Beware of Seductive Ads

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You may have seen some recent ads on TV with a focus on tax reform, jobs, and supporting the so-called American Health Care Act (AHCA) of the Republicans. These ads promote middle-class growth, support companies being “unfettered” from government regulation, and laud supposed “choice” and freedom when it comes to health care. These stated goals are seductive: they sound good superficially, but a close look at the groups behind the ads must give us pause; their proposals do not promote the common good but would instead be extremely damaging to the majority of Americans.

One sponsoring group behind an ad focusing on health care is the American Action Network. According to Corry Bliss, AAN Executive Director, during the ad’s rollout, “Conservatives in Congress made a promise to the American people that better health care was on the way, and they kept that promise by passing the AHCA.”

The AAN’s “About” page describes its ideology and goals: “The American Action Network is a 501(c)(4) ‘action tank’ that will create, encourage and promote center-right policies based on the principles of freedom, limited government, American exceptionalism, and strong national security. The American Action Network’s primary goal is to put our center-right ideas into action by engaging the hearts and minds of the American people and spurring them into active participation in our democracy.”

The statement continues, “America is a nation that has always favored individuals’ enterprises instead of government solutions. To remain a worldwide leader for ideas, investment and innovation, America must continue to offer the best combination of economic freedom and pro-growth, smart regulation. American Action Network will support policies that will make America safe and secure; where choices in education, health care and retirement abound; where taxes are fair and comprehensible; and where government is smaller and smarter with a focus on core functions.”

Who is not for improved health care, not to mention economic growth, safety, security, fair taxes, and active participation in our democracy? As is often case, the “devil is in the details.”

  • Limited government. Conservatives in general have long opposed government programs that provide social services. As far back as President Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, conservatives fought mightily against the Fair Labor Standards Act (which has provided important safeguards in the workplace for millions of Americans for 80 years). On the other hand, conservatives support high defense expenditures by the government – even when the foreign threat turns out to be relatively benign, as in the case of the Soviet Union.
  • Relatedly, more efficient government is a fine goal – none of us wants to see waste or fraud. (Note that the Obama Administration was tackling fraud in a significant way in some areas.) However, AAN’s stress on “focus on core functions” is deceptive: conservatives do not consider Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and many other government programs on which millions of Americans depend to be “core.” (Note the irony of Texas Senator Ted Cruz voting against funding to assist the victims of Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast but of course depending upon FEMA funding to help his fellow Texans suffering from Hurricane Harvey. Note also that the Social Security Act of 1935, another New Deal initiative, was generally accepted with bipartisan support and has become one of the most successful government programs in history.) Rather, citizens and politicians on the right would hope to privatize these government programs and services and leave meeting basic needs up to individuals, states, localities, nonprofits and businesses – when those entities cannot possibly meet such staggering needs.
  • Choice. Conservatives like to stress that Americans should have many options and “freedom.” In education, we should be able to choose public versus private schools for our children. In health care, we should be able to choose our health insurance plans, what we want to pay for, what we think we need. In retirement, we should be able to choose our “instruments” to get us to the retirement we desire. The vital problem with so-called “choice” – as other nations have learned long ago – is that choice depends upon availability of resources, primarily financial resources. The fact is, not everyone can ever have “choice” when they have to pay for basics, when their wages stagnate for decades, and when they have to work two or three jobs just to keep afloat. Other nations, our peers, have directed tax revenue to fund excellent public schools so that parents do not have to choose in order to obtain high-quality education for their children. Other nations do not make their people “choose” one health insurance program or plan over another; they understand that any individual, any family can suddenly, without warning, find themselves in a dire health situation that they could never have envisioned. Such vulnerable people should not be penalized because they “chose” a plan “insufficiently” when they were well. Finally, other advanced democracies use their tax revenue to guarantee that their people will not go into poverty when they retire. In our system, if we do not have excess funds from our paychecks (if we indeed have paychecks…) each pay period, we can find it difficult if not impossible to contribute to a retirement plan – and pensions have all but disappeared from our landscape.

A further reason to be wary of American Action Network is that its name sounds very similar to an organization on the opposite end of the political spectrum. The National Action Network, which was founded in 1991 by the Rev. Al Sharpton, has as its mission “to promote a modern civil rights agenda that includes the fight for one standard of justice, decency and equal opportunities for all people regardless of race, religion, nationality or gender.” It is entirely possible that the founders of the AAN knew that some people who were not paying complete attention might confuse the organizations and donate to AAN without realizing it.

The Business Roundtable is another group currently running misleading ads. One spot promoting tax reform and job creation states erroneously that the US has the “highest taxes” in the world. While it is true that US corporate taxes are higher than those of other countries, our personal income taxes are significantly lower than others’ – and those nations, as we have pointed out in many previous posts, score much higher on almost all quality-of-life and happiness measures than the US does (health care, drug policy, retirement, paid leave, anti-bullying, job security, etc.). Their higher progressive taxes provide the revenue for the social safety net programs that enable these measures to be so high.

AAN is also airing ads that focus on tax reform. Unfortunately, “tax reform” by conservatives is code for the old, totally discredited theory of trickle-down economics – the lie that lowering taxes for the very wealthy is best for the overall economy and helps “float all boats” to create and support the middle class. Reforming taxes on behalf of the top one percent of our economy is grotesque – increasing our obscene income inequality, decimating the middle class, and making the poor even poorer.

It should go without staying that citizens on both the left and the right agree that the US tax code is much too complex, confusing and burdensome. But it is both seductive and unethical to promote tax reform by misleading us. These organizations’ advertisements feed into the erroneous American myth of evil socialism: we should not be looking to Europe or other supposedly “socialist” countries, according to the myth – socialism ostensibly leads to communism. The “sister” myth, of course, is American exceptionalism, included in AAN’s stated goals: we are special, superior and blessed, we successfully defeated communism, and we do not need advice from other nations. This attitude, ideology, mindset and belief system, however, runs completely counter to the actual evidence that we have been documenting: the great overall success of European and other advanced democracies that have “tamed” capitalism to produce the highest standard of living the world has ever known

As American citizens, we must always be vigilant and discerning about what we hear and see on television and from other sources. We cannot be seduced by misleading and erroneous ads, and we must always promote “truth in advertising.”