President Obama’s (Chico) Marxism

by David E. Shellenberger on August 15, 2011

President Obama and his administration, with increasing desperation, ask us to accept Marxism. We refer not to the president’s cultural Marxism, reflected in his disastrous policies. John Derbyshire warned of this trait immediately after the 2008 election:

“Barack Obama [has] the heart and soul of a cultural Marxist. He sees history in terms of class struggle, with pitiful, soulful Oppressed being brutalized and impoverished by arrogant, heartless Oppressors. Anyone who sees matters in these Who-Whom terms has absorbed the essence of Marxism, even if he has never held a hammer or a sickle — even if, like Obama, he has never held anything heavier than a Community Organizer’s clipboard.”

Nor do we refer to the Marxism embraced by Lawrence W. Reed,  president of the Foundation for Economic Education. In his article, “Confessions of a Secret Marxist,” Dr. Reed explained:

“I’m not the kind of Marxist that you normally think of when that term is used. I have nothing in common with Karl. I am a Groucho Marxist.”

The administration would not share Dr. Reed’s appreciation of Groucho Marx’s skepticism of government and politics:

“Though Groucho in real life called himself a liberal Democrat, he never harbored a blind faith in State power that characterized the warped thinking of Karl. In fact he once opined, ‘Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it, diagnosing it incorrectly and then applying the wrong remedies.’ That description of politics was on full display in Duck Soup, regarded by many, including me, as the Marx Brothers’ best film.”

The Marxism in question does, however, come from Duck Soup. In a famous scene, Chico Marx’s character inquires, “Well, who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?” This is Chico Marxism, an appeal to blindness.

Chico Marxism In Action

Pres. Obama regularly asks us to believe factual assertions that clash with what we see with our own eyes. Issues concerning the health of the economy require misdirection and prevarication. Pres. Obama speaks of a “recovery” that is the worst, or among the worst, since after World War II. He also presents job data suggesting great progress, while making a token nod towards the need for improvement. Consider what he said on August 5th:

“Today, we know that our economy created 154,000 new private sector jobs in July.  And that’s the strongest pace since April. The unemployment rate went down, not up.  But while this marks the 17th month in a row of job growth in the private sector –nearly 2.5 million new private sector jobs in all — we have to create more jobs than that each month to make up for the more than 8 million jobs that the recession claimed.”

The facts shatter this hopeful picture:

  • The official unemployment rate (U-3) of 9.1% “went down” largely because 193,000 people left the work force.
  • The official unemployment rate understates the problem. The broader measure (U-6), which considers “all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons,” is at 16.1%.

Pres. Obama takes the original Chico Marxism to an advanced level, and asks “Who you gonna believe, me or your common sense?” He issues this challenge virtually every time he speaks, making assertions that are simply nonsensical. Consider his July 29th presentation on new automobile fuel efficiency standards:

“I’ve been having a lot of fun this week, but … nothing more fun and more important to the future of the American economy than the agreement that we’re announcing today.” He went on to insult the intelligence of educated people by touting:

  • The money consumers supposedly will save. (People need government to make their shopping decisions?)
  • The help this will provide in “meet[ing] the goal that [he has] set for America:  reducing our dependence on foreign oil by one-third.” (Pres. Obama is empowered, and competent, to set goals for America? Since the idea of energy independence is foolish on its face, why even pursue this goal?)
  • The alleged jobs the standards will create. (This would be impressive magic, creating jobs by regulatory decree. What about the jobs lost as a result of the intervention? If the concept of creating “green jobs” has any validity, why the debacle in Spain?)

Chico Marxism and Obama Mendacity

The appeal to blindness, to suspension of good judgment, has been the central theme of the Obama administration. Every major initiative has required a foundation of mendacity.

  • The “stimulus” plan was based on the contention that borrowing a fortune for political spending would somehow improve the economy. The plan was doomed to failure, but Pres. Obama mocked the critics of the spending: “What do you think a stimulus is?”
  • ObamaCare was promised to contain costs.  Critics warned that this defied logic and experience, including Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute: “The Obama plan would increase health care costs for the simple reason that it would put millions more patients, plus doctors and insurers, in a position where they are spending the taxpayers’ money. That never produces frugality.”
  • The ‘‘Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act’’ was supposed to prevent future financial crises. The very name of the bill, though, reflected its fraudulence. Cato’s Mark A. Calabria noted: “Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Sen. Christopher Dodd and Rep. Barney Frank, the bill’s primary authors, would fail to end the numerous government distortions of our financial and mortgage markets that led to the crisis. Both have been either architects or supporters of those distortions. One might as well ask the fox to build the henhouse.”
  • In announcing, in December 2009, the intensification of the war in Afghanistan, with the addition of 30,000 troops, Pres. Obama, in an odd non sequitur, told the people of Afghanistan, “We have no interest in occupying your country.” He also assured the American people, “As President, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests.” Again, this clashes with reality, since it is not the responsibility of the U.S. government to remake Afghanistan; the government lacks the means; and the effort is creating enemies, contrary to the interests of the people of the U.S.
  • Pres. Obama assured Congress and the American people in March 2011, when he launched his intervention in the civil war in Libya, that U.S. military action would last “days, not weeks.” This was utterly implausible, particularly in light of the warnings by observers, such as George F. Will, of the folly of intervention. Indeed, Air Force Times reported on June 30, “Air Force and Navy aircraft are still flying hundreds of strike missions over Libya despite the Obama administration’s claim that American forces are playing only a limited support role in the NATO operation.”

Why the Deception?

From the beginning of his term, Pres. Obama has had to rely on deception to win any acceptance of his policies. The reason is simple: candor would have led to rejection of these policies.

Pres. Obama regularly makes clear he is hostile towards free enterprise, and embraces big government. He has done everything possible to weaken the private sector and strengthen government and its favored special interests, particularly unions. His policies have included higher taxes and dramatic increases in spending, debt, and regulation. In addition, he and the Fed have acted to prevent the necessary post-bubble adjustment of deflation and bank failures.

All of these policies, combined with the uncertainty the administration has generated, have inevitably smothered the economy and prolonged the recession. Some of us believe the wreckage was intentional, as opposed to being simply the product of stubborn economic ignorance. The routine use of deception suggests this is the case. We cannot prove Pres. Obama’s subjective motives, but we can hold him accountable for the natural consequences of his actions.

As to Pres. Obama’s intensification of the war in Afghanistan, this may have been an accommodation of military interests and a political calculation that the futility of the war could not be admitted. Alternatively, it may have been the natural choice of a “liberal hawk,” the same as the choice to intervene in Libya. The fact remains that both wars are contrary to the interests of the American people.

Out of the Soup?

Chico Marx’s line in Duck Soup is often wrongly attributed to Groucho Marx. The error arises because Chico’s character is impersonating Groucho’s character in the scene.

Barack Obama, as a candidate and president, has been engaged in his own impersonation, that of a leader acting in good faith. Now, many more people, responding to the Chico Marx question, are finally responding, “I’m gonna believe my own eyes, and my own common sense!”

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