Lawrence O'Donnell Accuses Michele Bachmann of Being a Socialist

Lawrence O'Donnell on Tuesday accused Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) of being a socialist.

"The Last Word" host, who has admitted on national television to himself being a socialist, did so by cherry-picking from an article published at the perilously liberal website "The Huffington Post" (video follows with commentary and full transcript at end of post):

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL: Michele Bachmann, as has been pointed out in this space before, has a family farm that has received over a quarter of million dollars in direct cash from the federal government. That is, of course, in addition to her federal salary of $174,000 for her real full-time job as a member of Congress. Thanks to Sam Stein at the Huffington Post today, with we now have yet another example of Bachmann political dependence, career dependence on socialism.

The Huffington Post obtained a letter Bachmann wrote on October 5th, 2009, to the Obama administration’s Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack thanking him for government intervention in the pork industry. That's right, government intervention in the market. She wrote, “Your efforts to stabilize prices through direct government purchasing of pork and dairy products are very much welcomed.”

Yes. This is the same woman who said this about the Democrats' health care reform bill.

Unfortunately, O'Donnell chose to ignore some very important points from Stein's piece:

"Your efforts to stabilize prices through direct government purchasing of pork and dairy products are very much welcomed by the producers in Minnesota, and I would encourage you to take any additional steps necessary to prevent further deterioration of these critical industries, such as making additional commodity purchases and working to expand trade outlets for these and other agricultural goods," Bachmann wrote.

At the time, the pork industry was facing a two-pronged calamity: fallout from the H1N1 influenza crisis and the ripple effects of the recession. Pork producers had lost nearly $4.6 billion in equity since 2007 and Vilsack, sensing greater market doom, had injected funds into the industry at least four times since that spring. In March 2009, the USDA purchased $25 million in pork, in April it made a $50 million purchase and in July it bought 775,000 pounds of ham, according to reports. In September, just one month before receiving Bachmann's letter, Vilsack had signed off on $30 million in additional federal purchases of pork.

This bears repeating: "At the time, the pork industry was facing a two-pronged calamity: fallout from the H1N1 influenza crisis and the ripple effects of the recession."

So, beyond the recession, the pork industry was suffering from a calamity caused by the federal government's own hysteria involving swine flu which led to massive declines in pork purchases internationally and a threat to the very survival of the entire industry.

As Time magazine wrote in May 2009 five months before Bachmann's letter to Vilsack:

Swine flu, recently renamed H1N1 virus, is causing a swoon in pork prices. The Lean Hogs futures contract, traded on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), is down more than 10% since news of the potentially imminent pandemic first broke. The CME's Frozen Pork Bellies futures contract has suffered comparable losses. [...]

Fear and panic have gripped both traders and consumers, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have clearly stated that there is no evidence of contamination in raw or cooked meat. Although the genetic makeup of the H1N1 virus originated in pigs, the flu itself was not directly transmitted from pigs to humans. Ironically, there is at least one documented case of it going the other way: the flu has been transmitted from a man to a herd of pigs in Canada. But almost all transmission is human-to-human.

Yet the threat of this new influenza strain has apparently frightened consumers away from buying pork, frightened traders into selling hog futures, and frightened entire countries, such as Russia and China, into slamming their doors to pork imports from Mexico and the U.S. Also, with prices falling, there is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy: as prices fall, food processors that buy hogs cut back on their orders because they believe they can buy hogs at even cheaper prices later on. The result: prices keep falling.

Since the government's own hysteria helped cause this crisis, didn't it make sense for it to try to rectify this situation?

This was a question O'Donnell didn't broach, for nowhere in his six minute segment on this issue did he mention the connection to swine flu or what was actually causing the decline in pork prices.

Not one word.

But that's not all he chose to ignore from Stein's piece:

"This isn't a subsidy," said Dave Warner, Director of Communications at the National Pork Producers Council. "This is the federal government getting the food they need for food assistance programs and getting it at a good price."

As Warner notes, the government helps feed significant swaths of the U.S. population, from low-income students to the elderly, military personnel and prisoners. When Vilsack purchased more pork, it came from within pre-existing Department of Agriculture budget allocations. It also saved jobs.

"I don't know if it stabilized things, but it helped," said Warner. "Obviously it helped."

That's right. The federal government purchases food for a number of assistance programs that O'Donnell most certainly supports. The funds used to purchase this pork were already budgeted.

And, such purchases are nothing new. As the National Pork Producers Council notes, it's been going on since 1935:

Both the United States Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Defense have been active in purchasing agricultural commodities. USDA’s Commodity Distribution Program has been a benefit to American agriculture since its inception by successfully stabilizing commodity markets while supplying much-needed food to government-sponsored feeding programs such as the school lunch program. The Commodity Distribution Program is the only program where the Secretary of Agriculture can make volume purchases of commodities to stabilize markets for non-price supported commodities such as pork.

The U.S. government has been a long-time purchaser of agricultural commodities, including pork. Annually the U.S. Government purchases 32.41 million pounds of pork valued at $42.37 million by the USDA for various food programs. Commodity distribution to schools was initiated in 1935 under legislation that made funds available in an amount equal to 30 percent of the gross receipts from duties collected on imports during the preceding year. These “Section 32” tariff receipts were used to remove price-depressing surplus agricultural commodities while encouraging domestic consumption of these commodities through donations to schools. In 1946, the National School Lunch Act was passed, permanently authorizing the school lunch program, establishing a basic meal pattern requirement, requiring schools to serve free or reduced-priced breakfasts and lunches to children in need and providing for the continuation of commodity distribution to schools.

Quite negligently, O'Donnell chose to withhold from his viewers anything regarding where the funds for these purchases came from, and that the associated pork would not only be served to folks in need by programs in existence for decades, they'd also come from moneys already allocated to do so.

As Time magazine noted in the previously referenced piece, these moves might also have saved consumers money in the long run:

According to Dave Ward and Perry Iverson of Commodity and Ingredient Hedging, LLC, a Chicago-based agricultural-risk-management consulting firm, if prices continue to fall over the coming weeks, there will be fewer pork producers next year — and less pork production, consequently. Assuming demand for pork recovers, this will lead to higher prices long-term.

Not surprisingly, O'Donnell didn't mention any of that either. But what he did bring up for his viewers was something Fox News's Sean Hannity wrote in July 2009:

Even Sean Hannity who is normally at least as confused about socialism as Michele Bachmann is doesn't like this particular piece of socialism. Before Hannity knew Bachmann was involved in this socialistic scandal, he wrote a note on his blog opposing it, beginning with the very Hannity line, “Your tax dollars are being used to buy a lot of pork, and I mean literally!”

Actually, what Hannity wrote about were parts of the Obama stimulus bill going to pork purchases, a matter that appears to be somewhat separate from the Bachmann issue:

The government's Recovery.gov Web site reports that the stimulus money has been dolled [sic] out for the following:

• $2.5 million to Los Angeles for "ham, water added, cooked, frozen and sliced"

• Another $1.1 million to L.A. for "two pounds frozen ham, sliced"

• $16.7 million to Minnesota for "canned pork"

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was quick to defend the ham purchases, saying that all that ham is going to food banks and soup kitchens: "The references to two-pound frozen ham sliced are the sizes of the packaging... In fact the contract in question purchased 760,000 pounds of ham for $1.19 million at a cost of approximately $1.50 per pound."

By the way, Tom, the ham you've been paying $1.50 for actually costs 79 cents in most grocery stores. Thanks for being so careful with our stimulus money.

As you can see, Hannity was referring to budget items in the stimulus package and apparently not to the purchases Bachmann was referring to. I venture to guess if he was fully aware of the issues surrounding the pork industry and its slide as a result of the swine flu scare - and that funds for these purchases were already budgeted for under the government's various food assistance programs - he might have a different view on this issue.

More importantly, given that these pork purchases were in fact going to food assistance programs, it seems a metaphysical certitude the socialist O'Donnell along with his liberal viewers would have very much supported these buys - assuming, of course, he had the professional courtesy of letting them know about it.

Instead, O'Donnell depicted this as "the worst kind of socialism. It is intervention in the market simply because the government doesn't like the price that the market would find through free market forces."

Not so. The government has to buy food for its various assistance programs. Why not do it at depressed prices whilst also possibly assisting an industry that is struggling as a result of that government's hysteria over a pandemic that never happened?

Beyond which, how can feeding needy people, public school students, and members of the military be considered "the worst kind of socialism" to a socialist? Shouldn't feeding people be the best kind of socialism to people that support such an economic structure?

As that is clearly the case, the only reason this is "the worst kind of socialism" is because in this instance, a politician O'Donnell hates happens to support it.

As for why a Tea Partier like Bachmann would have supported these purchases, one has to think the government-created swine flu hysteria played a huge role in her calculus. As the Administration exacerbated this crisis, the government had a duty to try to solve it.

In addition, as the purchases were made with funds already budgeted for food assistance programs, this was a deficit neutral issue.

O'Donnell might find that hypocritical, for Bachmann might actually oppose the existence of such programs. However, as they do exist, there's certainly nothing wrong with trying to get some of the already budgeted funds for causes you support in your own district or state.

This was an issue after the stimulus bill first passed. Republicans that had voted against it were called hypocrites by the media for having ribbon-cutting ceremonies for projects in their states funded by the legislation.

What this ignored was the simple fact that one might oppose the spending of federal funds, but if you're going to do it without my support anyway, I should darned-well benefit from something I'm paying for even if it is against my wishes.

This hypocrisy was also demonstrated during the ObamaCare debate when press members said legislators opposed to the plan should opt out of their government-sponsored health insurance programs and elderly Tea Partiers should similarly drop their Medicare.

Again, if you're going to tax me against my wishes for programs I don't support, you shouldn't begrudge me getting a benefit from that which I'm being forced to pay for.

As for O'Donnell's accusation of socialism, like so many issues facing our elected officials, things aren't always black and white. There are complexities in many situations that confront a political leader, and decisions have to made that might at times appear to on the surface go against one's ideology.

If one drills down a little further, you might find it's not that simple.

That should be the job of folks lucky enough to have a one hour national television program with all the resources that come with it.

Instead, O'Donnell and his team did a miserable job Tuesday of presenting to their viewers all the facts surrounding this issue.

As advocacy has completely replaced journalistic integrity at this farce of a "news" network, this has now become par for the course.

Full transcript follows:

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL: Time for tonight's Rewrite. The Republican candidates for president are trying to outdo themselves with anti-government rhetoric. Mild-mannered former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty who is most likely to win the honor of losing to President Obama in the general election has actually made the most libertarian anti-government statement of anyone running, including the actual libertarian Ron Paul and the Tea Party virtual libertarian Michele Bachmann. Pawlenty said, “If you can find a good service, a good or a service, on the internet, then the federal government probably doesn't need to be doing it.” In other words, if the private sector is doing something, the federal government doesn't need to be doing it at all. This is as close to a pure capitalism statement as you can get, but Pawlenty was the governor of a state that thrives on handouts from the federal government, cash handouts to farmers, from the Department of Agriculture, and, of course, the ethanol tax credit.

There is no sector of our economy more rife with socialism than the agriculture sector. But supporters of farm socialism like Pawlenty and Minnesota’s Michele Bachmann have no idea how much they actually like socialism because they've never paused over what socialism actually is and how much their political careers depend on it.

Michele Bachmann, as has been pointed out in this space before, has a family farm that has received over a quarter of million dollars in direct cash from the federal government. That is, of course, in addition to her federal salary of $174,000 for her real full-time job as a member of Congress. Thanks to Sam Stein at the Huffington Post today, with we now have yet another example of Bachmann political dependence, career dependence on socialism.

The Huffington Post obtained a letter Bachmann wrote on October 5th, 2009, to the Obama administration’s Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack thanking him for government intervention in the pork industry. That's right, government intervention in the market. She wrote, “Your efforts to stabilize prices through direct government purchasing of pork and dairy products are very much welcomed.”

Yes. This is the same woman who said this about the Democrats' health care reform bill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONGRESSWOMAN MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MINNESOTA): …crown jewel of socialism, this bill. This is the crown jewel of socialism, this bill. This is the crown jewel of socialism, this bill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O’DONNELL: Yes, there were some socialistic elements to the Obama healthcare reform bill, but it was not nearly, not nearly as socialistic as the Agriculture Department's intervention in the pork industry. It's control of the price of pork. The Agriculture Department is a permanent participant in the pork market. For purely socialistic reasons. If the pork industry doesn't like what's happening to the price of pork, it gets members of Congress, like Bachmann, to urge the government to intervene in the market and drive up the price of pork.

That is exactly what she was thinking and what she was thanking the socialistic Secretary of Agriculture for doing. In fact, Bachmann wants nothing but pure socialism coming out of the Agriculture Department every day to make life easier for the agri-businesses in her congressional district. Free market preacher Michele Bachmann goes all socialistic when it comes to the price of pork and the pork industry.

Now, I for one believe Michele Bachmann would pass a lie detector test saying that the federal government's control of the pork market is not socialistic because, like everyone who rabbits rants socialism in this country, she doesn't know what socialism is. As I've pointed out here before, we have good socialism and bad socialism, and the socialism that Michele Bachmann openly advocates is very, very bad socialism. It is worst kind of socialism. It is the worst kind of socialism. It is intervention in the market simply because the government doesn't like the price that the market would find through free market forces.

Even Sean Hannity who is normally at least as confused about socialism as Michele Bachmann is doesn't like this particular piece of socialism. Before Hannity knew Bachmann was involved in this socialistic scandal, he wrote a note on his blog opposing it, beginning with the very Hannity line, “Your tax dollars are being used to buy a lot of pork, and I mean literally!” Exclamation point. I've never thought our politics would allow me to say this, and I have no expectation of ever being able to say it again, but on Michele Bachmann’s pork socialism, I agree with Sean Hannity.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.