Peterson's Deficit "Budgetball": <i>The Fountainhead</i> Meets <i>Death Race 2000</i>

For anyone who's really concerned about government deficits, Pete Peterson's one-sided approach is incomprehensible. Unless, of course, he's acting in pure Randian self interest on behalf of himself and his peers.
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"Budgetball is an innovative sport that combines fiscal strategy and physical play." ~ Budgetball Rulebook, "Pass the Ball - Not The Buck"

Billionaire Pete Peterson is funding an elaborate campaign to convince a nation with more than 15 million unemployed citizens that the most urgent crisis we face today is not unemployment ... or poverty, or inadequate health care, or the decimation of the middle class. He's already created a "news service" to propagate his ideas -- the Washington Post outsourced its financial reporting to him -- and hosted a "deficit summit" headlined by the same people that got us into the mess we're in today. (Greenspan? Rubin? That's not called a "summit." It's called "rounding up the usual suspects.")

Now Peterson's funding an "America Speaks" series of town halls with participation from President Obama's deficit commission. No matter who's in charge, money always talks. ("Money doesn't talk, it swears," said the folksinger.)

In an especially peculiar use of his wealth, Peterson has also paid consultants to come up with the game of "budgetball." And in a Marie Antoinette-ish gesture, Peterson's deficit mavens will be playing this "game" on May 21, on the National Mall of a nation whose middle and lower classes are still racked by financial misery.

"To recap those revisions: women are still worth 10 points more than men in all age brackets, but teenagers now rack up 40 points, and toddlers under 12 now rate a big 70 points. The big score: anyone, any sex, over 75 years old has been upped to 100 points." ~ Sports Announcer, Death Race 2000

In Death Race 2000, as Wikipedia reminds us, " the United States has been destroyed by a financial crisis and a military coup. Political parties have collapsed into a single Bipartisan Party, which also fulfills the religious functions of a unified church and state." Participants in the "death race" win points for killing pedestrians, and many people eagerly throw themselves before the cars bent on destroying them. (Think Tea Party.)

Observers might be forgiven for recalling this movie when they hear that Peterson is making a game out of deficit cuts that would strike at the most vulnerable among us. (Other current events may stir their memories, too.) Maybe Budgetball could take a leaf from the "death race" playbook and award extra points for "sacrifices" (a Budgetball term) that especially affect toddlers and the elderly.

"If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject." ~ Ayn Rand

Conservatives consider Rand's novel The Fountainhead the story of a heroic man of integrity who refuses to participate in the shared community of altruistic-minded weaklings, as represented by the "lesser people" who believe in paying taxes and helping others. It's really something very different: it's the story of someone who was educated at public expense, kept healthy through government sanitation measures, protected from murder by police, and saved from enemy hordes by a government military -- and who refuses to help others when these services, his own talents, and a lot of good luck allow him to become wealthy.

Our financial and government system has been overrun by the extremist Randian ideology of rejecting altruism and encouraging billionaire selfishness. Alan Greenspan, who more than any single individual was the architect of our current economic catastrophe, was a dedicated follower of Randian fashion who never entirely changed his tune. He was also a speaker at Peterson's "deficit summit."

Make no mistake: Peterson is waging an ideological battle. Randian self-interest for the wealthy has been broadly discredited as a political philosophy. The rightist revolution promoted by the GOP, and accommodated (or worse) by centrist Democrats, is in profound danger as people see the ruin it's made of our economy. Everything Peterson does, from skewing the news to promoting the "rehabilitation" of people like Greenspan and Rubin as wise elders, is designed to rebuild this ideology in the public eye.

Here's your proof: You'll hear a lot out of Peterson about cutting Social Security, slashing Medicare, and finding other ways to break the social contract with American workers and the general public. Here's what you won't hear about: Raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans to pre-Reagan levels. Withdrawing from unnecessary military adventures. Breaking up the big banks so we no longer have to rescue them, or forcing large banks to pay for any future bailouts.

For anyone who's really concerned about government deficits -- a legitimate concern, if not our most urgent one -- Peterson's exclusion of these possibilities is incomprehensible. Unless, of course, he's acting in pure Randian self-interest on behalf of himself and his peers among the most powerful and wealthy.

"Just be the ball, be the ball, be the ball." ~ Ty, Caddyshack

Who will suffer if Peterson's ideas win political dominance? Americans who have worked a lifetime with the expectation of Social Security support will be at risk. So will people in poverty who depend on government support. Unemployed people who need help finding another job (which could stimulate the economy, creating more jobs and potentially even reducing the deficit). Poor children whose families need help providing them basic nutrition. All children who need an education.

Forget "budgetball" and think chess. We're all pieces on Peterson's chessboard, and his success in driving the media narrative has been nothing short of spectacular.

"The press may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about." ~ Bernard Cohen, political scientist

The Post uses Peterson's "news bureau" as its exclusive source for financial "reporting." Multiple newspapers have run stories that include the opinions of Peterson and/or other groups he funds (his "bureau" has run them on the Post, without disclosing the ties), while excluding the views of those, including top economists, who believe our emphasis on the deficit is misplaced and/or ill-timed.

Here's what's not written in the "budgetball" rulebook, but should be: "Players may consider sacrificing the future of small children through education cutbacks, or bringing about the early death of elderly people through food stamps cutbacks, but may not give any thought to tax increases for the most wealthy, reduction in unnecessary wars, or asking banks to pay for their future bailouts."

There are things you can do. The Peterson "America Speaks" tour may be coming to a town near you. If it does, you can show up and (politely) tell them what you think. You can also organize a game of Budgetball if you like. If you're poor, or unemployed, or just hope to retire with some financial security someday, just remember: Be the ball, be the ball, be the ball.

Oh, wait ... you already are.

(SELF-PROMO NOTE: I'll be cohosting The Young Turks with Cenk Uygur today - Friday - from 7-9 pm EST. Webcast here.)

Richard (RJ) Eskow, a consultant and writer (and former insurance/finance executive), is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America's Future. (He'll be at the CAF annual conference in Washington June 7-9, along with Nancy Pelosi, Bill Moyers, and a host of other luminaries.)

Richard also blogs at A Night Light.

He can be reached at ""

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