Maddow Perpetuates Hoary Great Depression Myth

"Rachel Maddow is the smartest person on TV," proclaims The Advocate magazine in a cover story on the newly christened MSNBC pundit and Air America Radio host.

That being the case, Maddow ought to know better than make some of the claims she does -- at least when it comes to politics, economics and American history.

Most recent example: Maddow's interview on Nov. 5 with former Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee and their discussion of the Republican Party's future --

 

MADDOW: Do you feel like there is a, there is an economic vision around which the Republican Party will re-coalesce?

CHAFEE: Well don't forget that Bush, Cheney and the Republican Congress inherited a surplus, a historic surplus, and squandered it in eight short years. So I blame a lot of this economic meltdown on the lack of discipline the Republican Party showed in their leadership. We took a surplus and we squandered it with tax cuts, which cut our revenue, and watched our expenditures, whether it's the wars that we have overseas or whether it's the farm subsidies that came back or whether it's the prescription drug benefit to Medicare, all very, very expensive, and of course a whole new Homeland Security federal bureaucracy. These are all un-Republican type of initiatives. And that's I think the reason we're in this economic meltdown right now, because we lost all fiscal discipline. I used to argue in my Republican caucus when I was in the Senate, it breaks my heart to hear the Democrats talking about fiscal discipline. That used to be such a Republican virtue and it's  completely been torn to shreds under the Bush-Cheney administration.

MADDOW: I am concerned, I have to say, moving forward and thinking about the specific policy challenges that lay ahead for the Obama administration, I'm concerned that what the Republican Party might try to coalesce around is not just fiscal discipline but specifically anti-spending, that they'll become a force for sort of a Herbert Hoover-style response to the economic crisis, that they will oppose any spending that might be seen as a countercyclical force to try to save the economy. Do you see any risk that that is what the party will become, particularly around the issue, like, backlash to the bailout?

CHAFEE: Yes, I do, exactly as you mention the backlash to the bailout, the House voting against it, particularly the Republican caucus at a time that maybe we needed to have that investment. But I do think it would be difficult for the Republican Party to turn on a dime, if you will, to be the party that was the spend-spend-spend party over the last eight years as I went through all those programs, adding to the federal spending program, at the time time cutting our revenues, to all of a sudden turn on a dime and say that we're going to be a party that's not going to be in favor of any kind of spending. 

Conservatives have wondered for decades about what might have been had Hoover actually did what Maddow claimed and opposed "any spending." In fact, the opposite it true.

As former Business Week bureau chief Andrew B. Wilson pointed out in a Nov. 4 Wall Street Journal op-ed titled "Five Myths About the Great Depression" --

It was Hoover, not Roosevelt, who initiated the practice of piling up big deficits to support huge public-works projects. After declining or holding steady through most of the 1920s, federal spending soared between 1929 and 1932 -- increasing by more than 50 percent, the biggest increase in federal spending ever recorded during peacetime.

Public projects undertaken by Hoover included the San Francisco Bay Bridge, the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and the Hoover Dam.

Hoover and the GOP were seen as such spendthrifts that Roosevelt, in his acceptance speech as the Democrats' nominee for president in 1932, condemned Republicans as profligate --

I know something of taxes. For three long years I have been going up and down this country preaching that Government — Federal and State and local — costs too much. I shall not stop that preaching. As an immediate program of action we must abolish useless offices. We must eliminate unnecessary functions of Government — functions, in fact, that are not definitely essential to the continuance of Government. We must merge, we must consolidate subdivisions of Government, and, like the private citizen, give up luxuries which we can no longer afford.

The Democrats' platform that year called for balancing the budget, a 25 percent reduction in spending, an end to "extravagance" in farm programs and a strict gold standard for the nation's currency. FDR's running mate, John Nance Garner, went so far as to accuse Hoover of "leading the country down the path of socialism" (sound familiar?).

Maddow's gaffe brought to mind another she made Oct. 3 on her MSNBC show while talking about -- what a coincidence -- gaffes by Sarah Palin.

While reciting a litany of Palin errors, Maddow added one of her own (click here for audio) --

MADDOW: Now wait, I'm on a roll here. Do you want another? In her recent interview with Katie Couric, in a rambling non-response to a question about the separation of church and state, Gov. Palin brought up a folksy quote from a guy who wrote that old Constitution thingy back in the olden days --

PALIN: Thomas Jefferson also said, never underestimate the wisdom of the people.

MADDOW: I admittedly do not know every word ever spoken by Thomas Jefferson, but I don't think he's on record ever saying that, regarding the separation of church and state or on any other topic.

Admittedly, I cannot account for Thomas Jefferson's whereabouts on every day of his life, but I do recall from my US history class in high school that Jefferson did not take part in drafting that Constitution "thingy" since he was abroad at the time as America's minister to France.

In fairness to Maddow, however, her claim about Jefferson was hardly "rambling" -- she plunged right ahead.

Maddow also gave the impression, at least to this observer, of implying that Palin suggested Jefferson wrote the Constitution. But as this clip from the interview makes clear (4:14 into the segment), Palin said no such thing.

Had Palin done so, rest assured that Maddow would have been among those bellowing loudest about Palin's deplorable ignorance of the Constitution and its authorship.

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts