Episode 95: The Hollow Vanity of Libertarian “Choice” Rhetoric

Citations Needed | December 4, 2019 | Transcript

Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signs a right-to-work bill in 2015. (Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)


Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.

Nima Shirazi: Welcome to Citations Needed, a podcast on the media, power, PR and the history of bullshit. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.

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Nima: “‘Right-to-work’ means freedom and choice,” The Boston Globe explains. As housing costs rise, some people are choosing to live on the road instead,” a Fox Business headline states. “If your insurance company isn’t doing right by you, you should have another, better choice,” reads Joe Biden’s campaign platform.

Adam: Repeatedly, we’re told that “freedom of choice” is essential to a healthy, robust economy and human happiness. Economists, executives, politicians, and pundits insist that consumers can “choose” a healthcare plan the same way they shop for a TV, parents can “choose” their kids’ school, and gig-economy workers can “choose” their own schedule and benefits.

Nima: While this language paints an appealing picture, it’s actually profoundly deceitful. The notion of “choice” as your gateway to freedom and a sign of societal success isn’t just a neutral call for people to exercise some abstract civic power. Rather, it’s free-market capitalist ideology manufactured by libertarian and neoliberal think tanks and their mercenary economists and media messaging nodes. Its purpose: to convince people that they have a choice while obscuring the economic factors that ensure they really don’t. People can’t “choose” to keep their employer-provided insurance if they’re fired from their jobs or “choose” to enroll their kids in private school if they can’t afford the tuition.

Adam: In this episode, we’re going to examine the rise of “choice” rhetoric, how it cravenly appeals to our vanity and how U.S. media has uncritically adopted the framing — helping the Right erode social services while atomizing us all into independent, self-interested collections of choices.

Nima: Later we’ll be joined by Jessica Stites, Executive Editor of the labor magazine In These Times, where she runs the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting. She has been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Ms. Magazine, Jezebel, The Advocate and elsewhere and is board secretary of the Chicago Reader and a former board member of the Chicago Sun-Times.

[Begin Clip]

Jessica Stites: Workers know their working conditions and they know that sort of freedom of choice is not a real thing in your scheduling, right? It’s not like, ‘oh great, it’s so useful for me that I don’t find out my schedule until two days before I work, you know, that’s a great schedule flexibility.’ So it doesn’t actually hold water. I think it’s much more effective at the kind of policymaker realm or, you know, the halls of power, like the Supreme Court where you’re able to convince people, ‘oh, this is what workers really want. They really want the flexibility to be driving Uber at all hours of the day and night.’

[End Clip]

Adam: We briefly covered choice rhetoric specifically in the context of healthcare in our single-payer episode, Episode 41: The Moral Poverty of Capitalist Healthcare Framing, but the more we study the rights-gutting of social safety nets over the past year and a half since we aired that episode, we’ve noticed that this concept of choice keeps coming up again and again, that no matter where one turns, whether it’s housing, healthcare, labor, civil rights, the framing of quote-unquote “choice” and quote-unquote “the freedom to choose” defines the center of rhetorical gravity for much of the past 50 years.

[Begin Clip Montage]

Man #1: People should choose their own doctors, hospitals, and health plans.

Obama: And choose what’s best for your family.

Man #2: Not only will we be on firmer ground financially, people will be free to choose.

Man #3: Beginning in geographic areas where there’s only one insurance company writing policies people can choose it if they want.

Man #4: And so if you have a marketplace in education, you let parents choose the schools that are doing a good job teaching their kids and a good job measuring their success in teaching.

Obama: We’ll keep helping our veterans and their families choose the school that’s right for them under the post 9/11 GI Bill.

Man #5: Vouchers, which would allow you to choose the school that your child would go to and charter schools.

Man #6: They are, by the employer, given the benefit, but then choose from a variety of plans out there that best fit their family’s needs.

Woman: I introduce the Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act so people could all purchase the light bulb of their choice.

[End Clip Montage]

Nima: Research done through Google’s Ngram Viewer, where you can actually search through words used in books, this search actually shows a massive spike in the use of the phrase “free to choose” or the phrase “freedom of choice” in the mid- to late-1970s which actually correlates with the rise of libertarian-framed attacks on the then more liberal consensus. Gone were the days of paternalistic corporatism and in was now the language of freedom, liberty, and choice.

Adam: So the modern conservative think-tank complex emerged in the ‘70s, and the wave of new messaging was centered around freedom, choice and flattering the intelligence of the average person.

Nima: According to Eugene F. Smith, who wrote an essay on the emergence of right-wing think tanks, the kind of main inciting incident for this messaging shift was a memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce written by Lewis Powell. Now Lewis Powell was a corporate lawyer in Richmond, Virginia, who would actually go on soon after writing this memo to become a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. But Powell really initiated the call for big business, for corporate America to reassert itself in the wake of the late ‘60s, then early ‘70s kind of expansion of government regulation on businesses, for instance, and really rejoin the fight for greater free enterprise, less government intervention. So, on August 23rd, 1971, Lewis Powell sent a memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce entitled “Attack on American Free Enterprise System” and he stated the problem facing businesses as such:

“No thoughtful person can question that the American economic system is under broad attack. This varies in scope, intensity, and the techniques employed, and in the level of visibility . . . But what now concerns us is quite new in the history of America. We are not dealing with episodic or isolated attacks from relatively few extremists or even from a minority socialist cadre. Rather, the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.”

Richard Nixon congratulates newly-confirmed Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. in the Oval Office, 12/22/1971. (Henry Burroughs / AP)

Adam: The essay would go on to say, Powell believed that those who were attacking capitalism and free enterprise were extremely numerous and well-financed. He believed the attack was coming from quote, “the college campuses, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians.” Unquote. The answer for Powell was for business to become involved politically, to donate money, to organize and to fight for free-market systems wherever they were under attack. Powell would go on to say:

“The overriding first need is for businessmen to recognize that the ultimate issue may be survival — survival of what we call the free enterprise system, and all that this means for the strength and prosperity of America and the freedom of our people . . . If our system is to survive, top management must be equally concerned with protecting and preserving the system itself. This involves far more than an increased emphasis on ‘public relations’ or ‘governmental affairs’ — two areas in which corporations long have invested substantial sums.”

Powell saw the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as a key bulwark in the fight to preserve capitalism. The National Chamber of Commerce was ideal for organizing the fight according to Powell and it was in the best position to lead the way.

Nima: So, what you really saw in the wake of this memo is big business and also right-wing mercenary intellectuals really heeding this call, big business actually first and foremost. The number of corporations with public affairs offices in Washington, DC, grew from 100 in 1968 to over 500 the following decade. In 1971, when the Powell memo was written, only 175 firms had actually registered lobbyists in Washington. But a decade later, by 1982, nearly 2,500 did and the number of corporate PACs increased from under 300 in the mid-‘70s to over 1,200 by the middle of 1980. You also saw the explosion of actual think tanks. So for instance, the Heritage Foundation and the Pacific Legal Foundation were both founded in early 1973, the same year that the American Enterprise Institute was effectively brought back from the dead. Cato Institute was founded in 1977, as was the Adam Smith Institute, as well as the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation. The Reason Foundation was founded in 1978, Mercatus Center in 1980. From all these different, like, nodes of corporate influence came a new, very romantic vision of conservatism: now the free market, freedom, liberty and above all, choice.

Adam: But of course this choice rhetoric didn’t begin in the ‘70s. The ‘70s are where all the corporate- and billionaire-funded think tanks or millionaire-funded think tanks began to popularize it into the mainstream, which is why you can see it seep into the mainstream ultimately being conceded by and co-opted by many on the left and obviously new liberals as well. But this dates back to obviously the 1776 book Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. He suggested that people would serve the public interest through their own economic choices which were motivated by self-interest. This principle was turned into the invisible hand, which was meant to guide us to market prosperity for all. And then the sort of mother lode of all free choice theory and free choice rhetoric, which was far the most influential book for all the people we’ve listed was Friedrich Hayek’s 1944 book The Road to Serfdom, which posited a very familiar anticommunist theory that centralized government planning is an assault on quote “individual freedom” unquote and inexorably leads to dictatorship. Hayek likened communism to Nazi-ism and presented capitalism as the only means to preserve human dignity and prosperity.

Nima: Obviously.

Adam: He uses the term “freedom of choice” on page 35, page 62, again on page 62 and then later on page 64. “Freedom of choice” became the sort of new buzzword. And now Hayek of course informed anti-communism rhetoric during the McCarthy era of the ‘50s and early ‘60s.

Nima: Much like Hayek, uh, Ayn Rand, darling of the right wing, of the libertarian Right oftentimes, failed screenwriter, who is then propped up terrible, terrible ideological writings propped up by millionaire donors. But her writing similarly suggested that choice is really what separates humans from animals. So in Atlas Shrugged, written in 1957, you have Rand writing this quote:

“That which you call your soul or spirit is your consciousness, and that which you call ‘free will’ is your mind’s freedom to think or not, the only will you have, your only freedom, the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and your character.”

So, Atlas Shrugged, you know, you have lines from the protagonist, uh, John Galt who says this, quote:

“Man has been called a rational being, but rationality is a matter of choice — and the alternative his nature offers him is: rational being or suicidal animal. Man has to be man — by choice; he has to hold his life as a value — by choice; he has to learn to sustain it — by choice; he has to discover the values it requires and practice his virtues — by choice. A code of values accepted by choice is a code of morality.”

Adam: And so what you see here again and again is this constant reframing of giving people things, giving people material things — whether it’s housing, social security, education — as oppressive, that you’re actually oppressing them by giving them things because to give things to one person requires you to somehow take from the sort of job, the proverbial job creators. And so Ronald Reagan gave a speech at Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign. Barry Goldwater, of course, wanted to make social security voluntary, and Ronald Reagan was really where all this kind of culminates. He is the ultimate ambassador of the choice framing. He gave a speech at 1964 RNC called, quote “A Time for Choosing,” in which he would go on to sort of talk about the value of choice and individual choice. Now, this really kind of peaked in 1980, which of course was the year Reagan was elected. Previously that year, PBS released a ten-part documentary called Free to Choose hosted and based on the book that came out around the same time by Milton and Rose Friedman. Milton Friedman obviously is the sort of godfather of far-right-wing libertarian ideology. Of course, it’s not really libertarian because he’s also very pro-war in many ways, anticommunist in many ways — but we’re not going to get into what is and what isn’t libertarian and what it is and what isn’t anarchist, etcetera, etcetera — but suffice to say, the series was, was sort of universally praised by liberals. It was a basically a ten-part kind of PBS liberal-endorsed infomercial for far-right ideology. The episodes were called quote, “The Tyranny of Control,” another episode was called “What’s Wrong With Our Schools?” And another was “The Failure of Socialism.”

Nima: They’re just like John Stossel episodes.

Adam: Well, it’s funny you mention that because the person who produced Free to Choose the PBS series, Bob Chitester, he went on to start the Free to Choose Network, which to this day makes videos, many of which feature John Stossel, which is funded by the Koch brothers’ State Policy Network and of, course, Howard Rich. And they’ve given us such gems as “The Human Cost of Welfare” and long explanations, which we had in our John Stossel episode, about why we shouldn’t have maternity leave, because — why? — it takes away a woman’s choice to not go to work. And so, um, so we’re going to listen to this opening segment here, which is again, sort of establishes the romantic vision. So, in 1990, they re-released Milton Friedman’s Free To Choose ten years after its original premiere. And this time, they did it with an intro by Ronald Reagan, which we’re going to listen to here.

[Begin Clip]

Ronald Reagan: In 1980, a friend of mine did something of rare importance that some historians might miss. Dr. Milton Friedman, a scientist, a careful thinker, and a great teacher first presented his TV series Free to Choose. His TV series was about choices, risks, freedom, equality, and making a better future for all of us. In 1976, the 200th birthday of our nation, Milton Friedman won the Nobel prize, peace prize in economics. 200 years earlier in the same year as the Declaration of Independence, Adam Smith, the Scotsman, published a book titled The Wealth of Nations. The United States was the first country to apply the ideas in Adam Smith’s book. Those ideas have led to our prosperity and given us our freedom. In Free to Choose, Milton Friedman shows us how those ideas can help us today.

[End Clip]

Nima: “The more you know.”

Adam: First off, I think the whole thing is so funny about this. I think one thing liberals make the mistake of doing too much is to act like the development of conservative intellectual themes are like this organic thing that’s attractive. I think they’re to some extent organic, but, like, there’s a lot of money that goes into this stuff. These are basically just public relations firms for the Chamber of Commerce. And there’s a reason why the right-wing thing take industry emerged from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and why the American Enterprise Institute, which is sort of the original, OG public relations firm for the American corporate state emerged out of the 1940s. And fun fact, which we’ll have in our show notes about the American Enterprise Institute, of all the think tanks we’ve mentioned, it’s the one that actually predates, it was actually brought back from the dead. It had an idle for about 15 years. It was started during the Roosevelt administration and really took off in earnest after World War II to take on what it called state socialism. So the American Enterprise Institute until 1962 was called the American Enterprise Association and it was supposedly founded as a tax-exempt education organization, but was shutdown for effectively being revealed to be a lobbying arm of the Transportation Association, which is a railroad lobby. So we’re going to read from an article from the Evening Express in 1948. Robert S. Allen reports. The headline is “Truman Foe Folds Up After Committee probe.”

Nima: “The Truman foe” meaning Harry Truman, who followed FDR, and the foe is the AEA.

Adam: Yeah, and so these people militantly hated the unions and they hated Democrats and this is what the article would say, quote, “The American Enterprise Association, a militant foe of the Truman administration, tax welfare, and other policies has quietly closed its high-powered Washington office.” It would go on to say, “The lobby investigating committee will launch its hearings sometime in January. Its agents have been scrutinizing the American Enterprise Association’s literature and operations, particularly its tax-exempt status and failure to register under the Lobby Registration Act. AEA claim tax exempt as a ‘educational organization.’ During the past, Congress sent every member a daily analysis of pending legislation which administrators charged was loaded against them.” And then it would go on to say, quote, “National offices of the organization were at 475 5th Avenue, another entrance of the same address as the Transportation Association of America.”

Nima: Whoops. (Laughing.)

Adam: “A railroad lobby. When critics pointed this out, the American Enterprise Association changed its address to 4 East 41st Street. This is another entrance of the same office building.”

Nima: (Laughing.) Same building.

Adam: So, here you have, um, here you have the original kind of right-wing think tank, which is the American Enterprise Institute, still very influential. Back when it was called AEA before it went dormant and was revived in 1970s as sort of more overtly neoconservative, they were basically just a sort of right-wing shadow government meant to propagandize against FDR. But this is back, I guess when we had some semblance of enforcing lobbying laws. Now we’ve argued on the show many times that think tanks are basically just lobbying organizations. This is an instance of that being more overtly true. They made the mistake, however, of not laundering it through enough mercenary academics and actually setting up their physical shop in the railroad lobby building in New York. But that really goes to show you this, sort of, when people talk grandiosely about conservative intelligentsia, they’re very well paid. They’re all millionaires. In academia, they would make probably about a fifth or a tenth of what they make working for these mercenary think tanks. So I don’t wanna be too romantic about the kind of lineage of conservative, of conservative ideology because most of it’s just kind of a public relations arm of the Chamber of Commerce and industry lobbyists.

Nima: Yeah, even in present day, I mean you see this happen all the time. For instance, take, like, Freedom House, right-wing think tank, but you know, considered to be a quote-unquote “human rights organization” that’s primarily funded by the United States Agency for International Development, USAID, as well as the State Department. Freedom House, you know, puts out reports. It is uncritically referred to and quoted in media. It is, you know, seen as being a very nonpartisan authority. And yet it also is doing this work to launder libertarian and right-wing ideology. So it uses consistently the word “choice” in, let’s say, its methodology determining how it ranks a country’s quote-unquote “freedom.” It does these “Freedom” indices that come out annually and, you know, always get write-ups in the press and, you know, so “choice” is one of the metrics. For instance, in the 2019 Freedom House report on Freedom in the World, one of the criteria of this determination is literally the answer to this question, quote, “Do the people [in whatever country] have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice? And is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?” End quote. So this would otherwise be pretty damning of a country that hasn’t seen, like, a new viable political party really rise for the past hundred years. Like, for instance, in the United States. But of course the U.S. is exempt from such standards because it controls the actual narrative here. It funds Freedom House primarily. So this report, like nearly all of Freedom House documentation, is clearly meant to demonize socialist states, the ones where we are consistently told, remember, there is no choice. It’s the same stuff on the shelves. You don’t have political parties, you cannot choose what you get. The education is the same, the healthcare is the same, etcetera, etcetera. That is basically the limitation of choice as condemned when it’s socialist. Obviously, if you can decide to pick to back a fascist party in an election, that’s fine, because it’s all about choice.

Adam: Yeah, and to the extent to which they’ve addressed the unions and unionization, there’s a big focus on, like, not having powerful state unions or having employees being quote-unquote “forced” to join a union, which obviously is a major component of Janus, which we’ll discuss later. So again, this is something we’ve talked about on the show a lot, which is positive versus negative rights. Freedom House, the U.S. government in general and most of your kind of freedom indexes rights, they’re predicated on negative rights like being prevented from speech or freedom of assembly, but make no mention of positive rights, like freedom to eat and freedom to live and freedom to have a house and freedom to have education. These things are not considered part of the kind of, they’re not on the menu of choices. The menu of choices is limited to those which don’t require redistribution of wealth, which gets to this sort of core kind of rhetorical scam of choice, right? Which is the homeless guy can choose where to sleep at night. He is free to choose what garbage can he digs through. He has those choices. But what are choices when you don’t have stability or food or housing or shelter, right? None of these concepts are really counted for in this libertarian framing of choice. So what you have is a system that says, you know, you’re going to, we’re going to stick a hundred of you in this room and we’re going to, we’re going to offer you wheat crumbs or white bread crumbs. And that’s your choice.

Nima: And you’re free. And as a result, you are free.

Adam: Yeah. And I don’t want to sound too much like the, we don’t want to get into much of the philosophical notion of choice or free will, I don’t want to be the guy with the beard at the end of The Matrix 2, where we sort of digest the notion of free will because I think that’s kind of above our pay grade. But I will say that fundamentally this idea of choice is a way of making romantic and sexy and appealing to your ego when really what they’re doing is taking shit away from you. Because every single thing we’ve listed here is the government taking away free education, free healthcare, free housing and framing it as ‘look at this, you now have a choice’ when in reality of course you really don’t have a choice.

Nima: Right. It’s all about the kind of cynical use of weaponizing the language of choice. I, you know, I personally liked choosing between things if I have a choice, right? Like, that’s all fine. It is how it is used, as Adam, you just said, to, like, actually take things away and have that framed as being a positive thing because you are therefore now more free.

Adam: Well, right. It’s playing to your ego. It’s school choice, right to work, you choose. It’s Madison Avenue. Most marketing on Madison Avenue, they realize in the ‘50s and ‘60s that it’s all about you. L’Oreal. ‘You’re worth it.’ You choose, you decide, you know what’s best, Time person of the year 2006 is You. It’s sort of the ultimate non-statement. And so if you’re trying to convince the population of people that actually free healthcare and free education is bad, you really don’t have anywhere else to go but appeal to people’s vanity because you’re basically taking something that’s objectively good and most societies have and think is valuable, or I’d say most wealthy societies have and think is valuable, which is free education, free healthcare, free housing, and you’re framing it ‘actually no, this is a form of oppression.’ And really what you want is to be able to choose to do it.

Nima: Right.

Adam: And presumably one of those choices is not having it, which invariably millions of people end up quote-unquote “choosing” because they don’t have housing and they don’t have education.

Nima: Right. And yet we’re told that as long as you can compare prices or, or you get to decide, you know, which plan you want to purchase from the marketplace, that’s how choice is determined and yet, yeah, what is it actually saying about our society and what we value?

Adam: Yeah. And so we’re going to talk about choice in the context of a few topics here. We’re going to start with healthcare, which we did talk about in 41, so we won’t spend too much time on it if you haven’t listened to that episode. The ways in which choice discourse has completely rotted our healthcare debate in this country really can’t be overstated. And we could do a whole series of episodes on it ‘cause it’s really coercive. This was of course embraced by Obama himself. In 2008, there was this idea of the quote-unquote “marketplace,” you could purchase, you could compare, you could shop, this kind of consumerist lexicon. According to American Prospect editor, Mark Schmidt, the advent of the quote-unquote “public option” arose and the lead up to the 2008 presidential election. Writing for the American Prospect in 2009 Schmidt argued that Roger Hickey, one of the co-founders of American Policy Institute, pitched the term as a way of campaigns to hint at government-funded healthcare without having to use the term “single payer,” which they perceived as being unpopular. So as you’re going to see throughout this episode, here’s an attempt by a left-leaning think tank to try to use the term of choice to kind of win people over. And you see this time and again, and one of those we’ll argue here is that that’s not good because you’ve already kind of lost when you start doing that. And that in the long term, that’s not the best way of approaching this.

Nima: Right. That even if liberals or even people further to the Left start trying to kind of win the narrative, as long as you’re using the frame that’s already been established by the Right, you’re on your back foot at best, if not having already completely lost the argument because you’re just working within that framework, within the choice framework rather than creating something new.

Adam: Yeah, and Hickey would say in 2007, quote, “…our pollsters unanimously tell us that large numbers of Americans are not willing to give up the good private insurance they now have in order to be put into one big health plan run by the government.” So they had a pollster who looked at public backing for a single-payer plan and then compared it with the approach that offers a choice between a highly regulated private insurance and a public plan, an alternative they called “guaranteed choice,” which won 64 percent of the poll. So of course you had, this is all poll-driven, this is, like, poll-tested framing, which basically doesn’t try to change the dynamic and change the world, but simply tries to take something good and get incremental wins by kind of framing it in language that people understand. Of course people love choice. This is like “middle class” or “freedom” or “democracy.” Who doesn’t love choice? It’s so simple and it’s so elegant.

Nima: Right. Who would want the choice made for you?

Adam: And it’s worth noting that all the major 2008 candidates — John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Obama — adopted this new framing. The one who rejected it was Dennis Kucinich. And then so the Heritage Foundation, of course, created much of the Affordable Care Act and the Obama administration used their language, specifically that of a “healthcare marketplace.” Like I said, we covered this in Episode 41, so we don’t need to necessarily beat it, but definitely check that out. But we’re seeing this in the 2020 campaign kind of rear its ugly head.

[Begin Clip]

Pete Buttigieg: I actually think the public alternative that we create, that Medicare For All Who Want It, will probably be better than all of the private plans. I just trust the American people to make that decision for themselves and vote with their feet.

Man #1: Buttigieg says his plan is all about choice, meaning if you like your insurance plan, you can keep it.

Pete Buttigieg: If you want. Now others say it’s Medicare for All or nothing. I approved this message to say the choice should be yours.

Pete Buttigieg: That’s why the approach that I’m offering, Medicare for All Who Want It, is a better approach. It’s better because it gives you the choice to decide.

Woman: So he stressed that his plan is all about choice.

Man #2: This is still a free country, and when it comes to your healthcare and your family’s healthcare and your life, I think Americans should be allowed to make the choice for themselves.

[End Clip]

Nima: So, beyond rhetoric that you hear from various candidates, from Harris to Buttigieg to Biden about healthcare choice, another critical aspect of this — ‘it’s all up to you, you make the right decision’ — is in the realm of education. So we hear the term “school choice” consistently and used in service of very nefarious ends, actually, namely the preservation of racial segregation in schools and the related large-scale privatization of the education system. So, like, in order to sell this idea, the idea of school choice, right? ‘All parents should be able to just choose what is best for their kids.’ The concept of school choice has really been propped up by the libertarian canard that public institutions are inherently dysfunctional, they’re outdated, they’re sclerotic, while private alternatives, right — the free market — are actually efficient, they’re modernized, they’re iterative and adaptable. They change with the needs of who they are serving.

Adam: Yeah. And you see this a lot with obviously school choice rhetoric. The school choice movement sounds very romantic. The first organization that Cory Booker was a member of, that he received funding through, the Brady Foundation, and the DeVos family and, uh, the Walton family was called Black Alliance for Education Options. All they wanted was options, man. Now of course, to have options, you have to have an alternative to government programs, and to have an alternative to government programs, you have to break up the government programs and provide state-subsidized private quote-unquote “alternatives.” And so Milton Friedman had a 1955 essay, “The Role of Government in Education,” that predictably claimed the government had overreached in schools and that schools need to be privatized.

Nima: “Government overreach.”

Adam: Right.

Nima: The clear kind of a thing that then animates choice, right? Choice being necessary.

Adam: Now from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce crowd’s perspective, the reason why they hated public schools, aside from the fact that they wanted to privatize them and monetize them, was almost certainly more ideological, that public colleges and public high schools were seen as kind of incubators of radical leftism. And that if you could put them under private control, that that academic independence would no longer exist and they would be subject to the whims of funders and donors. Right? But this is not the argument you want to make. So what you make is this idea that it undermines personal choice. Friedman promoted the privatization of education via school vouchers, insisting that this allowed parents to send their kids to quote “exclusively white schools, exclusively colored schools, and mixed schools.” And one thing that can’t be overstated is the degree to which the choice rhetoric emerged in the context of school integration. And there’s one headline here, from the AP from 1968, that said, quote, “Wallace: South Demands School Integration Choice.”

“George C. Wallace said Sunday that restored local control of public schools, which he advocated for in his 1968 presidential bid, would mean a decrease in racial integration. ‘Yes, it would result in less integration,’ the former Alabama governor said. Both Wallace and Senator John Stennis, D-Miss, said the South demands a return to the so-called freedom-of-choice method of school desegregation.”

This was also, you may recall, Joe Biden’s excuse for why he opposed busing. He said he wanted to leave it up to the families in the local communities to choose. So, you notice how, how wonderful this choice rhetoric is because any kind of attempt by the social state or the liberal states to sort of correct anything is viewed as taking away our choices. You know, nobody wants to say, ‘I support segregation’ — I guess George Wallace would — but you know, very few people want to say, ‘I support segregation.’ So what you say is ‘let’s give people the choice. If they want to segregate, that’s their freedom to do so.’

Nima: Yeah. At least they have the freedom to do so, right? So, like, it is no surprise that the Milton Friedman essay in 1955 came out the year after the Brown v. Board of Education decision of the Supreme Court that ruled that school segregation was actually unconstitutional. That was 1954. Friedman writes this thing in ‘55 about the role of government in education. Surprise, surprise. It then should be about choice.

Adam: A 1968 article stated that approximately nine out of ten Southern school districts used quote, “freedom of choice” plans, which the Supreme Court did not declare unconstitutional. Under these plans students would be automatically re-enrolled in school every year unless they chose a different school. Thus white students could enroll in a school with a predominantly black student body and vice versa. In a 2018 article for The Atlantic, Will Stancil said, quote, “‘Freedom of choice’ placed the onus of integration on individual students and parents, who had to opt to cross the color lines themselves, facing social stigma, and, in the case of black parents and children, enduring severe discrimination.” So here, this is part of the atomization strategy, right? If you’re a billionaire or you run the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or you run DuPont or some large corporation, the thing you want most in the world is atomization. You want everyone to not work together because an atomized society is one that’s highly consumerist and easily controlled. And so the choice rhetoric is kind of the gift that just keeps giving.

Nima: You also see this when it comes to housing, and so we often hear that the precarity that comes oftentimes with renting rather than homeownership is — you know what? Surprise, surprise! — it’s a good thing. It’s actually a good thing because then you’re flexible, right? You’re mobile, you get to choose where you rest your head at night. You can move to follow jobs in a way that maybe you might not be if you’re locked down as a homeowner. And so real-estate interests and media outlets actually really operate together insisting that renters, as opposed to homeowners, choose to rent for this exact kind of mobility or convenience rather than simply a matter of the fact that, oh, I don’t know, buying a house is really fucking expensive.

Adam: Yeah. So one of the reasons why you don’t see the Right attacking housing using a choice language in a direct way is because there’s never been a social safety of meaningful social provision of housing. Right? But what you do see is how the media reports on housing. It sort of preemptively uses choice rhetoric. So the The Washington Post from May of last year said, quote, “Forget owning, renting is becoming the end game for many millennials and baby boomers.” The article was written by the president and CEO of the National Apartment Association. It’s basically a glorified, uh, it’s a glorified brochure for renting apartments and the apartment industry. The article said, “Whether just starting out in their career or settling into retirement, both generations are seeking a lifestyle that offers mobility, convenience and community… ‘There’s no question that apartment living keeps getting better,’ said Stephanie L. Williams, president of Bozzuto Management Company. ‘[Boomers are] staying fairly close to home in communities they’ve known for decades and are opting for nearby town center locations. Millennials, on the other hand, are enamored by the eclectic, energetic urban environment and thus love living downtown close to art, culture and entertainment.’” So there’s this constant idea that like that things like precarity, and you will see this later with labor when we talk about the gig economy, but things that are like, lack of security and lack of, like, having a consistent home that you’re not constantly being kicked out of are actually framed as choices, that you have freedom. And of course the highest thing in the world is to have choice and freedom. But in fact, this isn’t the case. There’s a 2018 study conducted by ApartmentList, a website, that found that 89.4 percent of quote “millennial” renters wanted to own a home and that 72 percent cited affordability as the reason that they didn’t have one. So are they choosing these small, tiny apartments in the city because they want to live in an eclectic, quirky neighborhood, or it’s because they have no money?

Nima: Right, exactly. Or because, like, buying in those neighborhoods where they would love to live, where they would choose to live, is literally impossible because it is so exorbitantly expensive. And so they continue to rent, and so the choice is about where they want to live, not about how they actually are able to spend their money and whether it’s between renting or home ownership.

Adam: You see this rhetoric all the time when people do this, the ‘why are millennials not having children?’ It’s constantly framed as ‘millennials are choosing to not have children’, but then when you sort of dig into the weeds of the survey, the main reason they give for why they’re not having children is that they can’t afford to have them. This isn’t some wonderful capitalist libertarian decision of maximizing utility. They don’t have the money.

Nima: You also see this when it comes to the labor market and jobs. So a number of gig-economy jobs are often touted as being really flexible, allowing workers to — what else? — choose their own schedules and in fact be their own bosses. What’s not mentioned of course, is how little this kind of work actually pays, how tenuous the job security is, and the fact that workers have to bear much of the fiscal burden as independent contractors say, like, with Uber, where workers are absolutely not their own bosses, but rather extremely beholden to the company’s executives.

Adam: Again, things like not having set schedules and not having reliable income are actually framed as good. So Amazon’s website promotes Amazon Flex, which is where you sort of drive around and drop off their packages for them. They say, quote, “Make your own hours.” You get to decide when you work. “Be your own boss. Build your own schedule. Opportunities available 7 days a week.” So again, once again, precarity is framed as a choice. It’s something you really, really want to do. Now, if you ask the average person, would you like a salary job where you work 40 hours a week? Yeah, they would all take that.

Nima: Right. However, say Lyft, the Uber competitor, their website on the driver page says this, quote, “Whether you’re trying to offset costs of your car, cover this month’s bills, or fund your dreams, Lyft will get you there. So, go ahead. Be your own boss.” End quote.

Adam: Executives, when they get pressured to give people benefits, to pay them for damage, you know, things normal employees are supposed to be paid for and this of course came up in California a lot, they routinely pushed back with choice rhetoric. Again, choice is the Swiss army knife of libertarian bullshit. So when Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi to The Verge: “When I asked drivers what they like about Uber, then every single time their top answer is ‘I get to be my own boss. I get to use you when I want to. I can do whatever I want.’”

Nima: Says their boss. (Laughing) That’s the best part.

Adam: So, like, the thing they don’t want, you know, they don’t want reliable income. This is of course something we know no one wants. They don’t want to have to be compensated for wear and tear of their car. They don’t want to be compensated for gas. Other things that employees like UPS drivers are compensated for. What they really want is to be their own boss.

Nima: Right. Right.

Adam: But of course they’re not their own boss. They have a fucking boss. And we know that because it’s you.

Nima: Right. Because you’re the one who just said that. And so an MIT study from early last year, 2018, found that Uber and Lyft drivers earned a medium hourly wage of just $3.37 after taking expenses into account. 74 percent of drivers earn less than their state’s minimum wage, the study found. So, this idea of getting glowing reviews from the drivers who are doing this work, yeah, some people really do like it, sometimes it can supplement income, whatever the fuck it may be, but that doesn’t make it somehow stable or that this is what is actually desired as, like, really good work. Right?

Adam: It’s also depressing other wages and offsetting other employment. The issue of right to work, I think of all the stuff we’ve talked about, right to work and the idea of freedom to choose as an anti-union force has probably been the most subtly damaging. And the recent Janus ruling last year in the Supreme Court was basically built and the scaffolding was created by choice rhetoric over the past 50, 60 years.

Nima: To talk more about this, we’re going to be joined by Jessica Stites, Executive Editor of the labor magazine In These Times, where she runs the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting. She has been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Ms Magazine, Jezebel, The Advocate and elsewhere and is board secretary of the Chicago Reader and a former board member of the Chicago Sun-Times. Jessica will join us in just a moment. Stay with us.


Nima: We are joined now by Jessica Stites, Executive Editor of the labor magazine In These Times. Jessica, thank you so much for joining us today on Citations Needed.

Jessica Stites: Thank you for having me.

Adam: We’ve been spending this whole time talking about choice rhetoric and the libertarian focus on choice. We’ve shown how the uses of the terms like “freedom of choice” and “freedom to choose” have skyrocketed since the ‘70s and have since tapered off, but they’re still very popular. And this kind of came to its logical culmination last year in the Janus versus the American Federation of State County Municipal Employees case, which went to the Supreme Court and had to do with whether or not you could collect fees from nonunion members. And this was of course framed as, um, you guessed it, a matter of choice and free choice. Can we talk about, specifically in the context of Janus as kind of an entry point, to how the concept of choice is weaponized by people like the Koch brothers, Bruce Rauner, Republican governor of Illinois at the time, ALEC, State Policy Network, etcetera and how that messaging informed the actual law itself and what was the kind of legal structure and legal justification for that ruling?

Jessica Stites

Jessica Stites: Sure. And I guess I would start by saying that the interesting thing about the choice rhetoric here is that it’s extraordinarily hollow in that I don’t think the people putting it forward actually believe it or it’s not their primary goal. And, um, I don’t think workers particularly buy it, but the one group that seemed very poised to swallow it was the Supreme Court. So the logic is this, that when a union bargains on your behalf, and in this case, when a public union in the state of Illinois goes to the state of Illinois and says, uh, you know, state workers need more money, they are speaking on your behalf. And by doing so, they are violating your First Amendment rights because you have not approved that particular message. And so the argument of Mark Janus, who is the plaintiff in this case against the state of Illinois, was that because he had not voted to join the union, that had happened before his time, therefore his right to choose was being violated and the union speaking on his behalf was a violation of his First Amendment rights. Now, originally, interestingly, the lawsuit was not brought by Mark Janus. The lawsuit was brought by the governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, on behalf of the public employees. And the judge sort of laughed him out of court and said, you do not have standing on behalf of the employees. You are the boss, go away. So these groups behind the lawsuit, the National Right to Work Foundation went and found Mark Janus, this state worker who was mad at his union and it was hard to find a plaintiff. This is not something that’s sort of bubbling out of workers, this frustration that their union speaks on their behalf. And that’s because it’s pretty obvious that the union is speaking on behalf of their collective interests, bargaining for their wages and benefits to be higher. And that’s pretty intuitive. But, um, you have to go to this kind of extreme libertarian place to say, ‘but I didn’t approve that exact message, therefore I should not have to — in this case — pay dues to the union.’

Nima: Right. Even though you’re still benefiting from what they’re bargaining for. Right?

Jessica Stites: Right. And unions are in a bind because they have to bargain on everyone’s behalf. They don’t get to say, ‘oh, Mark Janus didn’t opt in so he doesn’t get the wage raise.’ That was enshrined in the National Labor Relations Act 1935, The Doctrine of Exclusive Representation, it’s one union per shop and that union has to bargain on everyone’s behalf.

Nima: Right. Of course.

Jessica Stites: Ironically, you know, union dues are really a fraction of the wage benefits that unions provide. So workers are getting the better end of this deal. But Mark Janus wanted to opt out, and the Supreme Court took that seriously and said, yes, union speaking on your behalf is a violation of your First Amendment.

Adam: It’s oppressing you.

Jessica Stites: It’s oppressing you.

Adam: There’s a really popular saying that ‘To libertarians everything is slavery and rape except for slavery and rape.’ And I, like, this is sort of a good example, you’re being oppressed by like having to pay a union fee? Like this is the big — ?

Nima: Right. To, like, make sure that you have labor rights. You know that, like, you get better wages and maybe vacation time. I mean it’s fitting that the plaintiff in this case, his last name is Janus, which is like the two-faced god. So Jessica, you’ve previously worked at the Rockridge Institute with George Lakoff, which leads me to really want to talk to you about language and framing. What are some of, like, the common euphemisms that you have heard through your work that are meant to really, like, invoke notions, this very notion of free choice, but are in fact explicitly anti-worker or maybe under-the-radar anti-worker, even though if you know anything about it’s really anti-worker, that leave poor people even more precarious, vulnerable, impoverished?

Jessica Stites: Yeah. Well you see a lot of this “freedom of speech” and this “right to choose” rhetoric, so they really want you to think in a consumer framing as though unions are something you might shop for, and how dare you be presented with only one option, which is very unfair to unions since that is the sort of legal situation they’re in.

Nima: Right. That’s literally the law.

Jessica Stites: That’s literally the law. They cannot change it. Another thing you see a lot is kind of flipping the script so that the union becomes this oppressive force and the boss becomes the collective, the team. So you see a lot of, they talk a lot about coercive unionization, a lot about union bosses. This very ironic term coming from a boss, um, an actual boss.

Adam: Right. “Union bosses” out of the Chicago Tribune refers to the heads of the teachers’ unions, which was a great kind of throwback.

Jessica Stites: It’s interesting, actually, in the flexible workforce stuff you see, but that’s often sort of business rhetoric for business people. What you see when they’re really trying to bust a union is very collective language. So we, the company are a team, and the union’s trying to break up that team and it’ll make it so we can’t work together anymore. So it’s funny that they try to adopt that solidarity rhetoric in order to fight unions.

Adam: Yeah. I want to broaden the scope out here a bit to not just unions but generally, like, labor practices. Earlier we talked about the ways in which the gig economy is framed around choice, choosing your own schedule, freedom of movement. And that any kind of infringement on this alleged freedom is somehow oppressing the worker or limiting their abilities. Can we talk about maybe the ways in which you think that that kind of choice rhetoric conditions people, cause I know like for example when I was a waiter for seven years and when I was a waiter, they would give you, like, sections and if you worked hard, you got, like, better sections. But the thing is that from the manager’s perspective, they don’t lose anything from the sections. These divisions of sections are totally arbitrary. So they have, like, good sections and bad sections, and they lord them over your head, but they’re not, like, giving you anything extra. They’re just taking, you’re just basically in effect stealing from your coworkers. Right? To what extent does this, like, ‘you can make it’ entrepreneurial individuality, from your perspective and the work you’ve done working at a labor magazine, to what extent do you feel like people can begin to internalize these notions themselves and make actual unionization that much more difficult?

Jessica Stites: That’s an interesting question. You know, honestly what I have seen is that this rhetoric is not particularly effective on workers, in that workers know their working conditions and they know that sort of freedom of choice is not a real thing in you’re scheduling, right? It’s not like, ‘oh great, it’s so useful for me that I don’t find out my schedule until two days before I work, you know, that’s a great schedule flexibility’ so it doesn’t actually hold water. I think it’s much more effective at the kind of policymaker realm or, you know, the halls of power like the Supreme Court where you’re able to convince people, oh this is what workers really want. They really want the flexibility to be driving Uber at all hours of the day and night.

Nima: Well, yeah, and I think what is so often missed, that which I think you kind of were also touching on, Jessica, is that workers generally are extremely pro-union. Like, it’s not only that, like, they see through the rhetoric that is anti-union. It’s, like, there was a 2019 Gallup poll found that 64 percent of people in the U.S. approve of unions and that it’s at the highest approval rating in the past, like, half century. I mean, and that’s with all the negative propaganda about unions. So, like, you can imagine if you’re actually closer to that as a worker, you actually are able to see through this a lot more. So then when you see these power dynamics play out, it doesn’t have to do with the workers who are actually being affected. It’s decisions obviously being made by the people who are trying to bust unions in general.

Jessica Stites: I will say it was enjoyable to watch what happened right after Janus, which is all these groups that had backed it at the State Policy Network, groups kind of rubbed their hands together and said, ‘well, we’ll get all these workers to opt out of their unions!’ So this was, you know, suddenly public sector workers were able to opt out of their unions, stop paying dues, and these groups were, like, submitting public records requests. They could get the addresses of teachers and go knock on their doors and say, you know, ‘hallelujah, you can drop out of your union.’ And it was just extremely ineffective.

Nima: They’re, like, no thanks. Yeah.

Adam: I want to talk about the follow-up from Janus cause I actually think this tells us a lot about what you’re speaking to and it tells us a lot about the kind of emptiness of choice rhetoric where the sky didn’t fall, and now I don’t want to overplay that because there is a lot of long-term issues here that could later play out in a bad way, but in many ways the Janus ruling didn’t, because I think a lot of these people drink their own Kool-Aid. Like, they really do believe that people all want to be rugged libertarian, sort of Randian heroes of their own life, and that if they’re given the choice they want to, I guess, I don’t know, go start their own union or go join a Silicon Valley upstart called Unionify? I don’t know what the sort of alternative is here, but then that didn’t end up being the case. Can you talk about that and sort of maybe the disappointment from an ideological perspective of your ALEC crowd?

Jessica Stites: Yeah, so we did a follow-up by Heather Gies six months after Janus to just check on what had happened. And these groups were trumpeting these huge opt-out campaigns. I mean they were, like, working outside workplaces to hand out their literature and say ‘opt out of your union.’ They were mailing people, emailing people, calling people, setting up these websites, putting up billboards, and they could not produce any data on their success rates, which made us highly suspect that they were unsuccessful. And so then we turned to unions and said, how many people have opted out? And the numbers we got back were it was less than one percent of members even after these blitzes that were reaching hundreds of thousands of union members.

Nima: So, that’s a really positive example, but on Citations Needed, we don’t do optimism very well. So are there, are there any examples you can give us where these libertarian notions of freedom have actually undermined union organizing and been far more problematic, atomizing, you know, workers really doing like a divide-and-conquer thing? Are there examples you can point to where this rhetoric really, really does wind up being effective?

Jessica Stites: Hmm. I was thinking about the Chattanooga Volkswagen Campaign, which is sort of a painful one because they did two big union drives in the past seven years to try to unionize this nonunion plant. And both times they failed by pretty narrow margins. And you did see some of the, there was a worker’s committee to defeat the union, and you did see their rhetoric was around choice. What they said was we were only given one choice of a union, so it was kind of this consumer framework again, like why, why weren’t we allowed to shop around? And there’s actually, you know, again, I do think it, it does come back to sort of when unions are using good and bad tactics, like there’s a little bit of validity in saying at the beginning of a union drive, we should be talking to a couple different unions and making sure we’re finding the one that represents us the most. So, you know, I think this rhetoric often gets a hold in situations where there’s a little bit of truth in it. And that was maybe one of them.

Adam: Can we dissect this concept of “right to work?” I know that the term “right to work” was coined in the early ‘50s by an anti-Semitic racist by the name of Vance Muse who was trying to promote anti-union practices for the business community. You know, it’s an all-timer. It’s an all time sort of great Orwellian phrase because it doesn’t say, it doesn’t say the word choice, but it’s sort of implicit in that you have the right to work or right to sort of do something. Can we talk about this phrase, and sort of, from your experience how it’s wielded in what people think it means and what does it sort of really mean?

Vance Muse (left) with Texas lumber baron John Henry Kirby.

Jessica Stites: I think the only way to make sense of it, because it’s such a bizarre Orwellian twist on reality, uh, to say the right to opt out of your union is the “right to work.” I think the only way to make sense of that is if you believe that unions are job-killing. So you believe that allowing unionization will kill business. And to be fair, that is what the, the original founders of the Right to Work Foundation feared. They were business owners, and they felt so threatened by the power of unions that they felt like their businesses themselves were threatened. So in their minds, we are the job providers, you’re threatening us, therefore you are threatening the right to work.

Adam: Yeah, there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of ideology. I mean if you’ve ever read Sam Walton’s early writings, he had a sort of genuine belief that unions were why we have poverty and that people like him gave people jobs and, uh, it’s — for a lot of these people, I think we always say on the show that like billionaires, they deal in decades and that ideology is just pragmatism over a longer time table. And when you’re super wealthy, you get super wealthy because you have a very passionate belief that, that the thing that makes you rich is actually good for everybody. And so it’s sort of like baked into the DNA is this idea that, like, unions actually oppress people and you know, this is of course leaked into things like Waiting for Superman, which is basically a two-hour union busting commercial, that people were poor because teachers were a bunch of lazy shitheads. So it definitely hasn’t gone away.

Jessica Stites: Yeah. But it is a really, it takes a lot to even make sense of the phrase “right to work.” There’s a lot packed into that that you have to swallow. And I think, you know, unions, their play on it is they call them “right to work for less” laws.

Nima: (Laughs)

Adam: (Laughs) I like that. I like that. Right to have slave wages.

Nima: Yeah, exactly. Well, I mean the history of this just kind of lays out what this is all about, the history of right to work laws. Can you tell us just a little bit about how influential the Koch family has been in creating both the rhetoric and the actual legislation that really undermines worker power?

Jessica Stites: Yeah, I mean I, I sort of, I can and I can’t in that Koch’s fingerprints are everywhere, but they are very secretive. So what we know and can say is that they have been involved in funding all of these sort of middleman groups that then fund all of these many campaigns. So they’ve been involved in funding ALEC, the National Right to Work Foundation, the State Policy Network. Uh, and so what this web of groups has done, I mean ALEC really helped roll out with the American Legislative Exchange Council, I believe it’s called, they create model state legislation that’s right-wing and then they peddle it to state lawmakers who are their members. They have a fun model where their members are like half state lawmakers and half business, and they work together on legislation. So yeah. So that has been one arm as they’ve just rolled out these right to work laws in many, many states. At the same time they worked with the National Right to Work Foundation to roll out these legal challenges that led up to Janus. So they just did test case after test case after test case going back to, like, 2011 and failed again and again and again until they just found the right way in and the right Supreme Court to finally get this through. But what’s so interesting with these business groups, you know the Kochs, there’s a foundation called the Bradley Foundation that’s very anti-union, anti-teachers’ union, and funds this and all of the groups that they fund is, their internal rhetoric is so different than their external rhetoric. You know, externally it’s all this choice stuff and it’s, like, you know, they get some teachers to stand on the steps of the Supreme Court and hold up signs and say, you know, ‘if you respect teachers, respect their First Amendment rights.’ So that’s the external rhetoric. But when they talk to their supporters in newsletters, things that have been leaked, it’s all ‘bust unions.’ One letter said, I think ‘we have the key to breaking the power of unions in the next year.’ And that was Janus. So they’re very clear that actually they see unions as a threat and they want to destroy them. That’s the real goal and then they’re sort of papering over it with this choice narrative.

Nima: Well, I think that’s a great place to leave it. Jessica Stites, Executive Editor for the labor magazine In These Times, where she runs the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting. She’s published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Ms. Magazine, Jezebel, The Advocate and elsewhere, is board secretary of the Chicago Reader and a former board member of the Chicago Sun-Times. Jessica, thank you so much for joining us today on Citations Needed.

Jessica Stites: Thank you. It was a pleasure.


Adam: Yeah, it’s interesting that the way these kinds of verbal memes, if you will, begin to have real-world policy effects specifically when it comes to things like right to work and Janus. It all sounds so pristine and anodyne, but, but then it starts to sort of inform legal theory and inform laws and laws are framed that way. And then before we know it, taking things away from you is actually viewed as liberating you from the tyranny of quote unquote “Washington.” They love to talk about Washington.

Nima: Well, because there’s such a Big Brother element to it, right? You just get to, Big Brother, big government, is stifling your independence, stifling your liberty.

Adam: Every single time Pete Buttigieg is like, you know, ‘the guys in Washington shouldn’t tell you how to’ and I’m just, like, it’s the smarmiest bullshit, like the Southern lawyer, you know, ‘I’m just a caveman.’ Like, ‘those boys in Washington.’ It’s, like, shut the fuck up.

Nima: ‘ — trying to run your life.’

Adam: Yeah. It’s so smarmy, and it’s so poll tested and it’s just, like, just fucking go away.

Nima: Right. Well that will do it for this episode of Citations needed. You can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, become a supporter of our show through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson. And of course a very special shout-out goes to our critic-level supporters through Patreon. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Production consultant is Josh Kross. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Research and writing by Julianne Tveten. Newsletter by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music is by Grandaddy. Thanks for listening, everyone. We’ll catch you next week.


This episode of Citations Needed was released on Wednesday, December 4, 2019.

Transcription by Morgan McAslan.