If anyone seeks further evidence of the traditional media’s profound anti-government bias, consider its response to the enormously popular “Cash for Clunkers” program. When a major corporation introduces a new product that is an immediate hit, the media trumpets the company’s entrepreneurial savvy. But when the federal government does the same — as in “Cash for Clunkers” — the media frames the huge public response as a “problem” because demand exceeded current supply. From “Cash to Clunkers” to the stimulus package, successful new federal government initiatives are distorted or ignored by a traditional media clinging desperately to the Reaganite view that the government is the problem. This is why the corporate media promoted the unregulated financial, health, and mortgage industries that enriched the few at the public expense, and it persists in skewing coverage to raise doubts about an expanded federal role.
When Toyota introduced the Prius and found demand so overwhelming that it exceeded the available cars, the media universally praised the company for anticipating the public pulse. This is the standard media response to successful corporate initiatives, in which excess public demand is framed as a success, not a “problem.”
But when the federal government introduces a wildly popular program, it goes against the traditional media framing of the public sector as “the problem” not “the solution.” So the “Cash for Clunkers” program had to be re-framed
, its role in boosting the nation’s sagging auto industry diminished.
Republicans Lead Fight Against Program
Republicans know how dangerous it is for the public to positively view federal government involvement in the economy; after all, if people see Cash for Clunkers as a success, they might then back a greater federal role in health care. That’s why Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina — who wants health care
to be “Obama’s Waterloo,” the “cash for clunkers” program was an example of the “stupidity coming out of Washington right now.”
DeMint acknowledges that public attitudes toward Cash for Clunkers could impact the entire Obama agenda. He told Fox News Sunday on August 2 that “the federal government went bankrupt in one week in the used-car business, and now they want to run our health care system.”
William Kristol, who helped design the campaign to defeat the Clinton health measure in 1993 and backs an “oppose at all cost” approach to Obama’s plan, also recognizes that the success of Cash for Clunkers causes problems for Republicans. Kristol, appearing on the same show as Demint, said that rather than helping the unemployed, the car rebates are going to a “bunch of upper-middle-class people who have some cars sitting around from 12 years ago.”
When the anti-welfare Bill Kristol claims that a federal program does not do enough for the unemployed, it’s clear that Cash for Clunkers has hit a deep Republican nerve. And when Kristol opposes on the program’s allegedly providing too many benefits to upper-middle-class people — the constituency, along with the rich, that Republicans have long seen as their base — then you know how deeply threatened the Republican Party feels by this federal program’s success.
Cash for Clunkers is Economic Stimulus
Most troubling for Republicans and their media cheerleaders is that the success of Cash for Clunkers came the same week that the stock market hit its highest levels of 2009, and new economic data saw an economy no longer on the decline. In other words, Obama’s economic stimulus package is starting to work, which is the worst of all nightmares for a Party and traditional media ownership still committed to the “government is the problem” line.
Success of a federal government imposed economic stimulus threatens to reverse over forty years of corporate and Republican efforts to destroy the lessens of the New Deal. Programs like Cash for Clunkers undermines the long dominant ideology that tax cuts are the only stimulus allowed, regardless of the demonstrable failure of this agenda during both the Reagan and George W. Bush years.
The Clinton boom years did not lessen this ideological dominance, both because it came under a President who professed that “the era of Big Government is over,” and because so much of the boom was attributed to the rise of high tech and the Internet, not federal government action.
But the federal government will clearly be credited for economic gains under the Obama Administration, which is why key Republican leaders like Rush Limbaugh insist that it is imperative that the President “fails.” Kristol, DeMint, the Republican Party, and much of the traditional media owners are on a similar wavelength, which is why they seek to deny the success of Cash for Clunkers.
A Boom for Small Business
Finally, what really sticks in the craw of Republicans and their media allies is that the federally created Cash for Clunkers helps small business.
Republicans have tarred the federal government as the enemy of small business since the 1920’s, using this constituency to justify opposing virtually every progressive social welfare policy. Ronald Reagan used often fictional stories of government action mistreating small business to “prove” that government was the problem; and to this day the media elevates the opinions of even know-nothing self-described small business people like Joe the Plumber.
But here comes Cash for Clunkers to help struggling auto dealers — who embody small business — and the anti-government crowd is unhappy. Once again, ideology trumps what works, even when, as in the media’s case, declining car sales are part of the economic meltdown causing layoffs, closures and cost cutting throughout the industry.
Randy Shaw is the author of Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century