History: Lies taste good, but cause starvation
by Melvyn L. Fein
columnist
February 11, 2013 12:38 AM | 1425 views | 11 11 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
George Santayana’s observation that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” is widely known. Yet sadly, this dictum is widely ignored in the political arena. In politics, ideology seems to trump history almost every time.

I encountered this phenomenon last year in debating representatives of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Thus, when I cited the impact of raising taxes during the Great Depression, the response was that this did not matter. The times, my opponents declared, were different back then. No evidence as to why this was so was adduced — they just were.

Indeed, I routinely confront a comparable lack of historical consciousness in my classes at Kennesaw State University. Many of the students neither know, nor care, about what happened before they were born. They deem this irrelevant to their current circumstances.

The same mindset recently came up with respect to inflation. I began by observing that with the federal government spending far more than it takes in from taxes, elementary economics tells us that something has to give. The Federal Reserve cannot keep printing money without making each dollar less valuable.

When I said this, however, a sea of blank eyes stared up at me. Most of the students had no idea of what inflation was or how it felt. They had not lived through the Carter administration, when I, for instance, paid 16 percent interest to obtain a mortgage. Nor had they read about Germany’s Weimar Republic, where it took trillions of marks to buy a loaf of bread.

For similar reasons, when Bill Clinton assured voters that Barack Obama had dealt with the present economic downturn as well as anyone could, they did not possess the data with which to dispute him. They, for example, had no idea that the reviled Warren Harding got us out of a nasty recession following World War I, and did so much more quickly than Obama.

Nor were they aware that Ronald Reagan also hastened us out of a recession more speedily than our present chief executive. Reagan could even claim that it was “morning in America” during his run for a second term. Had Obama attempted something similar, he would have been laughed out of town.

Amazingly even George W. Bush got better results. The downturn that followed 9/11 was brief, in large part, because of the tax cuts he championed. Nonetheless, when it comes to partisan politics memories can be very short. They are especially short when historical lessons do not fit contemporary objectives.

The upshot is that we are about to experience unnecessarily hard times. Because many Americans refused — and continue to refuse — to learn from the past, they are blandly accepting of budgetary madness. Instead, they allow themselves to be diverted by comparatively inconsequential concerns about gun control.

Barack Obama has no plans to cut government spending — but hey, there is nothing to worry about. Didn’t Mary Landrieu just get up in the Senate to assure us there is no discretionary spending problem? Besides, I’m OK Jack, so let the next guy take care of himself.

Furthermore, even if the economy did go into reverse the last quarter, this was a minor glitch that will go away once the government revises its statistics. After all, didn’t Scott Pelley of CBS tell us so? And he is a journalist so he should know.

Today’s non-history minded Americans, particularly its mis-educated young, swallow disinformation as if it were popcorn. Because, in their ignorance, they cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is not, they treat the two as if they were the same.

The trouble is, they are not. Lies, however artfully told or universally retold, contain little nutritive value. They may taste good going down, but a steady diet of them results in starvation.

Unhappily, a childish desire to gulp down budgetary junk food will eventually hurt us all.

Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D., is a professor of Sociology at Kennesaw State University.
Comments
(11)
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Off Balance
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February 13, 2013
I see where Foley is into another buzz word. Low information voter. Wow, does that make your point. Wow, ain't you the smart one. I bet you think you are the what??. Your belief in your moral superiority and your words paint you as just another progressive who tells it like it ISN'T!!
Kevin Foley
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February 13, 2013
Off balance (whoever you are) that's 3 buzz words.
Kevin Foley
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February 12, 2013
@ anonymous (whoever you are, and clearly you are a nobody since you haven't the courage to take responsibility for yourself). Please tell us anything I've said in my critique below that's false. Because you don't like it doesn't make it wrong. Now crawl back into your hole.
sickening
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February 12, 2013
Kevin Foley doesn't belong in this paper. He does everything he can to ruin the reading experience of the rest of us. He needs to grow up and shut up.
Kevin Foley
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February 12, 2013
@ Sickening (whoever you are, and see my note to anonymous because it applies to you as well) I'm very happy to ruin your "reading experience" by correcting Doc Fein's false characterizations.

Nevertheless I'm sure you're another low information voter who only wants your views affirmed by the likes of Ann Coulter. Thankfully the editorial board at the MDJ wants to present contrasting opinions so this forum is fair and balanced.
frogbreath
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February 11, 2013
Foley the Howard Zinn of today. Life and history through the looking glass with Foley.

Facts distorted to suit his needs.

Kevin Foley
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February 12, 2013
@ frogbreath (whoever you are) - As a low information voter, how would you know what the facts are?
anonymous
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February 12, 2013
@Foley whatever you are

You are a false information voter. A person whose adherence to party lines blinds you to truth and whose life experience compels you to spew it out , no matter how wrong it is.

Kevin Foley
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February 11, 2013
"Starred"? You mean "stared"?

I thought Fein taught sociology, not economics and history. He should stick with the former if he believes Reagan encountered anything remotely on the scale of the financial meltdown Obama confronted when he took office.

And Fein's grasp of history is worse. The Bush tax cuts not only hastened the meltdown, they were made as he started two wars, the first time in our nation's history we didn't raise taxes in time of war. He also added an unfunded Medicare benefit. Taken all together, Bush pushed the deficit to over $10 trillion.

Sam T.
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February 11, 2013
Why don't you mention that Barney Frank and friends allowed, some say forced, the banks to make loans they knew were bad? That is what led to the problems, not tax cuts. It is not all Bush's fault but as Dr Fein states, some people do not want to remember certain things, selective memory to fit the argument. And while I was young, I do recall my first mortgage with good credit was over 8% and it was in double digits when Carter was in office. Remember that Mr Foley or have you forgotten that fact? Or who controlled Congress during all of these horrible times. it wasn't always the republicans, but obviously you want to block that from your memory as it does not support your agenda.

The federal government as a whole needs to stop spending money it does not have and make decisions on what is best for the country, not ideological wants/needs. We have created a country of moochers and the current path will bring us to the same end result as Greece.

CobbCoGuy
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February 12, 2013
Since we're talking about budgets and such, there is a 4 minute video on PBS - "Poisoning the Well" - that addresses Obama's speech at George Washington University in April 2011. In this speech Obama condemned Congressman Paul Ryan's proposed budget, to his face. Watch it, folks. However, down a bottle of your favorite gastro-intestinal medicine first.

Our progressive friends love to speak about Republican obstructionism.

[facepalm]

If Obama would agree to attend the Dale Carnegie course - How to Win Friends and Influence People - I'll happily pay for it.
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