Annals of Amoral Advertising: Citizens Against Government Waste Predicts Communist Triumph

Citizens Against Government Waste is basically the same thing as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals : a reasonable-sounding name on a bunch of crazed fanatics with an untenable agenda. Why, yes, we should be nicer to animals! Why, no, that doesn’t mean we have an obligation to try homeopathic medicine instead of real medicine .

So PETA says “don’t mistreat animals,” but what PETA means is that anything that happens between humans and animals is inherently mistreatment. And CAGW says “don’t waste taxpayers’ money,” but what CAGW means is that government programs are inherently wasteful. (At least, government programs for liberal purposes are wasteful—the nonpartisan waste-fighting watchdogs at CAGW have somehow only added one item to their “War on Terror” page since 2007.)

This strain of activism—reasonable in the foreground, crazy in the background—encourages the production of pure bullshit, in the Harry Frankfurt sense : arguments that are made with complete indifference to whether or not they are true. Everything the advocacy groups say is in the service of the greater principle, so it’s OK to make stupid and dishonest statements all day long.

If you argue with them, you sound like you’re in favor of animal abuse or government waste. It’s easier to just go along with the stupidity, like Bill Clinton mocking research about “stress in plants” in the State of the Union. Stress! In plants! Those ridiculous plant scientists , wasting research dollars on plants’ feelings.

But eventually, the fanatics get confused and lose track of the difference between plausible and implausible bullshit. That’s when you get the PETA campaign about how eating chickens is just like the Holocaust . And it’s when you get the new CAGW commercial about how the Red Chinese are going to conquer America because we spent too much money on the stimulus.

Sure, it’s xenophobic, if not racist (nice work answering the Yellow Peril casting call , you D.C.-area Asian-American college kids—very Gedde Watanabe of you). And as Alex Pareene and James Fallows and anyone who knows anything about anything have pointed out, the whole premise is preposterous. China is spending unbelievable amounts of money on stimulus projects, running high-speed rail all over the country, pumping public funds into the alternative-energy sector, on and on and on. They are reportedly mulling whether to stop their stimulus spending at half a trillion dollars or to just go ahead and make it a full trillion .

If the Chinese are laughing at us in 2030, it will be because they are zipping around their country on maglev trains while we are using mule carts to carry the few imported Chinese goods we can still afford, over the ruins of our own transportation network. Their entire country is one big public-works project. It’s as if the Women’s Christian Temperance Union made a commercial in which the Russians gloat about how America was ruined by drinking too much alcohol.