You reach a milestone the first time you or your organization is named the mastermind behind a vast government conspiracy that goes all the way up to the President of the United States. This happened to the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee (USBIG) on July 23, 2012, when an opinion piece by J. D. Longstreet on The Right Side News website declared that the ultimate aim of the Obama administration’s “Socialist/Marxist” conspiracy is to establish exactly the kind of policy described on the USBIG website. The article actually used several long—properly cited—quotes from the USBIG website to describe Obama’s unspoken goal.
As the author of many of the quotes that website took from USBIG, it was a lot of fun to read my words used to describe the hidden agenda of the President of the United States. My sympathies are closer to the Green Party than the Democrats. But if Obama has secretly engineered his entire political career to put my words into actions, well, gee wiz, the least I could do is vote for him. The website states, “Our goal is to provide accurate news and information about threats to our country and Western civilization, and to provide you with the opportunity to counter these threats.” Even with this assurance, unfortunately, I don’t think the Obama administration is a vast conspiracy to do USBIG’s bidding. Obama never calls.
Although this is the first time (I know of) that the USBIG website has caught the attention of conspiracy theorists, it is not the first time that BIG has caught their attention. Longstreet’s conspiracy theory is based on a theory Glenn Beck proposed on Fox news a few years ago. Beck reached way back to a 1966 article, in which Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward discussed the large number of people who were eligible for public assistance but had not applied for it. They argued for (and later became part of) a movement to get eligible people to sign up for welfare benefits, partly in hope that the financial pressure of new applicants would lead to a streamlined federal welfare system hopefully employing a basic income guarantee. Nearly 35 years later Glenn Beck decided that this published paper was the secret objective of an on-going conspiracy to bankrupt the federal government and bring about some kind of socialist revolution.
Longstreet writes, “If I am correct, then we are actually seeing the ‘Cloward-Piven Strategy’ at work. We are observing the foundation, the groundwork — if you will — for establishing a guaranteed annual (minimum) income for American citizens. It is very, very, worrisome. But — it is only the latest move by our socialist leaders to break America so they can re-mold her in the image of their choosing, which is, unarguably a socialist/Marxist state.”
It’s easy to dismiss the Right Side News as the lunatic fringe of the extreme right, which it probably is. But their rhetoric is not that different from what one can hear on Fox News and many other mainstream media outlets on a regular basis. It is symptomatic of how far divorced America’s political discourse is from the political reality. Over the last 30 years or more, the U.S. welfare system has been slowly but consistently dismantled. The minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation. Individuals’ rights to organize unions have been reduced. Taxes on the wealthy have fallen while government favors for the wealthy have increased. Wages have stagnated for 30 years despite healthy economic growth over the period, the benefits of which have been captured almost entirely by the richest few percent of Americans. Yet, somehow a large part of the American populace lives under the belief that we have been moving toward socialism.
It’s fine to label the Obama administration’s policies “socialist” (or to throw any other label on them you want), and it’s fine to believe the Obama administration’s policies are wrong. But if the mild piecemeal policies of the Obama administration are socialist, the United States has been socialist since the Theodore Roosevelt administration and it has been drifting away from socialism since the early 1980s at the latest.
Wild conspiracy theories, like the one by Beck and Longstreet, are part of a brand of fact-denying conservatism that has recently made its way into mainstream U.S. politics. One can now expect to be taken seriously while claiming global warming isn’t happening, the Earth is only 6,000 years old, Obama is a secret Muslim, and so on. Someone paying only casual attention to the mainstream media in the United States could easily think all of these are live, debatable issues. We can hope that such obvious fact-deniers will eventually hang themselves. But we should also be aware that repeating the ridiculous can make it respectable. We have to continually call-out the fact-deniers. The only way to fight falsehoods is with facts.
-Karl Widerquist, begun in New York, NY, completed in South Bend, IN, August 2012
If you’re interested in seeing Longstreet’s editorial on the Right Side News, go to: