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Last Night I was Called a Purist

I've never supported Obama and my friends know that. They also know I am out of electoral politics and gone independently left libertarian. Last night I tried to stay out of a political discussion at a small get together of friends. But I did say that I thought it was unacceptable when Obama said he "suspected" that his position on SS was similar to Romney's. Although, I added, it was the most truthful thing he said all night. And then added that IMHO, he looked uncomfortable because he had to pretend he had a different economic philosophy than Romney and that was tiring for him.

Then my friend said, "What does it get you to be a purist?"
I said I'd rather drop the subject especially when labels got attached.
He looked a bit chagrined and said, "Well, I'm conflicted but don't see what else to do and would be interested in why you think not voting for him is the way to go."
I said again I'd like to drop it for the evening as I had 2 glasses of wine.

So we tabled the discussion, but I will make a lunch date to discuss further.

So this week I was called unpatriotic and a left wing fear monger by a woman on line when I made the same comment about SS and now a "purist" by a friend. I guess that is better than "zealot" that I was called last year. Or "a f**king retard". These are all from liberals. My conservative acquaintances actually are quite friendly and tend to agree with "a pox on both your houses".

What other names are there for those of us wandering in the wilderness and what should I discuss with my friend who wants me to explain my supposed purity?

No votes yet


techno's picture
Submitted by techno on

When they don't want to fight over economics? You put your finger in the real problem which is: when it comes to economics, the differences between Romney and Obama are miniscule.

Of course, your "liberal" friends think you are being a purist. After all, those folks have been selling out on economics since the Carter administration. There are people pushing 50 who think "cultural" issues are the only ones worth fighting. And now when the economy is falling in on them, they cannot even imagine why anyone would think it is a political issue.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

or individual liberties such as marriage equality without being tethered to economic justice has made the Democratic Party a hollow shell. Naomi Klein talks about her generation's myopia in her first and terrific book "No Logo". Her generation was busy trying to get more minority representation on TV while Corporations ate the world, she notes.

techno's picture
Submitted by techno on

Thought experiment. Imagine the uproar if Obama said in a press conference that he had come to believe that abortion is the murder of babies and was no longer going to pay attention to the pro-choice element of the Democratic Party.

Now imagine what happens when he sells out to Wall Street or determines the "responsible" thing is to raise the retirement age for Social Security. (Yawn, or approval from known liberals.)

And of course it has become perfectly acceptable to ignore the biggest threat to humanity—climate change. But I got three calls last week imploring me to vote against the so-called marriage amendment.

It's like I have been permanently stuck in junior high school.

wuming's picture
Submitted by wuming on

It has taken years for the economic issues to rise to the forefront. So many "liberals" were happy as long as they felt cultural issues were addressed. But they were absent on economic issues.

I think part of the problem came from the lack of alternative economic education. Most of your typical college-educated liberals absorbed the prevailing neo-liberal orthodoxy in school. It even penetrated to traditional leftist strongholds in the non-profit community. I'll never forget interviewing at an NPO in the 90s and hearing the new director talk about how he had an MBA and wanted to run it with "professional management." MBA and Masters of Public Administration programs have become stealth vehicles for neo-liberal economic assumptions.

And this is why MMT is so important.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

Neo liberalism sneaked in thru the new bogus MBA degrees.

I also had a hard time in 2004 when I joined the Edwards campaign getting anybody interested in workers rights and poverty. Labor issues were not on my college Boomer friends radar. It was all environment all the time. Most of the liberals here in Montana work in all kinds of non-profit wilderness, sustainability type orgs or anti-war groups. Few labor folks. Not until I met an art historian whose great uncle was Clarence Darrow and who was an anarchist syndicalist did I find one dedicated to organizing workers and putting economic justice issues at the forefront.

I'm an American Monetary Institute friend. Still not sure of what the difference is between them and MMT.

tarheel-leftist85's picture
Submitted by tarheel-leftist85 on

"Neoliberalization required both politically and economically the construction of a neoliberal market-based populist culture of differentiated consumerism and individual libertarianism. As such it proved more than little compatible with that cultural impulse called 'post-modernism' which had long been lurking in the wings but could now emerge full-blown as both a cultural and an intellectual dominant. This was the challenge that corporations and class elites set out to finesse in the 1980s." - David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism

Extrapolating, MBA/MPA programs, and humanities departments (which tend to feed people into these programs with such dismal job prospects otherwise) pushed the narratives of a "free market" being the most effective vehicle for social justice. Implicit in this idea, is, also to borrow from Harvey, the "financialization of everything" (including the acceptance of debt peonage via the financial-education complex). It would make sense that people under 50 - and I've previously been incorrect in limiting this phenomenon to people more immediate to my age cohort - operate according to the same paradigms (most prominently, that cultural affectations, or markers, define/govern one's political orientation).

tarheel-leftist85's picture
Submitted by tarheel-leftist85 on

Re: Market as a vehicle for social justice: I would say the rise in "private-public partnerships" and the general trust associated with such arrangements in providing for the social good, for one. Furthermore, and probably more comprehensively, this idea has been manifested in the market state concept which has been fleshed out on this site. By my understanding, the market state operates by using the government's sovereignty to enrich the private sector - in particular, those sectors which really have no productive output (e.g., insurance) - as gatekeeper to provision of actual goods/services (e.g., healthcare). Another example, I suppose, would be Congress abdicating it's power to "coin money and regulate the value thereof" to the private Federal Reserve banking cartel. Finally, instead of direct public sector job creation (through both massive national-scale projects and federally-funded/locally-democratically-executed projects), we have an arrangement of throwing no-strings money at companies to "create jobs" and at "higher"-education to issue meaningless credentials for "jobs" that never seem to materialize.

Re: It's all about the rents/rent-seeking: This is the tag I adopted after finding Corrente sometime around the end of 2009/beginning of 2010 (I'm always here, just don't comment!). It's here (this, for example) where I first became familiar with the concept of (economic) rents and how rent extraction is a function of political rent-seeking. Though many actors have developed revenue streams that keep people away from money/healthcare/food/transportation/etc., I think that probably the most important actor is that of the financial industry - that we are embedded in a hierarchical system of rent-seekers, atop of which is the financial industry. Broadly speaking, as business model, they have a strategic advantage: To make money, this sector does not have to provide any goods/services. Even as crappy as the Big Oil and other Big [insert other rent-seekers] are, they still provide a crappy "product" - a strategic(?) disadvantage or costs that the financial sector does not bear. I think it likely that other sectors, like "higher" education have co-evolved to accommodate for this hierarchy - that the administrations (self-licking ice-cream cones) are charged with arranging a system that maximizes rent streams to the financial sector, and in turn, receive a cut. To this end, that "all roads lead to finance," is something I've tried to propagate with my friends/family/acquaintances, as this sector are the rentier supremo. I really think it's catchy: Even my grandma is saying it!

Political rent-seeking, then, is basically about finding a stream of voters and keeping them from their preferred policies. Strategic hate-management plays a critical role, specifically, undermining the goals associated with each of the (complementary) cultural affectations, providing an illusion of choice to reinforce allegiance to one's tribe, and all the while harming the economic location of your host/client. In much the same way, parasites are wont to locate themselves on things to which the host depends as a point of access (e.g., a food source). So, as the financial sector must undermine households' finances (access points being through lower-ranked sectors like health, education, etc.) in order for these households to become even more reliant upon debt, the legacy parties must undermine their respective bases' objectives in order to make them ever more reliant on the party. With regard to the latter, the cultural affectations of the legacy parties offer an example: As society becomes more "immoral" or "intolerant," members of each base seek further refuge in and intensify their allegiance to each of the legacy parties. Recognizing the potential danger of widely-shared class consciousness, the parties have adapted with anti-classist rhetoric (Democrats and Republicans rail against different conceptions classism, treating class as just another identity*, not the same as class exploitation, and each legacy party has fashioned a different construction of class identity). (Anti-)Classism, a sort of psychological rent, functions as a barrier between people and their class consciousness. And this is something that the legacy parties have finessed.

The concept(s) parasitism and/or rent-seeking are useful in discussing the political-economic ramifications of MMT. Like standing/pooling water, standing/pooling money (either in the accumulating class or in the public sector "surplus") drives parasitism. So if a money-sovereign decides to destroy private sector surpluses, undoubtedly these surplus funds will come from the non-accumulating class, making this class further reliant upon the financial parasitic sector (most notably, retirement); before this, we do have enormous private sector surpluses - dollar for dollar, equivalent to the public sector debt - but which are mal-distributed, specifically pooled with the accumulating class which uses the leverage of their pooled money for parasitic extraction. A federal jobs guarantee removes some of this leverage. Even the inflation associated with more money is good for the non-accumulating class, as it mitigates the leverage of accumulated wealth (money just sitting loses value with growing wages).

* Amorphous and fragmenting, in contrast to the directness of Occupy's 99% locution

Submitted by lambert on

Says it more concisely and effectively than I have, if your Grandma gets it.

I really like the pooling water metaphor.

We might do one of those Corrente "evolve the talking points" posts we're so good at, in comments.

wuming's picture
Submitted by wuming on

if they would have voted in the old USSR?

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

"What does it get you to be a purist?" Maybe not a whole lot as an individual, though it can work out pretty well for you if you're seeking office. But, beyond that, unless you're a wealthy individual who exchanges ideas and does some horse trading with elected officials, regulators, agency heads, publishers, and other shakers and movers, the individual citizen's power to impact policy comes from joining together with like minded citizens and drawing a clear and deep line, or a few clear and deep lines, in the sand.

You'll notice that the Democratic Party has been effective in neutering its rank and file by telling them they have to look at the big picture, arguing Democrats have to play the long game, asking their voters, "this time," to take one for the team and, ever in the meantime, showing contempt for the whole idea of anyone being a narrow-minded single issue voter.

Meanwhile, over in the Republican Party they've built a coalition of single issue voters who are so powerful that even when they become inconvenient the party must respect them. These interests have become so powerful that, not only won't the Republican leadership try to buck them, in some cases neither will the Democratic leadership.

Examples of purists dominating Republicans and elected Democrats are in the matters of gun rights and Likudnik Zionism. I guess in the matter of raising revenues you do still see career Democrats taking different positions but you don't see that with Republicans. There is no room for dissent among Republicans on the matter of abortion, at least, not this side of rape, incest, and life of the mother exceptions. So far the pro-life movement has gotten most Democrats only to join in agreeing that they want to make abortion "rare."

Actually, it's the single issue voters on the right who have been playing the long game, who have been willing to see Republicans lose elections along the way, and who are those citizens who have been winning.*
*Of course, one's chances for political success bucking the status quo goes up if one is either advocating for a position the plutocracy doesn't care about or regarding an issue over which the plutocracy, itself, hasn't reached a consensus.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

were honestly surprised when I said the two men have similar positions on SS and Medicare. When I said that I thought the fix was in and that they were going to "reform" those programs during the lame duck, they thought I was nuts. Offered to bet real money. I said OK. So, people here and Naked Capitalism and other places seem to know a whole lot more than my Boomer friends who went to Harvard and Princeton.

It's the media, stupid. And The Nation et al are a big part of the problem.

Submitted by Hugh on

If a purist is someone who stands up for what they believe, then I would ask your friends when they started thinking that was something they could no longer do.

Me, I would talk about wealth inequality, how the top 20% own 93% of the non-house wealth in the country and how that affects everything else going on in the country.

I would remind your friends that Obama could have put the fear of God into Wall Street and the Republicans by investigating and prosecuting those responsible for the largest frauds in human history (and which led to the 2008 meltdown), and by doing the same on torture.

I would remind them that he could have left Iraq within 12 months of his Inauguration instead of the three years it took, and that to the end Obama tried to find a way to keep US troops in Iraq. He could have pulled out of Afghanistan in the same timeframe. Instead he has tried to arrange to keep US troops there until at least 2024.

I would remind them, since so many are environmentalists, that Obama pushed every agency that had anything to do with the BP blowout in the Gulf to minimize the extent of the disaster, that he even had them threaten and close down any independent assessment of the blowout, that most of the money in the fund to compensate those damaged by the blowout remains unspent, and that money was initially supposed to be only a down payment, and that Obama never pursued BP for criminal negligence.

That with Obama as with the Democratic party, it is not that they accomplished so little but that they fought for even less.

If your friends are anything like the people I know who remain Democrats, all this will go in one ear and out the other.

Submitted by hipparchia on

would some montana history references help?


are any of your neighbors involved in, or even just interested in, the montana farmers union?

they seem to be a fairly middle-of-the-road bunch, judging by their support of a public option as part of a solution to the current health care crisis [see page 17]. from the same page, here's their position on social security:

44 - Oppose any cuts in benefits and cost of living
45 increases for Social Security recipients
46 - Oppose any changes in the program, which would
47 raise or move the retirement age
49 - Oppose taxing of Social Security benefits by the
50 state of Montana
52 - Support raising the maximum income level upon
53 which a person is required to pay social security
54 taxes in order to maintain solvency of the Social
55 Security System (1999)

sounds pretty radical compared to the present-day discussion of social security, but then there's this: the montana farmers union is a chapter of the national farmers union, which started out this way:

1902: NFU is founded by grassroots farmers concerned with stability and farm income. One newspaperman, one county clerk, one physician, one country schoolteacher, and six farmers. By Political party: Three Populist, one Socialist, one Independant, and five Democrats. Lee Seamster, first NFU president. Newt Gresham, founder.

no purists there! ;)


then there's one of your state's former senators, james murray, described here as a staunch liberal and aggressive supporter of the New Deal Coalition:

After the war, the conservatives controlled Congress, so Murray had little success with his proposals to expand Social Security, provided free medical care for the aged, expand federal aid to education, or create a Missouri Valley Authority with the federal control over Montana's water resources patterned after the Tennessee Valley Authority.

although he didn't get very far expanding social security and creating a national health program, he's important enough to rate a mention in the history of social security:

Beginning in 1939, the annual reports of the Social Security Board had begun to include lengthy discussions of health issues and summaries of the National Health Program. In 1942 the Board expressed support for a unified and comprehensive social insurance system, including health benefits. Also in 1942, Congress authorized a system of emergency he.alth services for the dependents ,of servicemen in the lower four pay grades. Known as EMIC (for Emergency Maternity and Infancy Care), the program seemed to some to be a precedent that could ease the passage at war's end of a health insurance system for the general public.

By 1943 the tide of battle had turned in favor of the Allies, and postwar reconstruction problems began to receive increasing attention. President Roosevelt, in his state of the Union message that year, for the first time called for a social insurance system that would extend "from the cradle to the grave." His plea followed closely the publication by t,he British of the famed "Beveridge Report." This report, advocating a comprehensive social welfare system for postwar Britain, caused considerable excitement in the United Skates and spurred the Roosevelt administration to release a similar high-level report by the National Resources Planning Board. Shortly afterward, Sir William Beveridge, chairman of the commission that had drafted the British report, came to the United States for a lecture tour, and his tour stimulated further public discussion of health insurance and other social security issues.

President Roosevelt evidently felt the time was not yet appropriate for a Presidential endorsement, but he was amenable to Senator Wagner's introducing a bill for broad improvements and additions to the Social Security Act, including health insurance measures. Accordingly, the Social Security Board drafted a bill which was introduced on June 3,1943, by Senator Wagner and Senator James Murray of Montana (S. 1161)and Representative John Dingell of Michigan (H.R. 2861) (2) As its drafters and sponsors had expected, the Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill signaled the beginning of the political debate that would come to a climax in the postwar years.


dunno if your friends will see all these historical figures as ultimately being "losers," [there's a good possibility they will] seeing as how nowadays "everybody knows" that "social security is going broke" and that medicare for all is "socialism" and so forth, and will see that as justification for hating on purists.

otoh, if you can find enough local or state historical figures (who might even be in your friends' family trees!) that have championed social justice, liberalism, socialism, radicalism, etc, and talk about them and their work and their legacies, then maybe some of your friends will get the subliminal message that they should be carrying on some of those legacies...

hard to break through the security blanket of tribalism, but for talking politics with my almost-liberal friends, i've found that going back in time until we reach a liberal politician that we both agree on, the conversation can then revolve around issues, rather than personalities. sometimes i even succeed in subtly egging them on until they go so far as to ask who i'm going to vote for [jill stein, for president].

[note to self: just to make my almost-liberal friends feel safer, i should probably find a way to make jill stein appear to be just a wee bit to the right of fdr. there's probably a way to do that...]

now that i'm firmly established among my friends and family as an unabashed bleeding-heart liberal and/or socialist, i can [occasionally] even just start right off with ok, the token socialist is here! we can start talking politics now! free health care for everybody! including illegal aliens!

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

I can ask him what his label is. Along those lines, would Tarheel Leftist's ideas about neo-liberalism being the only practical way to solve economic injustice be called pragmatic?

Submitted by lambert on

"pragmatist" would shade over into "adult."

There are a lot of ways to be in the inside of the tent, fewer ways to be on the outside. So I'm not sure it's binary (opposite).

Submitted by YesMaybe on

If I were a democrat apologist, in addition to 'pragmatist,' I might refer to myself as 'reasonable' or 'realistic.' And I would refer to Obama using these terms, as opposed to, say, 'war criminal' or 'phony.'

Regarding your other suggestion, I think it's hard to say. On the one hand, there is a strong There Is No Alternative stream in questions of political economy. But it is usually left unsaid. The true 'pragmatists' like Obama and his supporters don't really even bother with such thoughts. They just stick to slogans like "everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share and everyone plays by the same rules" and talking about Warren Buffet's secretary. 'Economic justice' simply doesn't have a nice ring to their ears--the only kind of 'justice' they support is via drones or special ops.

tarheel-leftist85's picture
Submitted by tarheel-leftist85 on

If it doesn't, please forgive - i'm tangled in threads!

I would say that neoliberalism is proffered as the practical solution to inequality (hesitant to go so far as economic inequality*). I used to think that neoliberal ideology was pretty much congruent with those in my age group, the 20s. Through my experience in my few years out of school, however, I think it's a pervading ideology among the college educated post-1970s. Techno's comment really brought it home. This expansion from sub-30 year olds to sub-60 goes back to the Harvey quotation I cited earlier. In the 1980s, I hope I'm not doing a disservice to Harvey, colleges became repositories of and the testing grounds for competing consumer identities. And opportunity costs of devoting intellectual energy to these identities include(d) subjecting the emergence of monetarism (which had, I believe, had begun to supplant Keynesianism a decade before) to the scrutiny/disdain it deserves, challenging/advancing post-Keynesian alternative explanations to the government-as-household myth, and refuting NAIRU and other mythologies with the ample empirical data available.

Maybe foily, but I don't think it's a coincidence that the Obamney twins are talking about SS "reform"(TM) not applying to current recipients (at least before Grand Bargain lame-duck session time - maybe there's sacrifice for all ages!). Because those in their fifties and younger were trained in the sort of institution described by Harvey, they are more likely to accept the debt terrorism, inflation terrorism, and other deadly innocent frauds. Even though not everyone sub-fifties went to college, those who did were charged with shaping/nurturing/promoting (complementary) cultural affectations to be transferred to those who didn't go. To the extent that these affectations were received in the public at large, the positive correlation between college attendance and electoral participation may be seen as (1) an indication that investment (or lack thereof) in electoral politics is a function of (complementary) cultural affectations (or the failure to adopted them), (2) the extent to which people adopt these affectations relies upon the proportion of people attending school**. My error in limiting to sub-thirties, I suppose, is a product of presiding over College Democrats. Most meetings seemed to devolve into bashing dumb redneck others (what, I suppose, became Obie's "bitter" "clingers"). It became apparent when talking to professors more extensively during my grad education and to older (sub-fifties) college-educated colleagues, that the same neoliberal orientation predominates.

* I'm maybe nit-picking but I'd almost leave out the economic modifier. Neoliberalism allows for class exploitation pretty openly IMO (hence, the current obsession with "leadership" and becoming a leader and so forth), but doesn't tolerate classism. As the "free market" is advanced as a solution to racism/sexism/etc., classism is thrown in as another identity. You may be poor, but you won't be treated poorly! Try to become a leader, and take out non-dischargeable student loans for education!
** Getting people to attend college achieves two things: (1) increases rent-streams; and (2) creates a sort of critical mass that allows neoliberal ideology to spread beyond those who go/went.

Hopefully, some of this makes sense!


So, where does the generational cleavage fall, if anywhere, with regard to the inter-generational hate management propagated by the legacy parties (e.g., lazy youths? square oldies? hedonistic boomers/x-ers?). Sorry, however irresponsible, I refuse to speculate! Personally I know it's about looting among the rentier class and not some generational dynamic. For the purposes of the legacy parties, I think the most critical cleavage or axis of hate management is (going to be) between the sub-fifty/sixty year olds (college-educated and who've achieved a critical mass such that neoliberal ideologies are accepted without any scrutiny) and those above sixty. From my own observations, people in their 20s are sort of buddy-buddy with their parents, but I can sense animous toward those beyond their parent(s)' age. Ironically, it'll be the "pragmatists" who're stung by their own ideology. But I'd definitely like to hear others' ideas/observations on this point.

And MM, please do read Harvey's book! It's was a dense read for me, though!

Submitted by lambert on

... exactly when this sea change took place (and real wages flattened etc.)

Je repete, this and the other long comment on this post really ought to be posts in their own right, if only to make sure they are searchable by the Google. What prevents? Modesty or diffidence, heaven forfend?

tarheel-leftist85's picture
Submitted by tarheel-leftist85 on

Do you mean simply to post these comments as a blog post (maybe some cleaning up?), or something else?

Submitted by lambert on

If your grandmother is getting it, there's no cause for diffidence!

Yes, take and clean up as needed -- shouldn't take much -- and turn into a blog post. Because obviously the way you are explaining the concepts is getting traction, so more should learn!

Alexa's picture
Submitted by Alexa on

proposals do exclude current Social Security beneficiaries--except for the proposed change in the CPI-Index, which will apply to ALL seniors--they do not exclude seniors age 55 and older who are NOT current retirees. And, in regard to Medicare reform, some provisions apply to current retirees, others do not. [Revised my wording for clarity.]

OTOH, Republicans explicitly say that they will exclude retired seniors and seniors near-retirement, ages 55 and older. (Which is not to say that I believe them.)

That's one of the main reasons that the senior vote swung so heavily toward Republicans in the 2010 mid-term election. See here and here.

It will be interesting to see what percentage of the senior vote that Republicans manage to garner in November. Among my personal and professional cohorts, quite a number are switching parties due to this issue (much like the folks featured in the articles above, did).

But even more interesting, it's not just Boomers. Several of the "under-40 crowd" want to see Social Security include "personal accounts," or be partially privatized.

This Administration has endorsed Bowles-Simpson (through Jack Lew on video with the Financial Times, which I can't link to because my subscription has expired) and The Gang of Six proposal from last July. Here's the link to President Obama endorsing Gang's plan during a press conference.

I personally believe that it should remain an intact "defined benefits" insurance program, and that the only change to it should be raising (if not completely lifting) the cap for taxable wages. I also would not be against a small increase in the dedicated Social Security tax.

But, increasingly, it appears that both parties intend to dismantle the social safety net, as we know it.

Thanks for this post, MontanaMaven. That word (purist) has been tossed at me a few times. LOL!

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

uncomfortable at the labeling. I think the issue is justice. You're someone who cares about social, economic, and legal justice for everyone. I don't think that makes you a purist. It just means that you care more about justice than about short-run pragmatism. I agree with you about that and have been warning since the early days of the Obama Administration that it would fail if he continued to ignore Justice and Fairness.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

Thanks. The abolitionist minister and Transcendentalist Theodore Parker, "I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one. . . . But from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice." Though it may be long, it doesn't mean we just sit around and wait. Or compromise our values of justice and fairness.