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Jason Lewis’ wrong and exaggerated arguments about freedom

Let’s do Mr. Jason Lewis the kindness of taking seriously his latest Strib op-ed philippic against the evils of liberalism.

The headline “Do you want equality or freedom?” certainly suggests that we can’t want a bit of both, and it also suggests that freedom and equality cannot coexist.

Of course, Lewis didn’t write the headline, but it captures the keys to his argument, and to a bit of semantic bullying in which righties engage often. It goes something like this:

Everything the right likes can be phrased as a form of “freedom,” as in freedom of the rich from paying higher taxes, freedom of corporations from government regulation, freedom to pollute, freedom of those with almost unlimited resources to use those resources to influence elections, freedom of the wealthiest 1 percent to accumulate any damn portion of the society’s wealth and income without shame, freedom to overthrow foreign governments (but only in order to bring freedom to the oppressed of those nations) and a few other important freedoms that you can think of on your own.

Jason Lewis
Jason Lewis

Once the right has established its ownership of the “freedom brand,” it follows that everything that distinguishes the left from the right is a form of oppression.

Government is oppression, taxes are tyranny, and progressive taxation or anything else that requires rich people to pay more than poor people is a particularly pernicious Bolshevik form of totalitarianism that requires a complete leveling between rich and poor.

That’s why you have to choose between freedom and equality. You don’t have the option of maybe just bumping the top marginal rate up a point or two to help reduce the deficit (something about which the right generally claims to care) and still leave the average CEO 90 times better off than his average employee (or maybe only 80).

No, once you tamper with the status quo, you simply can’t stop until everyone makes exactly the same after-tax income as everyone else and then there is no incentive to work hard or take risks or do all that job-creating stuff that makes America America.

Freedom-loving word choices
Jason Lewis didn’t say all this quite as plainly as I just did, but it’s in his piece and you can see it if you don’t get distracted by all the freedom-loving word choices. Think I’m exaggerating, here’s a quote straight from paragraph two: (actually the very quote that, as I read my Sunday Strib, got me to take the pen out of pocket and start marking up the ridiculous faux logic):

“For Occupy Wall Street and the Democratic politicians supporting them, raising taxes on the rich remains an article of faith. And it’s a convenient theory, if for no other reason than that the well-to-do will always have the ‘ability’ to pay more, at least until you get the last dime.”

If Jason can show me a Democratic politician who has recommended squeezing the well-to-do until the last dime, I will apologize for the snotty tone of the last few paragraphs.

Every society, says Lewis (paragraph three), has a bias “toward either protecting property or taking it.” (He seems to love these it-has-to-be-all-one-way-or-all-the-other false choices.) Now, note that taxation, which might be called many things, has been renamed “taking property,” which conjures up maybe Paris mobs at the walls of the palace with torches in 1789.

And then he says it again (paragraph four): There are two approaches, the “conservative” one, “which will naturally result in unequal incomes, since no two human beings possess equal attributes,” and another approach, which Lewis doesn’t label, which “demands an equalization of incomes based on the collectivist premise that no two human beings should possess unequal attributes.” Seriously, what country and what century is this guy inhabiting? Who are these collectivists who believe that “no two human beings should possess unequal attributes”? And what the heck do you mean by “attributes”?

I run into Jason very occasionally and he’s always quite affable. There was the one time he attacked me by name on his show (in an effort to distract attention from one of Michele Bachmann’s colossal early blunders) without offering me an opportunity to defend myself. But that’s old news. We had a round or of point/counterpoint pieces during my Strib days because we both like to write about the framers of the Constitution, but I will confess that I find Jason to be the kind of history buff who searches not for understanding but for evidence that will enable him to keep believing what he already believes.

Alexander Hamilton and taxes
And sure enough, he does it again in this very piece that we’ve been discussing in the Sunday Strib. It’s quite bizarre really. He quotes from one of Alexander Hamilton’s contributions to the Federalist Papers as evidence that (quoting Jason here) “Hamilton, for example, was a strong proponent of ‘regressives’ taxes.”

The passage that he cites, from Federalist #21, actually makes no statement at all about whether taxation should be progressive or regressive. Seriously, Jason is imagining or for some reason other than marshaling his credibility pretending that Hamilton is arguing against progressive income taxes. But Hamilton is, in fact, arguing in favor of giving the new federal government (Hamilton favored a very strong federal government) power to impose taxes, a power it lacked under the pre-Constitutional Articles of Confederation. I would think Jason would want to stay away from Federalist #21, which is all about justifying a stronger federal government.

OK, I guess I’d better quote the Hamiltonian passage that Lewis claims is an argument in favor of regressive taxation so you can judge for yourself.:

Hamilton: “It is a signal advantage of taxes on articles of consumption, that they contain in their own nature a security against excess … If the duties are too high, they lessen the consumption; the collection is eluded, and the product to the treasury is not so great as when they are confined within proper and moderate bounds. This forms a complete barrier against any material oppression of the citizens by taxes of this class, and is itself a natural limitation of the power of imposing them.”

Seems pretty clear to me that Hamilton is asking that the federal government be given power to levy sales taxes (of course, progressive income taxes had never even been considered or conceptualized by 1787) with a guarantee that if the government set a sales tax too high, it wouldn’t end up collecting much revenue.

Ah well, I’m going into too much detail against, aren’t I? To hasten through, Lewis then expresses skepticism that Warren Buffett really pays a lower effective tax rate than his secretary, goes through the now-standard righty exaggeration about what a large share of taxes rich people currently pay (as usual, he ignores all the taxes that fall most heavily on the poor and middle class). He alludes, with no evidence cited, that the richest 1 percent got what they have by being “true achievers” (in reality, the most reliable single predictor of what economic class a person will wind up in is the class they were born into) and concludes by calling those who favor tax increases on the rich thieves or socialists or both.

I swear that if you look at the piece, I have not exaggerated any of his arguments. If he would like to file a rebuttal to be published in MinnPost or have me on his show to discuss or both, I will do what I can to make either or both happen.

In closing, permit me to loop back to the meaning of freedom. It apparently means different things to different people. In his 1941 State of the Union address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously outlined what he called “the four essential human freedoms,” which he hoped could somehow be assured to everyone in the world. The four fundamentals of freedom, according to FDR were:

1.      Freedom of speech and expression

2.      Freedom of worship

3.      Freedom from want

4.      Freedom from fear.

See, you can spin any crazy thing you choose as a freedom.

Comments (66)

  1. Submitted by Ross Williams on 11/15/2011 - 10:35 am.

    “Let’s do Mr. Jason Lewis the kindness of taking seriously his latest Strib op-ed philippic against the evils of liberalism.”

    Yes, lets, since willing suspension of disbelief is a requirement for all media. If everyone ignored intellectually dishonest nonsense in mainstream media there would be no audience for the advertisements and no paychecks for the purveyors.

  2. Submitted by David Greene on 11/15/2011 - 10:50 am.

    Thank you Eric, you expressed my thoughts almost exactly.

    The only missing piece was the screed against “equality” taking a particularly literal interpretation of “equal.” Not one of the many progressives, liberals, etc. that I know thinks of “equality” as “exactly the same.”

    This is why people are starting to use the term “equity.” People believe that everyone should have an equal opportunity to achieve their full human potential. Not all of us are meant to achieve the same things, but we had better all have an equal shot at becoming the person we’re supposed to become.

    Now, we have to measure that somehow if we hope to see where we’re at and how shifts in policy improve things or make them worse. Looking at employment rates, educational achievement and so on, particularly by race in this country, gives a pretty good indication of where we’re at. But again, the Republicans point to such studies and say, “they want everyone to get the same grades,” or, “they want everyone to have the same income.”

    No. But when studies show a 30% unemployment rate for African Americans and a 6% general unemployment rate, something is clearly wrong that must be addressed. Outcomes matter.

  3. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 11/15/2011 - 11:07 am.

    Eric, you forgot a few of the other Freedoms Righties love…the freedom to marry who you want….the freedom to keep gov’t out of your reproductive rights…oh, wait……

    Sometimes I listen to Jason on AM 1130. Sometimes I give the dial a few clicks and listen to the static on AM 1150. I end up with the same amount of “truth”.

  4. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/15/2011 - 11:07 am.

    It’s no coincidence, I think, that you chose to quote FDR.

    His implimentation of “Freedom from want” was, and is closer to “From each according to ability, to each according to what the government deems your needs to be” than any Freedom loving American is comfortable being.

    And, with all due respect, to the former Chairman, er, President I stopped depending on others to keep me “free from fear” at age 15.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/15/2011 - 11:30 am.

    Lewis’s intellectual dishonesty (and Kirsten’s for that matter) have always been my main complaint. I don’t expect to agree with everyone, but the fact that it’s so hard to find any so-called conservative commentators with integrity is quite frustrating. Conservativism is a honorable and respectable intellectual tradition. Guys like Lewis demean it with these high school debate approaches to every issue they pretend to address. And Lewis is supposed to be one of the better voices in conservative community.

    I hope live to see the day that a conservative thinker will admit that liberals have good ideas once and a while, and that reliable information isn’t simply that with which you agree.

  6. Submitted by Phyllis Stenerson on 11/15/2011 - 11:43 am.

    Wow! Actual facts, critical thinking and honest communication! What a concept! Thanks, Eric, for challenging Lewis on his balderdash. I agree with you and wanted to write a letter to the editor but didn’t taken the time to let my outrage settle down, do the research, edit my inappropriate words, etc.

  7. Submitted by Glenn Gilbert on 11/15/2011 - 11:46 am.

    Thanks for acknowledging the “snotty tone”, Eric but I find it an understandable counterpoint to the sneering condescension in the piece under analysis.

    I’m also particularly fond of the phrase “…the kind of history buff who searches not for understanding but for evidence that will enable him to keep believing what he already believes.”

    I keep thinking of substitutes for “history buff” and applying it to the broader social conversation. Unfortunately, it’s still true every time: e.g. “culture warrior”, “political pundit”, “earnest protestor”…

  8. Submitted by barry bonoff on 11/15/2011 - 11:50 am.

    Eric, twice in one week I comment on your writings. This one on Lewis was superb.

  9. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 11/15/2011 - 12:12 pm.

    I wrote a letter to the editor; not been published (yet), saying that neither David
    Brooks nor Lewis included the freedom of opportunity to reach equality.
    If young people’s schools are abysmal (oh yes, let’s privatize them) and they can’t get a good education (esp. among minorities, it tuition and other costs are so high as to keep ordinary people who don’t have great wealth from college and technical schools, if graduates leave with a degree, $50,000 in debt, and no job–what kind of a deal is that?
    Doctors, for example, are in dire need. Who wants to go to med school when they see that for all their effort, they end up with a huge debt (I think doctors’ debts are higher than in other professions)?

  10. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 11/15/2011 - 12:18 pm.

    “And, with all due respect, to the former Chairman, er, President I stopped depending on others to keep me “free from fear” at age 15.”

    Oh? I guess you won’t be needing any national defense, then. Or police. Since the rest of us want to rely, at least to some degree, on our government for freedom from fear, I think you might just want to find yourself another place to live without a military and police. Or at least, without a regulated military and police. Have fun.

    As for Jason Lewis–to suggest that any discrepancy in income is caused by the equivalent discrepancy in innate ability is to call the 99% idiots, and particularly groups of people that have high unemployment rates (sounds a bit racist/elitist, doesn’t it? It is.). Quite frankly, if income was merely based on ability (“attributes”), then I’d OWN Mr. Lewis. However, if I misunderstood his intended definition of “attributes,” and it means “assets,” instead…well, I guess I’d better drop my nice-paying job because I didn’t start out as well-off as I am. Next thing you know, and he’ll be advocating land-owner only voting. He probably already does. What a…

  11. Submitted by Charles Holtman on 11/15/2011 - 12:22 pm.

    The Right is fond of casting itself as pro-freedom and the left as anti-freedom. The left, of course, is not “anti-freedom,” it just has a different understanding of the concept. To the Right, “freedom” is the war of all against all on a Mad Max landscape. To the left, the richer concept of freedom is, as David #2 suggests, “equitable opportunity” that attempts to give everyone a decent chance to have a decent life if he/she is willing to work at it.

    The Right doesn’t even recognize the existence of concentrated private wealth as a relevant social formation. But it is concentrated private wealth, not “government,” that decisively determines the conditions and constraints under which the 99% can live their lives and the opportunities they may have. To the left, the Right’s concept of freedom necessarily leads to its opposite: unfreedom, slavery, authoritarianism in which the very few decide the contours of society to which the very many must bow.

    Capitalism is the motivation for, and engine of, productivity, but the distribution of wealth it produces has no moral standing; to my knowledge its theorists made no claim that it does. Capitalism alone is not a way of organizing society; it must be combined with a thoughtful means of adjusting the nominal wealth distribution it produces so that productivity continues to be rewarded but equitable opportunity is sustained. Without a thoughtful citizenry working hard at this, society won’t work for long. That’s why we’re in a heap of trouble.

    I listened to Jason Lewis once. What he was saying had a veneer of reasoned intellect, but I happened to have some knowledge of the subject (14th Amendment jurisprudence) and his argumentation was deeply meretricious. In that respect he strikes me as a kind of local Newt Gingrich.

  12. Submitted by Barbara & Jon Scoll on 11/15/2011 - 12:24 pm.

    Eric –

    A Jason Lewis rant is not newsworthy, even if the Strib thinks otherwise. Save your efforts for something (or somebody) more substantive!

  13. Submitted by James Hamilton on 11/15/2011 - 12:34 pm.

    Im think you’ve distorted Lewis’ argument here. Consumption taxes are regressive taxes, in today’s parlance. Hamilton championed both a federal power to tax and, in the passage quoted, a consumption tax. Lewis’ point, therefore, is legitimate, though as you point out he ignores the fact that progressive taxation had yet to be considered, at least by any government of which I am aware. In context, you’re correct that Lewis can’t argue Hamilton prefered a regressive consumption tax over a form of taxation he hadn’t considered.

    Personally, I don’t understand the tax-phobia of some. Taxes have been with us since the dawn of recorded history and, I dare say, well before that. So long as we live communally, there are costs to be paid by members of the community. The Constitution, in my opinion, delegated considerable taxing powers to the federal government and considerably more power with passage of the 16th Amendment.

    The 16th Amendment vests in Congress the power to determine how an income tax shall be structured. Anyone with skin in the game has a right to argue about how that should be done and the limits to be imposed.

    That said, I have no problem with a progressive income tax structure, provided that all with income participate to some degree. I also find merit in the argument that those who make the most in our society generally have benefitted to a roughly corresponding degree from government expenditures. I challenge anyone to present a convincing argument to the contrary, using specific companies or individuals. Those who try to do so generally ignore a good deal of our direct and indirect (e.g., tax expenditures) governmental outlays.

    But for those outlays, I would never have received the education I did or had the resulting employment opportunities, despite my brilliance, my good looks and my saintly demeanor. Nor would Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, or Warren Buffet have found their successes without these benefits.

  14. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/15/2011 - 12:34 pm.

    Lewis appears to be equating (since he has a thing about equality 😉 -high taxes- (which Hamilton does mention) with -progressive taxation- (which he does not).

  15. Submitted by Geo. Greene on 11/15/2011 - 12:46 pm.

    It’s always seemed to me that there are two GOP positions -the real agenda and the public agenda -a setup that can works like a “bait and switch”. The real agenda is protecting wealth even if it means the middle class in America evaporates (or maybe that’s the plan). That, of course, won’t play well with people who are not already wealthy so a public agenda is consciously engineered to deceive voters by distracting them with emotional social issues and a vague hint that when they too just work hard enough their new found wealth will be worthy of protection.

    Lewis is an expert at the public agenda which is characterized by black and white thinking; it’s easier to understand without having to actually understand a subject in depth and it has the advantage of instantly dismissing talk of any grey area or nuance. This is one reason facts don’t work when trying to persuade righties -in fact the ideology is so strong that if the facts don’t fit you just make them up as Lewis has done.

    There is also a pervading sense of victimization of the “deserving” people -i.e. anyone who already has money or success. By definition, if you don’t have either it’s your fault and you don’t deserve any of MY money. This may explain why righties are fine with giving billions to oil companies or letting no bid, cost plus, unsupervised contracts to Halliburton -because they have wealth, they are deserving.

    It’s hard to believe though that after the quite public and immensely tragic failure of trickle down, which brought the world economy to it’s knees, that anyone would propose more of it -but such is the power of the conservative’s public propaganda. We are, after all, human -and there’s a sucker born every minute.

  16. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/15/2011 - 12:58 pm.

    BTW, Eric. I’m really not a big fan of Lewis, (his style is too blustery for me) but his standing as a Constitutional scholar is something you will never approach.

    The guy knows what he’s talking about. Unlike this petulant little diatribe, Lewis warrants his citations with unvarnished fact and dates faithfully repeated chapter and verse.

    You’re free, of course, to dispute his conclusions, but not the depth of his knowledge.

  17. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/15/2011 - 01:03 pm.

    “Freedoms Righties love…the freedom to marry who you want….the freedom to keep gov’t out of your reproductive rights…oh, wait……”

    Yup, those arranged marriages and that nasty one child per family law really make them look like hypocrites…oh, wait…..

  18. Submitted by Rich Crose on 11/15/2011 - 01:11 pm.

    That Sunday night the Twilight Zone was on TV with an episode called “He’s Alive.” A Neo-Nazi (Dennis Hopper) was taking propaganda advice from an shadowy figure. The Neo-Nazi rose in prominence using the shadowy figure’s words. In the end, the figure emerged from the shadows revealing Hitler himself. The Neo-Nazi dies in the end but Hitler lives on.

    Rod Serling reads the narration in the end. “Where will he go next, this phantom from another time, this resurrected ghost of a previous nightmare–Chicago; Los Angeles; Miami, Florida; Vincennes, Indiana; Syracuse, New York? Anyplace, everyplace, where there’s hate, where there’s prejudice, where there’s bigotry. He’s alive. He’s alive so long as these evils exist. Remember that when he comes to your town. Remember it when you hear his voice speaking out through others. Remember it when you hear a name called, a minority attacked, any blind, unreasoning assault on a people or any human being. He’s alive because through these things we keep him alive.”

    I thought of Jason Lewis.

  19. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/15/2011 - 01:23 pm.

    Nicely done, Eric. I second David Greene – you hit on pretty much the same points I’d have hit on, and the emphasis would essentially be the same. Insisting that the only choice is “freedom” versus “tyranny” or “oppression” is a nice rhetorical trick – one which the right wing has mastered – but it’s intellectually shallow and dishonest.

    Mr. Swift, of course, often provides ample evidence of this, as he hears/reads pretty much only what manages to get through his brain-wave filters, and his responses are essentially right wing boilerplate. There’s nothing “conservative” about a desire to repeal the 20th century. It’s pure reaction, and as radical – more radical, really – than most of what’s coming out of recent protest activity in the country.

    As David Greene suggests, most of the people I know that I’d call “liberal” don’t demand absolute equality, or as you said, they don’t insist on squeezing the “last dime” from some poor, oppressed trust-funder like Mitt Romney. What most of us to the left of Mr. Swift would like to see is a society that more closely approximates “equity.” That’s not the same thing as “equality,” since, as has been pointed out, it’s unlikely that two human beings are ever going to be exactly equal.

    Insisting that we all currently have the same opportunities to succeed or fail is delusional. It’s delusional even in this country. Broaden horizons a bit to include the rest of the world, and it’s beyond delusional and into the “big lie,” as opposed to the smaller and more mundane ones that are all too common in politics.

    Mr. Swift’s frequent resort – all else fails him, I presume – to labeling ideas other than his own as somehow smacking of communist totalitarianism is essentially the same thing as Lewis insisting that there are only two choices in life. They’re tired and intellectually lazy arguments. Most of us who’ve been conscious during the past half century are aware that the Soviet experiment was a catastrophic failure for the societies that tried it. China did not prosper under Chairman Mao any more than the Soviet Union prospered under Chairman Stalin. Both were brutal and repressive (to use a very mild term) dictators. Save Adolf Hitler and a couple of South American martinets, no western leaders are even in the same universe as those two when it comes to repression. Nor have they tried to be.

    The choice, if we insist that a choice is necessary, is not, and never has been, an “either-or” choice. Freedom is never absolute, and neither is oppression. It’s a long scale, with innumerable stops along the way from one extreme to the other. Both Lewis and Mr. Swift not only accept limitations on their freedom, they rely on those limitations, just as the rest of us do. Mr. Swift’s tone of braggadocio regarding “freedom from fear” is simply that. He’s relying on the rest of us to obey rules that he likes to sneer at.

    To suggest otherwise is to drop back several thousand years to the days when there was no “law” to speak of, and you died on someone’s spear point because they didn’t like you and were better than you at handling a spear, or under the claws of the cave bear you were no longer fast enough to outrun, or of some disease which we’re now able to treat medically – largely because of government-sponsored research, or public health measures which are similarly government-initiated.

  20. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/15/2011 - 02:15 pm.

    Rachel, the military’s job is to defend our freedom; the police are tasked with handing out traffic tickets, clearing out illegal hobo villages of bored kids and professional protesters and arresting the occasional criminal not smart enough to evade their bungling investigations.

    Neither is responsible, nor are they capable of keeping fear from the fearful.

    James, clearly you have confused the desire to control the reach and power of government over our lives with “tax-phobia”. Conservatives are not anarchists; we realize that we have to pay for the services we want government to provide (ie: the aforementioned military & bungling police, fire dept., roads, clean water & sewage handling, food inspectors & etc.)

    Our objection to taxes is raised when our pockets are picked to fund a “public good” many of us not only believe the gov has no business providing, but find harmful rather than good. That is to say, we don’t want our own resources turned against our own best interests.

  21. Submitted by Dan Kaufman on 11/15/2011 - 02:23 pm.

    I always thought, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” Somehow, I don’t think Jason would agree with that sentiment.

    Overall, a great piece, Eric. It is still unimaginable why the Strib wastes ink on Lewis’s nonsense, but I am glad your able to provide a counterpoint.

    As some others mention in comments, I am also amazed that Lewis and others so concerned with “freedom” ignore government intrusion into abortion, marriage, etc.

  22. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/15/2011 - 02:25 pm.

    “The choice, if we insist that a choice is necessary, is not, and never has been, an “either-or” choice.”

    Yes Ray, I know most Democrats do not feel they are Communist, and they’re not. They are Democratic Socialists, which is Communism with training wheels.

    The problem is, as has been proved in all the examples that you cite, that once power is centralized, and once the population has been broken to the bit, those in power will ALWAYS consolidate it.

    So yes, history has shown that it does come down to an either/or choice.

  23. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 11/15/2011 - 02:25 pm.

    It’s fabulous to cherry pick quotes like Lewis. I will demonstrate. The founders were not even remotely monolithic in their thought. They were as diverse as we are today. Conservatives like nice, neat packages in black and white. Our founders and constitution are certainly more nuanced than they are comfortable with. To say Lewis is a constitutional scholar is silly.

    Let’s Cherry pick some Hamilton Quotes:

    Inequality threatens our very republic!

    “As riches increase and accumulate in few hands . . . the tendency of things will be to depart from the republican standard.” Alexander Hamilton

    Big Government Liberal was Hamilton:

    “Even to observe neutrality you must have a strong government.”
    Alexander Hamilton

    Social Justice?? Commie!

    “I think the first duty of society is justice.”
    Alexander Hamilton

    Government must control the governed.

    “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.”
    Alexander Hamilton

    There are certainly many Hamilton quotes that would support a conservative view point as well. the founders were complex.

  24. Submitted by Mitch Berg on 11/15/2011 - 02:40 pm.

    Sorry, Erik, but I’m going to sit out this round of applause.

    I work in an engineering-y field. There, problems get broken up into “Policy” – how you *want* things to work – and “mechanics” or “impoementation”, or how you can actually *get* them to work. There’s an analog in politics; principle versus policy (with policy being the mechanical side of the see-saw in this case).

    Lewis is talking principles. You’re largely talking policy. That’s why you can look at a statement like “toward either protecting property or taking it” and find a false choice; on the level of the *mechanics* of running a government, *of course* it’s a false choice. On the level of talking about the princples by which we wish to be governed, there’s nothing false about it.

    You and Lewis are…well, not “speaking two different languages”, but you’re looking at the issue of “how do we govern ourselves” from two different analytical points of view.

    Which is fine – and pretty normal, really. It’s just that your analysis of *his* analysis seems to be driven by the dynamic of “look at teh crazee wingnutz are saying”.

    Now, if you’re talking policy, and don’t *know* Lewis is talking principle, it’s an honest lapse in communications.

    But if you did?

  25. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/15/2011 - 03:22 pm.

    Good points, Ray.
    As usual you’ve saved me the trouble.
    I assume that Mr. Swift has voluntarily foresworn any use of modern medicine, since most of it is the product of government funded research.

    Re your last paragraph:
    Some recent studies of cave remains from several years ago support the conclusion that life then was considerable more violent than it is now (Hobbesean).
    And note that Otzi the Iceman died from an arrow in the back while eating dinner. The only protection from that kind of early and brutal end is a peaceful society.
    The only people that can protect themselves from violence are those rich enough to hire private armies, and eventually there’s someone else with a bigger nastier army. That’s why most third world dictators don’t live very long.

  26. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 11/15/2011 - 04:11 pm.

    I have never understood the Strib’s publishing of Jason Lewis and Katherine Kersten. Their columns are always riddled with inaccuracies or incompleteness that make them inaccurate (lies), a unwarranted emphasis, “cherry picked quotes” as was noted earlier.
    Where did they come from? Who asked them to be columnists? What historical and political background qualifies them to speak about these matters?

  27. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/15/2011 - 04:28 pm.

    Freedom from fear?

    Can we even begin to make a partial list of what conservative fear?

    Communists (except the Chinese kind), socialists (especially the Hawaiian black type),Islamic fundamentalists, any Muslim, any mosque, any non-Christian religion, Mexicans (except those who work in your garden), blacks, urban blacks, urban black listening to rap music, urban blacks listening to rap while drinking 40’s, that black Hawaiian guy (yes, twice because he is really scary!), Al Sharpton, China, Chinese, Asians (job stealing b#%^%$#&!), Palestinians, Greek financiers, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, Mitt Romney (why now?), dirty hippies, the guy at the carwash, the guy asking for quarters on the corner, dark streets, being caught out without your 357, foreign food, dirty water (the type you drink), clean water (the type you pollute), the Sierra Club, ACORN, …..

    Geez, I’m getting tired and I haven’t even had to pause to think what conservatives fear.

    I do think the conflation of freedom and taxes is a perfect distillation of the idiocy of conservatives.

  28. Submitted by Mitch Berg on 11/15/2011 - 04:34 pm.

    Mr. Brandon,

    Y’see, that’s what I’m talking about right there:

    “I assume that Mr. Swift has voluntarily foresworn any use of modern medicine”

    As a matter of principle, conservatives want *less*, less intrusive government, as a matter of principle. As a matter of policy, that doesn’t mean *no* government.

    If you’re responding to a philosophical point about principle – which was what Lewis was writing about – with “do you forswear city water and sewer, the CDC, and defense”, then you’re leaving the philosophical and diving into the practical. Which is fine, and valid – but practical considerations don’t, in and of themselves, nullify a philosophical point, or even especially address them.

    Which is why Erik’s article is so disingenuous. On the one hand, he says “That’s why you have to choose between freedom and equality. You don’t have the option of maybe just bumping the top marginal rate up a point or two to help reduce the deficit…”. Of course you do – when you’re dealing with the question at a policy level. The larger question, “is it right to do it”, is a question of what principles you believe in.

    Lewis was expressing principles. Black responded, essentially, with budget line items. Babel ensues.

  29. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/15/2011 - 04:59 pm.

    What did you expect from Jason Lewis–a reasoned, nuanced argument acknowledging a spectrum of beliefs? The man makes a living as a talk show host. Of course he’s going to rant and oversimplify. That’s how one communicates on talk radio (and before anyone makes the inevitable right-wing retort, I don’t listen to Air America so I cannot argue that they do anything different). His audience wants to know what to think and, just as important, wants to know why everyone else is wrong. Framing his argument in terms of the “principles” that conservatives favor freedom, liberals are totalitarians is a lot easier than explaining things like there are many on the left end of the spectrum who do not want to confiscate all of your private property. Subtlety is not something Mr. Lewis can afford.

    Incidentally, Erik, Adam Smith in 1776 seemed to think progressive taxation was a no-brainer, hardly worth taking the time to justify.

  30. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 11/15/2011 - 05:17 pm.

    “Rachel, the military’s job is to defend our freedom…”

    Exactly. Define freedom. You’ve said that “freedom” does not equate to anarchy. So, freedom must have some bounds. What are those bounds? What EXACTLY do you think our military is protecting?

    Freedom from oppression? Well, there are very few countries left in the world that offer oppression. The most likely source of oppression in this country is our own government. Ironically enough, our military cannot and will not do anything to protect our freedom from oppression from our own government.

    Freedom of speech? Freedom of speech is only defined in terms of protection FROM our government. After all, on private property, individuals may censor, suppress, or otherwise remove speech that they do not like. And, as mentioned above, the military does not protect us from our own government.

    Freedom of religion? See Freedom of speech. Keep in mind, some “freedom-lovin’ conservatives” would like to kick Muslims out of the military. You, yourself, Mr. Swift, have waved the Christian banner on here, if not elsewhere. If you think the military is busy keeping Sharia law off our soil, you’re sadly mistaken–unless you think it’s likely that Al Qaieda or the Pope were capable of taking over our government. (That makes me chuckle.)

    Freedom of/from what, Mr. Swift? Believe it or not, the military’s job is defense, not freedom. Defense is directly linked to fear…fear of invasion, fear of destruction, fear of greater power.

    When the military starts keeping the government from suppressing the freedoms defined in the Bill of Rights, I’ll agree with you that the military’s job is all about freedom. Until then, the government will continue to claim that removing protesters is about “safety” and not suppression of freedom of speech. The government will continue to grant rights to people who marry in the Christian tradition, but not those who marry in other traditions. The government will continue to favor the rich at the expense of the middle and lower class.

  31. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 11/15/2011 - 05:33 pm.

    Mr. Swift has made enough appearances on MinnPost that his MO is well known. Previous commenters have already destroyed his phony arguments.

    Mr. Berg is cut of the same cloth. It should be noted, in the interest of full disclosure, that Mr. Berg is the author of a blog entitled “Shot in the Dark” where he demonstrates his illogic on a daily basis.

    He is also a talk show host on a local radio station that calls itself “The Patriot.” This platform is shared by one Bradlee Dean with whom most politically astute readers are familiar.

    Thus it should come to no surprise that he is an enabler and defender of Jason Lewis. Careful analysis of Mitch’s attempt to cause confusion over the distinction between policy and principle is telling. This technique is usually referred to as the red herring.

    It is also amusing to see Adam Smith’s progressive stand on taxation mentioned in the last comment. Mitch is on record as claiming this is a libel – of course without any evidence.

    Consider the source.

  32. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/15/2011 - 05:40 pm.

    Mr. Berg–
    When Eric (you might spell his name correctly) said:
    “Which is why Erik’s article is so disingenuous. On the one hand, he says “That’s why you have to choose between freedom and equality. You don’t have the option of maybe just bumping the top marginal rate up a point or two to help reduce the deficit…”
    he was paraphrasing Lewis’s point, not making one himself. You might question whether his paraphrase is accurate, but that’s a different question.

  33. Submitted by Lance Groth on 11/15/2011 - 05:45 pm.

    I’m happy to say that I actually had to google “jason lewis” to find out who he is. That is an accurate indication of how much time I spend listening to the Radical Right’s broadcast mouthpieces.

    His tactics are employed by all the right wing big mouths of t.v., radio and print. Set up false choices, with straw men serving as the villains who attack “freedom”, get your audience worked up to the point of frothing at the mouth, label the straw men as “liberals”, or “progressives”, or “Democrats”, and there you are – you have your audience believing that their neighbors and colleagues of left-wing or even centrist persuasion are freedom-hating, anti-American villains. Probably al-qaida sympathizers too.

    It’s old, predictable, boring, laughable – uncreative boilerplate in the extreme – but boy, does it sell on the right! Righties love dividing Americans into warring camps – god-fearing, right-thinking True Americans on the right, and the Enemy Within on the left. It’s evidently o.k. to tear the country apart as long as it wins a few elections. Where are J. Edgar Hoover and Joe McCarthy when you need them?

    It’s interesting, isn’t it, how one-sided are their arguments and “facts”. They love to talk about the freedoms that come with American citizenship, but ignore or even deny the responsibilities and duties that are the other side of the coin. Like, say, paying taxes. They also arrogate to themselves the right to opt out of any decision of the electorate that they don’t agree with. Mr. Swift inveighs against having his “pocket picked” for programs with which he does not agree. It is apparently irrelevant to him that, as a citizen, he is obligated to abide by the decisions of the majority. Democracy is such an inconvenient thing. Wait, maybe there’s a way to fix it.

    I think we should call them on it. If the righties don’t want to pay taxes, let’s let them opt out. Of course, in doing so, they must also lose their citizenship – tax deadbeats, after all, are not good citizens. Being then persons without a country, there is a new problem. To where should we deport them? I suggest we sacrifice some land so that they may have some place to live without the evils of government and taxation. Perry suggested Texas could secede. I say fine, go, and take the deadbeats with you.

    Within a short time, Texas would resemble dark ages feudal Europe, independent lords with private armies to protect them and serfs to raise their food – but hey, no taxes (unless you’re a serf?)! . In time, they would war amongst themselves (it would be a well-armed non-country, after all!), and the winner … would impose fealty and taxation on the losers. History rhymes.

    OK, so it’s a farce – it’s an amusing one, at least. I’m so tired of the reality distortion field emanating from the right that I must escape to pleasant fantasy.

  34. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 11/15/2011 - 05:50 pm.

    It seems like you are pointing out a distinction without a difference. If I have a philosophy that pigs should fly, and you tell me that, as a practical matter , pigs walk I think that has a valid discussion. How can you separate a philosophical view point from it’s impractical implementation. Do you sit around your engineer meetings debating the philosophical beauty of the perpetual motion machine, and divorce any of your training from your engineering talks. Silly.

  35. Submitted by Hal Davis on 11/15/2011 - 06:40 pm.

    Mitch Berg:

    “Lewis was expressing principles. Black responded, essentially, with budget line items. Babel ensues.”

    Principles are fine. Applying them leads to politics.

    I’ve never thought of Jason Lewis as a pipe-puffing first-principles philosopher type.

    If so, he has been miscast.

  36. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/15/2011 - 07:11 pm.

    OK, hold it Paul. Did you read what I wrote?

    I find it hard to believe you could have given that your response steps directly over the point I made. Sheesh guy, you’re making it way too simple!

  37. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 11/15/2011 - 07:42 pm.

    @#28: “As a matter of principle, conservatives want *less*, less intrusive government, as a matter of principle.”

    Except when they do want more, more intrusive government. For example, reproductive rights: banning all abortion and birth control. And suppressing dissent and disagreement. Mr. Swift’s comment above about Democrats being really Social Democrats or “Communists on training wheels” is typical, the inference being it ought to be against the law to be a member of the Democratic Party. The other inference being, it ought to be against the law to voice Social Democratic ideas, or to criticize “right thinking” people like Jason Lewis.

    Let’s face it, the right wants a massive and intrusive police state to keep the peasant masses it so deeply fears in tow and to protect the 1% from “taking” a single dime for public welfare.

  38. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 11/15/2011 - 08:00 pm.

    #28 “is it right to do it”, This is not philosophical nor principle, this is rhetorical!

    It not only depends on whose eyes you are looking out of, it depends on when you are looking out of them. You want something principle and philosophical try:

    “We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union…..”

    Lets philosophize on how that relates to freedom and equality.

  39. Submitted by Joe Musich on 11/15/2011 - 09:20 pm.

    Great column. About time someone puts this word rancher into perspective. But essentially it’s what the strib has devolved to. As was said by #26 what exactly are his credentials?

  40. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/15/2011 - 09:40 pm.

    FDR’s ridiculuous proclaimation notwithstanding, there are really three basic freedoms, not four. The first is social freedom, the right to worship your god, speak your mind and to associate with whomever you choose without government interference. The second freedom is political freedom – the right to choose your political leadership, also known as democracy. And the third leg of the stool is economic freedom. The right to own private property and to do what you want with your own earnings. Because without economic freedom, the other two are impossible or irrelevant.

  41. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/16/2011 - 05:59 am.

    Why do you math-challenged people continue to support the unfair practice of progressive rates on top of progressive tax liability, regardless of the rate, when even the commies in Russia gave it up?

  42. Submitted by William Pappas on 11/16/2011 - 06:38 am.

    Rich, thanks for the quote from the “Twilight Zone”. The imagery is ripe with manner in which a few wealthy conservatives insert an ideology into every facet of conservative thinking, into every corner of the country. Eric’s rant is one of the best deconstructions of right wing concepts of freedom that I’ve ever read.

  43. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 11/16/2011 - 07:09 am.

    Our greatest era of capitalist expansion happened between 1940 and 1970. We had a top rate around 70%. We support what is proven, and not just ideological Utopias. How is that so hard to understand?

  44. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/16/2011 - 07:11 am.


    Ya gotta hand it to Prof Gleason #31, when he gets an obsession, he doesn’t let a little thing like relevance to topic get in his way

    You’d think that 22,000 tweets about Mitch Berg would get it out of his system, but no.

    Another all nighter last night, Prof?

  45. Submitted by Richard Cushing on 11/16/2011 - 07:18 am.

    I was going to write a long critique and response to Eric Black’s clear lack of understanding of taxation, its affects on the economy, and even the writings of Alexander Hamilton. However, after rereading Black’s piece, it is evident that his bias would cause my words to be wasted entirely.

    I don’t have that much time to waste.

    After you have removed your blinders, Mr. Black, you may ask others for more clarity.

  46. Submitted by Robert Hoppe on 11/16/2011 - 07:43 am.

    I stopped caring what Eric Black thought years ago when he wrote in the Strib that communism has never really been tried. How naive.

  47. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 11/16/2011 - 07:54 am.

    “2200 tweets about Mitch Berg”? Wrong again, Mr. Swift and you know it. It is not all about Mitch Berg and you.

    But of course that a lefty tweets at all is annoying to you and Berg and you’d do anything you could to try to stop it.

    See for example: Pair O Thugs Tries Blackmail


    More Swiftee Filth – What We’re Dealing With Here from Swiftee and His Enabler Mitchell P. Berg

    Thank God for MinnPost comments policy and that MinnPost is not twitter.

  48. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 11/16/2011 - 08:22 am.

    Eric’s article “disingenuous”? Seriously, look up that word and old man Webster’s just substituted a picture of Mick Berg. Mitch & Swifty have no interest in “less government”, they’re only interested in “less government in areas that don’t benefit us”.

  49. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 11/16/2011 - 09:51 am.

    Please feel free to back up your assertion. Last time I checked, the Constitution does not establish many specific economic freedoms. If you mean that the government cannot perform unreasonable search and seizure or use the power of eminent domain (without just compensation) or set excessive bail, those are pretty limited “economic freedoms.” Probably more accurately, the Constitution set up an economic growth model, but that does not equate with economic freedom. In fact, the Constitution puts some limitations on the economy. For example, it provides for the government to uphold contracts, it prohibits states from preventing interstate commerce, it provides for the ability of the federal government to tax, it provides for a temporary monopoly on innovation, it provides (inherently) for the ability to use eminent domain with just compensation, and it provides for the federal government to make and regulate currency. It does not lay out a country in which you have the right “to do what you want with your own earnings.” Rather, it provides for the ability to do what you want with your property WITHIN THE LAW. If you do not like the laws enacted by the various levels of government, feel free to contact your Congresscritter and various other representatives. Claiming some sort of “economic freedom,” though, doesn’t make it true.

  50. Submitted by Jeff Hamilton on 11/16/2011 - 09:55 am.

    Now, I don’t want to get off on a rant here, but …

    Whilst I find the the Jason Lewis rebuttal an interesting column, ripe with interesting quotes; both the writer and many of the comments appear to be “Dennis Miller wanna be’s” (fair to note that a long-time Liberal, Miller is now as far Right as possible).

    I used to be a big-time Lewis fan, when he was a Libertarian, but find the extremes of politics to be tedious and boring. I am a true “on-the-fence Moderate” that voted for Obama, Franken and Bachmann in 2008 … and G.W. Bush, Clinton and Reagan on previous occasions, hence I have no true political allegiance. The one thing that Lewis “always” provided was facts; something that Mr. Black does not.

    In fact, that Mr. Black is merely “spinning” his opinion on another persons Op-Ed piece is making my head hurt. For the rubes that solely follow the hyperbole of syndicated political commentary, shame on you! For those that have no opinion at all, shame on you (times two)!

    In either case, we, as constituents of our elected politicians, need to think for ourselves! Who cares what out-of-touch shills like Hannity, Stewart, Limbaugh or Maher (or Lewis and Black) think? Currently, we are mired an economy that is getting beaten down like Woody Allen in a street-fight and what we need are clear political objectives, not political conjecture.

    Anyhow, that’s just my opinion and I could be wrong.

  51. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/16/2011 - 10:18 am.

    “Thank God for MinnPost comments policy and that MinnPost is not twitter.”

    But you managed to drag it in anyway! HAH!

    Your tweet count is somewhere North of 24,000 Prof., I think it’s pretty accurate to say that in not more than 2,000 of them did you forget to involve Mitch in some way.

    It’s utterly facinating use of time for a UofM Professor.

  52. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/16/2011 - 10:19 am.

    BTW Eric, told ya so! 😉

  53. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/16/2011 - 10:28 am.

    “Our greatest era of capitalist expansion happened between 1940 and 1970. We had a top rate around 70%. We support what is proven, and not just ideological Utopias. How is that so hard to understand?”

    So the ends justify the means. Supplementing your income with the occasional liquor store holdup provides you with greater after-tax earnings than otherwise so of course it makes sense to continue the practice.

  54. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/16/2011 - 10:34 am.

    “Last time I checked, the Constitution does not establish many specific economic freedoms.”

    Rachel, if you’ll re-check post #40 you’ll see that I didn’t mention the constitution. What I described is what is required for a free society.

    The Constitution doesn’t define freedom, it only defines the roles and limited powers of government.

  55. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/16/2011 - 11:13 am.

    Objectives (end points) are easy;
    specifying the specific actions which will lead to them is the trick.

  56. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/16/2011 - 12:25 pm.

    Sounds like you’re writing our own constitution.

  57. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/16/2011 - 12:28 pm.

    Old lawyer’s adage:

    when the law is against you, argue the facts.
    When the facts are against you, argue the law.
    When the facts and the law are against you,
    pound the table.”

  58. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 11/16/2011 - 01:22 pm.

    Eric, I read your rebuttal of Jason Lewis, and I’m just shocked.

    Someone still reads Lewis’ blather? It’s the same column every time, slightly rewritten. Still, thank you for the yeoman’s work of showing just why his blather is blather.

  59. Submitted by Joseph Fleischman on 11/16/2011 - 01:22 pm.

    I just deduct5% from my Strib invoice in protest of Jason Lewis’ presence in the Sunday paper.

  60. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 11/16/2011 - 01:25 pm.

    You’re right, you didn’t mention the Constitution. But, as the Constitution, not your opinion, is the law of the land, the argument still stands. Especially since the Constitution, and not your opinion, has been key to this country holding up as long as it has. And the Constitution, not your opinion, defined how THIS free country should operate. Please feel free to provide something other than your opinion to back it up. Pounding the table isn’t very persuasive.

  61. Submitted by Jeff Kline on 11/16/2011 - 02:44 pm.


    Clearly written by someone who believes as gospel truth, and has read the writings of Karl Marx along with others relevant to communism and the rewards of liberalism.

    You spend a lot of time poking Jason and trying to knock him off his stool, but have failed to do so. No tangible citing here. No references to constitutional law provided that I can see. I see hypothesis and speculation based on desire, but interpretation can be folded, spindled and mutilated by anyone. Even conservatives. At least the conservatives are rooted off the founding fathers principles. I just wish we didn’t have so many corrupt republicans out there. It’s almost as though they are democrats in republican clothing… 😉

    I’m still trying to figure out how so many people became against that which the founding fathers had set up for us in our constitution.

    Very sad indeed.

  62. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/17/2011 - 09:13 am.

    Talk about lack of citation….
    I’ve read Kapital (and Bakunin and Kropotkyin); have you?

  63. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/17/2011 - 09:20 am.

    @Dennis #41–
    Here’s a maths exercise for you:

    Do a single log plot of total taxes paid (all local, state and federal taxes) as a function of total income from all sources.

    If in fact there is second order progressive taxation you’ll see a positively accelerating curve. In fact, after you get past the bump at the beginning representing the working poor paying payroll taxes, you’ll find a negative acceleration.
    Whatever your interpretation of the tax code may be, in the real world our tax structure is at best mildly progressive.

  64. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/17/2011 - 09:31 am.

    #61, Jeff,
    I just have to ask, because this always amazes me… What do you think communism is? And how old are you (roughly)?

    I’m trying to understand how it is that someone can be so completely confused about the difference between American liberalism and Marxism? I actually have read Marx, Marx hated liberals, he condemned them endlessly as apologists for capitalism. Marxist also considered liberal Democracies like the US doomed to failure because of their obsession with personal liberty rather than class consciousness.

    OK so forget about Marx, let’s look at the Soviet Union: no American liberal anywhere has ever advocated a command economy in the US. Most Liberals spent the cold war condemning Soviet oppression- because the USSR was an oppressive totalitarian state.

    Are you just too young to know this stuff or what?

  65. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/17/2011 - 01:21 pm.

    For that matter, Marx and Engels never anticipated that Russia (or China) would become the main Communist society. They thought that a prerequisite was an advanced industrial society such as Western Europe. It was Germany that he pinned his hopes on. Lenin was the one that imported communism into Russia.

    That’s why Russia and China (and their satellites) became conventional totalitarian states with little resemblance to Marx’s plan.

  66. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/17/2011 - 08:24 pm.

    Have we set a record for the number of posts on a topic?

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