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Sunday, August 09, 2009
Cash for Clunkers vs. Dumb Motherf*****
Posted by Austin Cline
The Cash for Clunkers program has not just provided an economic stimulus, it has also provided insight into true Republican and conservative values. This might seem like an improbable context for an intense ideological debate, but for Republicans today everything is about ideology and every issue is the setting for an ideological battle. All that matters is conflict and the effort to assert ideological supremacy as part of an agenda of achieving political power over others. But what is that ideology that conservative Republicans are pushing?
I'm not suggesting that there isn't plenty of evidence of Republicans' true feelings elsewhere, but most of the time Republicans do a good job of presenting false arguments or reasons that make it appear that their position is more reasonable than it really is. Cash for Clunkers, in contrast, doesn't permit much in the way of reasonable objections — at least from the conservative side — so all attempts here fall flat. This makes their real ideological position easier to perceive.
Government Programs Don't Work
The most fundamental and significant issue here has to be the faith-based conviction that the government doesn't work — that everything the government tries to do is necessarily wasteful, harmful, and/or ineffective. This is, as I say, a conviction of faith that is held regardless of circumstances and evidence. Therefore, the Cash for Clunkers program must be a failure rather than a success. The fact that this program has been so popular is a serious threat to the True Faith, so it must be ended before too many more citizens can take advantage of it and discover the possibility that a government program might benefit them so directly.
At the same time, of course, it is vital to keep repeating the message that Cash for Clunkers doesn't really work. The positive evidence is overwhelming: lots of money is being spent, there is increased demand for cars, and lots of gas will be saved. This evidence, however compelling, is irrelevant for those gripped by faith. The program's success is reframed as a failure because more money wasn't budgeted at the outset.
Demand for a product is usually treated as a sign of success, at least for conservatives and capitalists; yet consistency is also irrelevant for those gripped by faith and who need to preserve that faith. This is why conservatives' disdain for the efficacy of government doesn't extend to the military, to the police, and to other programs or institutions perceived as necessary for defending their power and traditional privileges.
Government Serves the Rich & Powerful
One of the sins of the Cash for Clunkers program is that it benefits average citizens most directly rather than the rich and powerful. It's easy for conservatives and Republicans to endorse tax breaks for rich people who need help the least, but their interests matter far more than the interests of middle-class citizens driving older cars. It's easy for conservatives to start wars abroad that provide economic stimulus to powerful corporations, even if those corporations can't manage to ensure that the troops fighting those wars have adequate armor or that private contractors will provide even mediocre services to those troops at a reasonable price.
For these conservatives, the rest of the public exists as cannon fodder, whether literally in wars of imperial and corporate aggression, or figuratively when the corporations need a populist veneer for the defense of their ill-gotten profits. What the people actually need — basic health care, a living wage, adequate housing, democratic representation — counts for nothing if the powerful can't make a profit off it. Ultimately, that's all that really counts: preserving and enhancing profit at the expense of and off the backs of the people.
Is Cash for Clunkers a Clunker?
As I said, there aren't any legitimate complaints about the Cash for Clunkers program from the right, but there are legitimate critiques from the left. For one thing, it might have been better if it required greater MPG savings, thus saving more fuel and doing more to help the environment over the long run. For another, this program actually only ends up helping people who have enough money to even think about buying a new car — not even a used car — which excludes all those without jobs, those working but barely scraping by, etc. People who don't have the funds to pay for all the food and medicine they require need the help more than those with enough spare funds to buy a car.
Finally, even though this program will result in far more cars that use far less resources in the long run, it still encourages a consumer culture that relies on cars and roads which causes so many associated problems. At the very least, some matching stimulus funds for public transit would have gone a long way — perhaps something that encourages people to use public transit more overall, like paying for a a second monthly pass if you buy one or reducing the regular riders' rates to student rates.
Something creative that gets people to try and use public transits would have done even more for the environment in the long run, would have given public transit systems a much-needed boost, and might have made some initial steps towards changing problems that will have to be addressed sooner or later. Change we can believe in has to include changes in some of the basic but broken features of American society, not fiddling around the edges in ways that only serve to prop-up, reinforce, and keep on life support the very problems that are causing us to rot from the inside-out.
at 7:30 AM