Rachel Maddow and the Anti-Intellectual Left

By: August 16, 2011

I’ve been pondering for some time now the need for a Voices of the Tea Party e-book that points out the intellectual weakness of political and economic arguments advanced by the Left in the contemporary public dialogue. As someone who always tries to  get the facts of history correct, regardless where they lead, I am frequently dismayed to see how truly anti-intellectual the Left is. They frequently claim to be “seekers of the truth,” but the reality is they’re “protectors of the faith.”

Now comes a challenge to Rachel Maddow, a very smart and clever propagandist employed by MSNBC, from an academic who is committed to the search for the truth. His name is Professor Steve Horwitz. He serves as a Professor and Economics Department Chair at St. Lawrence University, and he’s written extensively on topics of economic policy.

Professor Horwitz heard Rachel Maddow make a false statement on her program recently. Here, in part, is his challenge to her:

Ms. Rachel Maddow
MSNBC Television

Dear Ms. Maddow,

On your show of August 3rd, you argued that Herbert Hoover was responsible for the deepening of the Great Depression because of his commitment to what we would now call “austerity” and his refusal to act aggressively and use government spending to prop up the economy.  Your portrayal of Hoover as a proto-Tea Partier committed to free markets and laissez-faire is, however, historically inaccurate. 

One need only glance at Hoover’s own writings to see your mistake.  In his acceptance speech upon receiving the GOP nomination in 1932, he said:  “We might have done nothing. That would have been utter ruin. Instead, we met the situation with proposals to private business and the Congress of the most gigantic program of economic defense and counter attack ever evolved in the history of the Republic.”  Over the course of that year, Hoover proposed a variety of new spending programs as well as the largest peacetime tax increase in US history.  His set of programs foreshadowed the New Deal, and even FDR’s advisor Rex Tugwell admitted:  “When it was all over, I once made a list of New Deal ventures begun during Hoover’s years as secretary of commerce and then as president…. The New Deal owed much to what he had begun.”  Government spending over Hoover’s presidency increased by 47%, hardly evidence of a refusal to act or a commitment to austerity.  Of course the Smoot-Hawley tariff and a near-prohibition of immigration are hardly the acts of a man committed to small government.  Finally, Hoover was convinced that maintaining high wages was the key to prosperity, and he successfully convinced major employers to not cut wages in the early 30s.  The result, of course, was the 25% unemployment that characterized his presidency. . .

I challenge you or the guest of your choice to a debate on the topic “The Great Depression was caused by laissez-faire capitalism and cured by big government.”  If you don’t want to do a debate, I would gladly appear on your show to do an interview on the topic.  Given your commitment to open inquiry, I would think you would gladly welcome the opportunity to expose your viewers to a dissenting view.  After all, if you are correct, you have nothing to fear but fear itself.  Plus, your competition at Fox and Fox Business regularly have guests with dissenting views and your commitment to open debate and intellectual honesty is at least as strong as theirs, is it not? . . .

An intellectually honest person would either admit her historical errors and/or take up my challenge.  I hope you do both.


Steven Horwitz
Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics
St. Lawrence University

You can read the complete text of his challenge  here.

I spoke to Professor Horwitz this afternoon, and readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that he’s not heard a word from Ms. Maddow or her producers. Don’t hold your breath they’ll ever respond. The Left, as we constitutional conservatives know, doesn’t like to be presented with actual facts that destroy their fragile world view.

Michael Patrick Leahy is the editor of the Voices of the Tea Party e-book series and co-founder of Top Conservatives on Twitter and the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition. His new  e-book, I, Light Bulb: A Death Row Testimonial, was published earlier this week. His new book, Covenant of Liberty: The Ideological Origins of the Tea Party Movement, will be published by Broadside Books in spring, 2012. He can be reached on Twitter at @michaelpleahy .

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