Manchinsplaining Budget Framing

A COURSE ON CORPORATE DEMOCRAT FRAMING

I’m working on some other posts that will have significantly more depth, but I wanted to respond to this report from The Intercept. Albeit, this response is more visceral than analytic, I’m compelled to get this out.

The article starts with the premise that our humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan after an investment of hundreds of billions of dollars, thousands of lives and twenty years should inspire a rethinking of military priorities…especially the validity of what amounts to a blank check for military contractors.

This defeat could have been an opportunity to rethink the logic of America’s war machine. That’s what defeats often do: They force you to reconsider the destructive tendencies that got you into the hole. One of those tendencies has been a nearly ceaseless rise in military spending that has little popular support.

Peter Maas, The Intercept November 7, 2021

And yet, when it comes to Imperialism and Militarism, the United States is a slow learner.

…when President Joe Biden proposed a $715 billion Pentagon budget for 2022, which represented a 1.6 percent increase from 2021. Progressives like Lee1 were not pleased — and were even less pleased in late July when the Senate Armed Services Committee added $25 billion to Biden’s proposal. This “plus-up,” as it’s called, raised the budget to $740 billion, a 5 percent increase over the previous year.

Peter Maas, The Intercept November 7, 2021

This “plus-up” in military spending as described in the Intercept does not include money set aside for the Department of Energy to fund our nuclear arsenal. According to Politico , this brings the proposed Military Budget up to $753 billion for the next fiscal year. This constitutes more than a five percent increase in military spending. So, we are fighting fewer wars, but paying more money. Despite this, according to Politico, “…GOP defense hawks have assailed Biden’s proposed Pentagon budget for not keeping up with inflation.”

Okay. So a couple of observations here. I’m not planning on digging in the weeds, but I do want to elaborate my immediate response. Meanwhile, upon reflection, I recognize that “framing”, or the discursive strategies used to shape how issues are interpreted and/or acted upon, is an underlying theme of my more visceral reaction.

First, it’s funny how domestic investment is expressed in ten year intervals. For instance, President Biden’s original Build Back Better framework is always described as his $3 trillion plan, with little to no reference to the fact that this is a ten year projection.

On the other hand, military spending is always presented in yearly intervals, $753 billion for next fiscal year.

If the so-called liberal media were consistent, either Build Back Better would be described as a $300 billion plan, or the Military Budget would be presented as the $7.5 trillion proposal. That is, if there weren’t an underlying agenda.

Of course, such descriptors do not fit the frame preferred by a corporate class, the major stock holders in our major media companies. Investors love war because the resulting blank checks and bag-drops translate into massive short term dividends for private military contractors. Domestic investment, however, may pay off in the long run, but is expected to be paid for by taxing those who can most afford it…the investors including those at the top of corporate media. For forty years, shareholders have benefited from massive transfers of wealth from the working and middle class resulting from antidemocratic policies emphasizing low taxes, government cronyism, union busting and disinvestment in public goods. They are not inclined to pay their trillions of dollars in gains forward for the sake of the common people.2

All for ourselves and nothing for other people seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations 1776

Framing is an important part of media driven politics. After a relentless public relations assault driven by Reagan and his acolytes, the term “government spending” has bad connotations. This is the result of conservatives tagging “wasteful” to the phrase every time they talked about it.

Ironcially, the greatest source of waste in the government budget is the military. Not only does the military have a poor track record, but it has never passed a mandated audit…and doesn’t hope to pass one for years. Yet, here’s the Senate Armed Services Committee approving another check for the military that is over and above what the Commander in Chief of the Armed forces is even asking.

That’s when it hit me.

‘Wait a gosh darn minute! Isn’t Joe Manchin on that committee?

So, I looked it up and sure enough…

There he is, with that smarmy ‘it was an accident’ look on his face.

Son of a…

I then searched every corner of the Internets looking for what would surely be Joe Manchin’s appalled response to such fiscal irresponsibility as jacking up the already bloated, unaudited, military budget in the face of rising debt and deficits. I was certain that I would find, at the top of the search, reference to Joe Manchin refusing to vote for anything more than half of what the President was asking. He would want it scored by the Congressional Budget Office. After all, he’s not a f**king hypocrite.

Is he?

Is he?

I couldn’t find anything along those lines. All I could find were articles about Manchin’s readiness to pass even the most obnoxious checks for the military with virtually no questions asked, and certainly no accountability.

Manchin voted for every single one of the military budgets over the last decade — in 201120122013201420152016201720182019, and 2020. He voted for all $9.1 trillion. While he occasionally complained about wasteful military programs and asked for an audit of the Pentagon, these quibbles were never enough to get him to vote differently. 

Ryan Cooper, The Week, September 30, 2021

Of course he did.

This leads me to one final observation. How do we justify increasing the military budget in the face of recent experiences? After all, we are no longer “at war”. We left Iraq. We left Afghanistan.3 The war on terror has been a bust. Americans, either through moral fatigue or familiarity, don’t seem to be motivated by fear of terrorism anymore.

If we are going to frame the necessity for increased military spending, which of course means growing dividends for the likes of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing et. al, we need a new boogeyman by which to manufacture consent.

Fear not…well, don’t fear about not having to be fearful of something. There are plenty paper monsters out there in the wings ready to be the celebrated threat to everything we know and love. The newest American Bugbear is now…

China.

China, as led by the Chinese Communist Party, is going to continue to try to misappropriate our ideas, influence our policymakers, manipulate our public opinion, and steal our data. They will use an all-tools and all-sectors approach—and that demands our own all-tools and all-sectors approach in response.

FBI Director Christopher Wray, Remarks to the Hudson Institute, July 7, 2020

China wants to destroy us. We neeeeeeeeed to be ready for the rising threat of China. So we need that extra $50 billion dollars a year or before you know it there’ll be a portrait of Chairman Mao hanging over the White House!

This is all disgusting corporate propaganda. Government spending that drops into the vaults of the corporate elite is always justified. Investment in the American people is always too expensive. We’ve been watching this movie on loop for the last forty years. Supply-Side Economics. Trickle Down. Incentivising the job creators. At the same time the main characters promoting pro-corporate discourse demand that we cut benefits to the working class because otherwise they won’t get off the couch and go to work. Of course, that’s not true of anyone, but floating heads in the magic box in your living room have ingeniously framed their claims in such a way that you don’t think they’re talking about you–you think they’re talking about “those people”, the lazy takers (who may also be black, but maybe not…just sayin’).

Spoiler Alert! They’re talking about YOU!

When the whole damn thing collapses–and it always does–the plotline shifts to bank bailouts, corporate subsidies, low interest loans for big businesses. All of a sudden the politicians ready with a Van Mises, Hayek or Friedman quote, are all about big government. But investments in housing, the environment, health care, infrastructure, access to technology–well, that’s socialism. What, you want to be Venezuela!

And, when all else fails and working people are grabbing the pitchforks, there’s always one last frame that can save the corporate elite from accountability.

That’s right.

Illegal immigrants. They’re coming to take your jobs, assault your woman, drop an anchor baby, and collect welfare. Be afraid. Build a wall!

It’s important to understand that these frames are not accidental. They are intentionally constructed by professionals who know how to shape, or to frame, discourse in such a way as to move populations toward a particular political agenda. They collect data on their target audience. They then frame their issues using terms and phrases that they know will have an impact on groups motivated to think in particular ways. They then watch the responses, assess their frames and reframe and redirect. It’s classic Power/Knowledge in action.

You and I cannot afford such professionals to work for us. They work for the corporate boards.

You and I need to find ways to counteract this assault against not only our interests, but our very ability to conceptualize our interests.

We need to focus the concepts in such a way as to immunize ourselves to corporate framing. We need a vaccine for human consciousness.

This vaccine consists of recognizing our common human interests. It begins with the question, “what kind of world do I want our children to live in?” and resolves with the question, “what are the human actions necessary to make this world a reality?”

Despite our political differences, we all have the same interests:

  • We want to live our lives unmolested
  • We want to live meaningful lives
  • We want to build fulfilling relationships
  • We want our children to be better off than we were

I refer to these as Human Essentials. I theorize that they are universal across cultures, across societies, across ideology. To satisfy these essentials we need access to life chances. We need dedicated structures in place for achieving these ends. We need healthy environments in which to live. We need freedom from want. We need to “own” our own time and labor.

Furthermore, we need to be liberated from fear.

It is in the interest of any system of dominance and exploitation to make us forget these Essentials and to cultivate fear. This is done through discourse framed by elite interests. It is incumbent upon us to forever remind ourselves and each other about these shared Human Essentials and to reject the frames that subject us to ideological chains be they driven by the left, right, or center.


Note

  1. This is a reference to Representative Barbara Lee, the only legislator in 2001 to vote against military authorization for the war on terror, specifically the invasion of Afghanistan.
  2. I’m doing a bit of framing here myself. Military spending is described as a “blank check” and a “bag-drop”. These are corrupt forms of payment. Spending on public goods is referred to as “domestic investment”. In the United States, the term “investment” has positive connotations.
  3. Obviously, this is only true in the official sense. Unofficially, the United States remains at war and has been at war since George Washington sent General “Mad Anthony” Wayne west to “pacify” the Native Peoples who had the temerity to not want their land taken.

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