gets my goat.

Gretchen Hamel is entitled to her opinion. In fact, a free exchange of ideas is essential to a functioning democracy. Let’s have this debate.

But can we agree to do it out in the open?

Why pretend you are non-partisan when you very clearly do have a particular political viewpoint? Don’t you think that’s — I don’t know — dishonest? And sneaky?

There’s a word for that: propaganda.

I and the other women who write for this site make it very clear where our views stand: We call ourselves the MOMocrats. We are Liberals and we’re not afraid to tell you which side of the political divide we are on. You can hear what we have to say and take it with a grain of whatever you want, but you will always know where we’re coming from.

 


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