Saturday, April 2, 2011

CAGW - CItizens Who Want You to Hate China

There’s an organization that calls itself “Citizens Against Government Waste” that, in fact, is trying to fool us by calling itself by that name. I’m sure they don’t like to see the government being wasteful, but then, who does? Which is to say, their organization’s name is meaningless. They might as well call themselves “Citizens Against Bad Stuff.”

What CAGW is really against is people who are not multi-millionaires. In fact, if they were honest, they would rename themselves “Citizens With Questionable Ethical Standards Who Want to Make Life Even Easier for the Privileged Few.”

I say this because CAGW has recently been rerunning an old ad, one whose messages are that (1) America has lost its way by letting government get too big, (2) America, having let government get too big, will soon be dominated by China (a country, we should note, whose government is as big as they get), and (3) Chinese professors and their students are malicious schemers who will gloat fiendishly as soon as they have us where they want us.

Let’s start with this last point, the one based on CAGW’s bigotry against the Chinese. In their ad, a gloating Chinese professor from the year 2030, laughs with satisfaction at the way Americans have been forced to work for the Chinese. His laughter triggers a similarly gloating response from the students in his class. The reason for America’s downfall is said to be its heavy burden of debt, much of which is owed to the People’s Republic of China.

The portrayal of both the Chinese professor and his students is a gross misrepresentation of what most Chinese professors and students are like, and seems designed to conjure up racial hostility against Chinese in general. I think CAGW has tried to provoke this bigotry in its viewers because it believes that the fear and resentment this entails will encourage viewers to accept its message about how America went wrong. CAGW, in other words, is not racist for no reason at all. Rather, it is racist because it believes promoting racism will help sell its message.

Let me say at this point that my work over the past three decades has brought me into contact with dozens of Chinese professors. And let me also say there is not a single one among these colleagues who resembles the cartoonish villain portrayed by CAGW. For example, in the summer of 2000, while I was living on a university campus in Beijing, one of my Chinese colleagues, whom I will call Professor Lin, described to me the anger he felt toward his own government as a consequence of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Dr. Lin told me how, on the day following the massacre, he went from hospital to hospital in Beijing trying to determine just how many citizens had been killed by the troops who rolled into the square the night before. He concluded that probably about 300 fatalities resulted from that action, and his attitude toward his own government remains bitter because of it.

Being a man who believes deeply in democracy, Dr. Lin has freely criticized his own government for its failure to implement liberal reforms. Nor is he reluctant to criticize our government for its failings. He was not favorably impressed, for example, when we invaded Iraq. He would never, however, stand in front of a class and sneer mockingly to his students about the helplessness and stupidity of Americans.

And Dr. Lin is typical of the Chinese scholars I have known. I have spent about a year and a half living on various campuses in the People’s Republic of China, including one year (1993-94) when I was a visiting professor at Qingdao University.

Not only have I met and worked beside dozens of decent and forthright Chinese professors, I’ve also met and lectured to hundreds of Chinese students. The CAGW ad would have us believe that just as Chinese professors are scheming villains who look forward to subverting American interests, Chinese students act the part of the villain’s weak and dimwitted sidekicks: They laugh gloatingly once the professor clues them in to how helpless they have made the United States.

The Chinese students I have taught have been generally patriotic in the sense that they would like to see China grow strong enough to earn the respect of the world and provide its citizens with a middle class standard of living. Some of them have even expressed a measure of envy toward the status and influence enjoyed by the United States. But no class of Chinese students would laugh like a gaggle of villainous sidekicks at the comments made by CAGW's Chinese professor. If one of their professors were to indulge in such an outburst of gloating, the students I know would most likely sit in stunned silence wondering whether their mentor had downed too many shots of baijiu before coming to class.

CAGW sees a problem with our government’s endless borrowing and so do most of us. But the problem with our government’s borrowing is not that it represents an opportunity for evil scheming by malicious Chinese; the problem is that that the massive debt will have to be paid back by future generations of Americans and thereby undermines our children’s and grandchildren’s futures. It was not necessary for CAGW to resort to racism to make this point.

In addition to expressing a racist tone, the ad is fundamentally dishonest. For example, it presents taxation as contributing to national debt when it was the drastic tax cuts of the Bush administration that broke the back of our once balanced budget.

Since the “against government waste” line is obviously bogus, why won’t CAGW explain what truly sets it apart from the rest of us? From their “Chinese Professor” ad, I would suggest it is a bias in favor of giving corporations more tax breaks combined with a willingness to disregard ordinary standards of fairness and decency in promoting their agenda.

Naive young American being subverted by scheming Chinese student?

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