Transcript #138-1

Social Darwinism: The Doctrine That Lets The Right-Winger Sleep At Night


Partially hyperlinked to sources.  For all sources, see the data resources page.



Sources you'll hear in this segment include:, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics,, the New York Times, and


Are you one the decent-minded people in the world who wonders, how do right-wingers sleep at night?  When it's so obvious that so many of their policies hurt the poor, increase human misery, suffering pain and death?


Let me tell you a bit about a noxious doctrine called Social Darwinism, since it's so critical to understanding the right-wing mindset.


Social Darwinism is sure to be invoked whenever Obama or anyone else tries to pass legislation with economic justice as a goal.


Charles Darwin of the theory of evolution fame had nothing to do with this doctrine.   The Social Darwinism doctrine was developed by an English philosopher named Herbert Spencer, 30 years after Darwin's book On The Origin of Species was published.


Robert Reich was Bill Clinton's Secretary of Labor, and much more progressive than Clinton and other DLC Democrats on economic issues.  He explains Social Darwinism in words I can't improve upon:


Extending Darwin into a realm Darwin never intended, Spencer and his followers saw society as a competitive struggle where only those with the strongest moral character should survive, or else the society would weaken. It was Spencer, not Darwin, who coined the phrase "survival of the fittest."

Social Darwinism thereby offered a perfect moral justification for America’s Gilded Age, when robber barons controlled much of American industry, the gap between rich and poor turned into a chasm, urban slums festered, and politicians were bought off by the wealthy.

It allowed John D. Rockefeller, for example, to claim that the fortune he accumulated through the giant Standard Oil Trust was "merely a survival of the fittest...the working out of a law of nature and a law of God."

Reich goes on to explain how Social Darwinism is the moral philosophy underpinning the right-wing legislative agenda:


…Social Darwinism gives a moral justification for rejecting social insurance and supporting tax cuts for the rich. "In America," says Robert Bork, "‘the rich’ are overwhelmingly people – entrepreneurs, small businessmen, corporate executives, doctors, lawyers, etc. – who have gained their higher incomes through intelligence, imagination, and hard work."

Any transfer of wealth from rich to poor thereby undermines the nation’s moral fiber. Allow the virtuous rich to keep more of their earnings and pay less in taxes, and they’ll be even more virtuous. Give the non-virtuous poor food stamps, Medicaid, and what’s left of welfare, and they’ll fall into deeper moral torpor.

So it hurts the poor to help them, and helps the poor to take away what little help they receive.  Ah, a philosophy to soothe the conscience of a greedy bastard if I ever heard one.


No one nailed the right-wing better than John Kenneth Galbraith when he framed it thusly:


The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.


How about we now examine some examples of right-winger's spouting Social Darwinism claptrap.  Best to have a finely developed antennae to detect this poison, however subtly expressed it sometimes is.  There are many varieties.  Maybe not 57, but many.


Ok, the most famous recent example would be former Senator Phil Gramm, of Texas, a proponent of extreme right-wing, law-of-the-jungle economics.  His comment was indirect.


In the summer before the '08 election, when he was co-chairman of John McCain's campaign, Graham pooh-poohed talk of a recession, and said our country had become a "nation of whiners."


Of course, there he was implicitly attacking not only the poor for complaining, but the middle-class as well, and that's a no-no. So Gramm was soon out of that co-chairmanship gig.


Sometimes the Social Darwinist outlook comes out as contempt, phony pity, for people who obviously can't help themselves and should be grateful for anything that comes their way.


Here's Barbara Bush commenting on an arena full of Hurricane Katrina victims:


audio: Barbara Bush

[S]o many of the people in the arena here, you
know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she
chuckles slightly) is working very well for them.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Yoshi Tsurumi had George Bush as a student at Harvard Business School.  Tsurumi wrote that


I still vividly remember him. In my class, he declared that "people are poor because they are lazy"…To him, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal was "socialism."

You want to now listen to some explicit Social Darwinism rants?


Here's radio talk show host Bill Cunningham this past fall.  He's no obscure guy.  Talker's Magazine lists him on its Heavy Hundred list of important talk show hosts.


One day he opined:


audio: Bill Cunningham

You know, people are poor in America…not because they lack money; they're poor because they lack values, morals, and ethics. And if government can't teach and instill that, we're wasting our time simply giving poor people money.

Another day he elaborated:


audio: Bill Cunningham

The reason people are poor in America is not because they lack money, it's because poor people in America lack values, character, and the ability to work hard.

Now Cunningham just sort of stated the doctrine as a matter of fact.  Another right-wing jock, Neal Boortz, adds a healthy dose of venom.  And Boortz, again, is a major talk show host, and is on Hannity & Colmes all the time.


Take a listen.  I'll play a bit, so you can get the full flavor.  He's speaking about victims of Hurricane Katrina, just this year:


audio: Neal Boortz

Cries of the downtrodden, my left butt cheek. That wasn't the cries of the downtrodden; that's the cries of the useless, the worthless. New Orleans was a welfare city, a city of parasites, a city of people who could not and had no desire to fend for themselves. You have a hurricane descending on them and they sit on their fat asses and wait for somebody else to come rescue them. "It's somebody else's job to get me out of here. It's somebody else's job to save my life. Not mine. Send me a bus, send me a limo, send me a boat, send me a helicopter, send me a taxi, send me something. But you certainly don't expect me to actually work to get myself out of this situation, do you? Haven't you been watching me for generations? I've never done anything to improve my own lot in life. I've never done anything to rescue myself. Why do you expect me to do that now, just because a levee broke?"

Here are a few more choice excerpts:


audio: Neal Boortz

When these Katrina so-called refugees were scattered about the country, it was just a glorified episode of putting out the garbage.

[T]heir entire lifestyle prior to Katrina was sitting around on their asses and waiting for checks.

I am fed up with this conventional wisdom that Katrina and the disaster that followed was George Bush's fault. It was not. The primary blame goes on the worthless parasites who lived in New Orleans who you -- couldn't even wipe themselves, let alone get out of the way of the water when that levee broke.

The slyest, most effective approach is Bill O'Reilly's, who frames his deception as a supposed moral teaching. O'Reilly had this to say, commenting on frantic people waiting to be rescued from New Orleans rooftops after Hurricane Katrina:


Every American kid should be required to watch videotape of the poor in New Orleans and see how they suffered because they couldn't get out of town.  And then every teacher should tell the students, "If you refuse to learn, if you refuse to work hard, if you become addicted, if you live a gangsta life, you will be poor and powerless just like man of those in New Orleans."

In other words, they deserved it!  The victim deserved what happened to them.


Think about this for a minute.  Under Bill Clinton poverty went down.  Under George Bush it went up.


What, did the poor become more intelligent, more moral and more hard-working under Clinton?  And less intelligent, less moral and less hard-working under Bush?


Of course not.


There are millions of working poor in America, who are intelligent, moral and work hard.  They're still in poverty because, among other things, the minimum wage is so low, and union-busting is rampant.


Whether wrapped up in O'Reilly's fig leaf of a lesson to children, or nakedly stated in Boortz's thinly-veiled racist rant, O'Reilly and Boortz are expressing the right-wing's underlying credo.


Condemnation of the poor, blaming them for their situation, is always a sure-fire crowd-pleaser among right-wingers.


We progressives have to be able to detect it and renounce it at every turn.




Transcript #138-2

Paraguay Rejects Right, Elects As President The "Bishop Of The Poor"


Partially hyperlinked to sources.  For all sources, see the data resources page.



Your sources for this segment include: the New York Times, the CIA Factbook, the BBC, several Papal encyclicals,, the National Catholic Reporter, and


You've probably barely heard of the small Latin American country of Paraguay.


Well, something pretty amazing has happened there.


First a bit of background.


Paraguay has a little under 7 million people, a full third living in poverty.  One percent of the population owns 77% of the land.  It has one of the most skewed distributions of wealth in the world.


That means death to many.


A country's infant mortality rate is the number of infants who die before one year old, per thousand live births.


Paraguay's infant mortality rate is four times that of the United States.  If Paraguay had as low an infant mortality rate as the United States, over 3,700 babies in Paraguay would live, not die, each year.


This is among a population far less than just New York City.


Such injustice was perpetuated by the longest one-party rule in the world.  It was the right-wing Colorado party.


For much of its 61 years of control, torture and murder were used to prevent progressive challenges to its power.  Perhaps you've heard of Operation Condor?


Well, there was a stunning development that I've been following since early this year, but haven't gotten around to speaking about because of our own presidential campaign.


A priest who ministered to the poor for 11 years, and later became a bishop, was elected president of Paraguay.   He was known as the Bishop of the Poor.


The impoverished masses, along with many others,  rise up, and elect Fernando Lugo, the Bishop of the Poor, as president.


Lugo's platform?


Overall, redistributing wealth to Paraguay's poor.




Two methods:


Land reform to lift the landless out of poverty


And increasing agricultural export tariffs, which are near zero now.  That's so that some of the profits can be shared by the nation as a whole.  Paraguay is the fourth largest exporter of soybeans in the world, yet so many of its people go hungry .


As Lugo succinctly put it, he pledged to be "implacable with the robbers of the people."


And symbolically, Lugo


renounced his $US40,000 ($46,100) salary and urged other politicians to do the same as a symbol of his vows for economic austerity and transparency.

Lugo still faces an entrenched Colorado party.


This will be most interesting to keep an eye on, and inspiring if Lugo can make a go of it.



OK, let's now expand the frame a bit.


A former Roman Catholic Bishop being elected on a leftist platform brings me back to the late 70's and 80's.  The Sandinistas overthrew the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza.  There were at least four priests that I remember holding Cabinet posts in the Sandinista government. 


Miguel D'Escoto was foreign minister.  Ernesto Cardenal was Culture Minister.  Minister of Public Welfare was Edgar Parreles.  And Fernando Cardenal was Minister of Education.  I met Fernando Cardenal when I visited Nicaragua in 1984.


These Christians understood the true meaning of Matthew 25's Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, of being on the side of the poor.  See podcast 111 for more on that.


Anyway, Ernesto Cardenal lived to attend Lugo's inauguration.  How cool is that?


It's not just 1980's Nicaragua and present-day Paraguay.  As the National Catholic Reporter recently put it:


[A]new generation of Latin leaders schooled in the social teachings of the Catholic church is emerging, augmenting moves that are taking their nations further from the U.S. orbit.

Lugo's platform literally


came directly from the social justice teachings of the Catholic church, which focused on human and cultural rights of indigenous peoples and the need for a more equitable distribution of the nation’s resources for the common good.

I want to tell you some of the elements of Catholic social teaching.  It amazed me when I did the research.  I've done an entire show on this, complete with citations to relevant Papal encyclicals and other official church documents.  That's podcast 53.  I also have a separate document on this.  I'll put a link to it on the podcast blog, and there's a link in the transcript at this point as well.


I've distilled the social justice teachings down to some basic principles.  Here are some of them:


Both faith and works are required

The world's resources were meant for all to share equitably, so that each individual and people have a sufficient share

Christian duty must be similarly global in scope, our responsibility being to all of humanity

The market alone can not address all human needs, and its shortcomings need to be addressed

The existence of unjust political and economic structures must be recognized

So harmful are these structures that they can even be called "structures of sin"

Working to remove these structural injustices, or "structures of sin," is critical

I really like that term, structures of sin.


Continuing on with some more principles:


Individual acts of charity are not enough

A government role can be appropriate in effectuating the social Gospel

Extreme, life-threatening poverty is caused by injustice, not laziness

Demonization of the poor is therefore wrong

Hear that, all you Social Darwinists?


A few final ones:


Christians must exercise a "preferential option for the poor"

A living wage is required by fundamental justice

Help for immigrants, even for undocumented aliens, is required

Fundamental changes in global economic structures and practices are necessary

Intrigued?  To find out more, you can check out that podcast 53.


Up next after the music, as we continue in this realm: the most powerful words I ever heard.






This whole discussion of Catholic social teachings, and Lugo when he said he would be "implacable with the robbers of the people", also brings to my mind some of the most powerful words I've ever heard, spoken to me face-to-face across a kitchen table.


I was on an educational travel seminar, a "reality tour" to Central America.  We went to Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.  This is the trip I met Fernando Cardenal on.  He was quite an impressive man, but nothing he said blew me away like what I'm about to tell you.


There are impoverished people who are inspired by Catholic social teachings.  They work to organize their communities both for social betterment, and political empowerment to achieve systemic social change.


Adela was one such person.  She was visiting us in the little group house we were staying in.  Telling us how she saw the world, as we listened to her around the kitchen table.


Now an aphorism is defined as a "comprehensive maxim or principle expressed in a few words."


Well, check this out as maybe, certainly in my eyes, the mother of all aphorisms:


God gave the earth to everyone equally, and if some have too much and some too little, the ones with too much must have stolen it some way. 

Let me repeat that:


God gave the earth to everyone equally, and if some have too much and some too little, the ones with too much must have stolen it some way. 

Let's break down the three parts of this statement.  The first part is "God gave the earth to everyone equally."  Whether you believe in a God or not, could it really be denied that every human being has the right to a fair share of the earth's resources, at least enough to keep them alive if they fulfill their part of the social contract, and work hard and play by the rules?


About the second part , "if some have too much and some too little,"  Adela wasn't talking about if some people have Mercedes and some people Honda Civics.  She was talking about true, death-causing want.


She was talking about the hundreds of millions, if not billions of people, who have too little, in the sense of barely enough to survive, and in many cases, not enough to survive.


She was talking about the over 9 million children under the age of five who die needlessly every year on planet Earth from preventable hunger and preventable disease.


And the third part, "the ones with too much must have stolen it some way"? The way I look at it, nobody is going to willingly give up the food that could keep them alive or the medicine that would let them recover from a sickness. 


Nobody is going to willingly give up the opportunity to work to be able to purchase that food and medicine.


If someone doesn't have food or medicine, and they're willing to work for it, then yes, the ones with too much must have stolen it in some way, through fraud or force, from the person dying because they're without.  They must be preventing that person, either directly or indirectly through structures of sin, from securing that food and medicine.


How about right-wing, reverse Robin Hood, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer policies?


How about, as we discussed last podcast, the Four Pillars, the ways right-wing ideology is employed by the Western World to economically exploit the Third World?


All of this is encapsulated in Adela's mere 28 words.


The true progressive fights to stop the fraud and the theft and to change the political and economic structures of sin which perpetuate the fraud and the theft and the human suffering and dying.


That's, frankly, what I've committed a great part of my life to.


I hope you're willing to join and help me, and certainly more importantly the millions of others on this quest.   Not just President Lugo in Paraguay, but all the Lugo's and all the peoples of the world rising up for justice against right-wing policies of death and suffering.


I'm on Adela's side.  Are you?



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