Fox News hosts are masters at shouting down their own guests when disagreements arise. Here’s a somewhat less-used tactic: increasingly absurd, scattershot questions, meant to yield an admission from the guest that she’s a socialist.
This afternoon, Stuart Varney interviewed Occidental College professor Caroline Heldman, with the goal of walking Heldman, in Socratic-fashion, to the conclusion that President Obama is wrong to criticize the GOP for proposing “a series of policies that are just irresponsible…they say they want to balance the budget, they propose $4 trillion worth of tax cuts.”
Unfortunately Varney confused “fiscal responsibility” with spending levels, and things went south from there.
Heldman argued, “Most of the [Republican] proposals will increase our expenditures without cutting… The health care bill alone — rolling that back, that’s $137 billion added to the deficit over the next 10 years.”
“You’re saying that [the GOP plan] will add to the deficit. OK if you go with the president’s policies, which is spend more, stimulate more, I would put it to you that that is highly irresponsible, because you’re already running up a trillion dollars worth of extra debt each and every year,” Varney said.
“The stimulus spending since president Obama’s been into office only accounts for 10 percent of the debt. Our debt and structural deficit problems started in 2001 and 2003 with tax cuts,” Heldman said
This basic point — that one-time stimulus spending doesn’t permanently cause budget shortfalls like deficit-financed tax cuts eluded Varney, so he veered the conversation a wildly different direction.
“Surely it is irresponsible for Congress to go home leaving none of us sure what are tax rates are going to be,” he argued.
No disagreement there, so Varney decided to pin her down on why she wants rich people to have it so rough.
“I always like to ask academics who are on the left this moral question… Do you think it’s moral to take more than half the income of successful people?”
Heldman objected that, thanks to a number of tax loopholes, most wealthy people pay significantly less than half their income in taxes.
Not so fast, Varney insisted. “I know all about tax loopholes, and madam you are wrong…. So someone who goes out there and works hard, gets up at 4 o’clock in the morning works all the way through the day, takes personal responsibility, works hard, lives the American dream — you think it’s perfectly moral for a government to come along and take half of it and say ‘I will spend it better than you, you didn’t deserve it.’”
“The hardest working people I know are poor individuals who are working two or three jobs just to make ends meet,” Heldman posited.
Sensing in his own head that he had her backed into the corner, Varney went in for the kill: “Would you call yourself a socialist?”
“Let’s be technical: If you really want redistribution of the wealth, that’s socialism,” Varney pointed out wrongly.
“No socialist is state-run,” Heldman corrected.
“I bow to your superior morality,” Varney said, pleased with himself, and likely under the false impression that he’d left his viewers better educated. Fail.
The video is embedded below.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.