Sunday, October 10, 2010

Think it Through

Am I the only one who has noticed the flood of vague and/or unworkable policy positions from Conservatives, especially Tea Party candidates? It's starting to get on my nerves. Particularly as some of the most fringy candidates are sheltering in the friendly embrace of the conservative media so as not to be faced with the indignity of an inquisitive thought. In that climate they are able to say almost anything and not be asked any inconvenient questions like, "How would you go about that?" or "Could you clarify what you meant when you said . . . ?" Therein lies the problem. Candidates are making claims that go virtually unchallenged. Not that this is entirely new since the Republican party as a whole has been doing that ever since they lost big in 2008. However some of the ideas that are fashionable on the Right are getting a bit on the extreme side.

One of the Tea Party favorites is the idea of privatizing Social Security. You hear this popping up all over the campaign trail. Some even use the euphemism of 'personalizing' rather than privatizing. Sounds better, but it means the same thing. This plan would move your Social Security nest-egg out of the Federal government and into the private sector. In other words, into the Stock Market. As I understand it you would manage it like a 401K account by picking which investment vehicles to invest your bundle of retirement cash in. Of course it takes only a brief glance in the nation's rearview mirror to see a glaring example of why this is a stupid idea. Just remember the near collapse of the financial system only a few years ago. You don't even need to flex your imagination since we just saw it in brilliant technicolor. For something that's supposed to be a minimum, reliable retirement income, risking it in the stock market may not be the best idea. Yes you could do well, but you may not and you can't really plan on the best case scenario. One other thing to think about, what do we do as a nation if a crash does wipe out a large percentage of the privatized Social Security nest eggs? Odds are, and you know it's true, that the government would end up stepping in to help reimburse those who lost most or all of their investments. So any savings to the country would be wiped away when we bail out retirees. It's called 'cause & effect' and it transcends all political parties and philosophies.

A perennial favorite of Conservatives is what I call the 'Magic Tax Cut'. According to Conservative lore, the bigger and more wide ranging the tax cut, the more the economy will grow! This is, of course, impossible. The 'Magic Tax Cut' also pays for itself! This is, of course, impossible. Doesn't stop them from pretending it's true though. Less taxes means less money into the government. Now if the economy is booming then it will equal out to some degree. But as a stimulant to a sluggish economy, it's not that effective. The economy runs on consumers spending money. The more money we have to spend, the more cash is pumped into the economy. A tax cut is only going to put a few dollars a pay check into consumers' hands. Nowhere near enough to make a difference in spending habits. But wait, just like all things in the universe, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In the case of a tax cut that means that the government will take in much less money than it otherwise would. The one way to make tax cuts less problematic is to make cuts somewhere else so that they are paid for. This rarely happens, particularly with Republicans. No politician wants to undermine the propaganda value of cutting taxes by also cutting services. In fact both tax cuts instituted by the G.W Bush administration are partly to blame for current deficits as they were never offset by any cuts. In other words, un-paid for. Sadly amusing to now hear many of the same Conservatives that were so supportive of the Bush tax cuts now moaning at the insanity of expenditures that aren't paid for. Funny how perspective changes everything.

Look, we all love the idea of less money siphoned from our paychecks by the government. It's also a great talking point as it feeds the idea that 'The Man' is taking our hard earned cash for some shadowy purpose that doesn't benefit us. But think about it for a minute. Where do you think the money comes from to pave the roads? Fund the Police, Fire and Rescue services? Help clean up after a natural disaster? Fund agencies that test our food, water and air for safety? Protect and maintain parks, not just Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon but also the national battlefields and other parks? Provide security at border crossings, airports and seaports? Fund our global military commitments? Finance a public education system so kids of any economic background can get a basic education, not to mention the publicly funded colleges and universities? Student loan guarantees? Medicare for older Americans who would have a hell of a time getting affordable health insurance on the open market? Any of these things sound familiar? Contrary to the propaganda, taxes are not inherently evil. Yes there is some waste, inevitable whenever humans are involved, but most of it goes to support the things we use every single day. And yes, we all have things we wish our taxes didn't pay for, but so what? That's the price of living in a country like America. We should stay on top of our government to make sure they are spending our money as wisely as possible, but we have to stop acting like taxes are always evil and that 'Public' means 'Free'.

Then we have one of my personal favorite Conservative mantras; Small Government. One well known Conservative, Grover Norquist, famously quipped "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub". What I find so annoying is that the people who proudly proclaim support for this idea are the same ones who are demanding that homosexuals be barred from legally being married. They are the same people who support kicking gay service members out of the military simply for their sexual preference. They are the ones ready to enshrine the Ten Commandments into law and push other Christian doctrine on a secular nation made up of large numbers of non-Christians. They are the same people who think that once an egg is fertilized that the government assumes control of a woman's reproductive system. Some of the current crop of Conservatives are even now claiming that a woman be forced to carry their rapist's child or a pregnancy from incest. Sharon Angle, Tea Party candidate for Senate in Nevada, actually stated that it was God's plan and a woman in this situation should "make lemonade from lemons". This is the small government many Conservatives want. A government with no ability to regulate corporations, but with the right to dictate citizens' personal choices. That's not small government, that's dictatorial government.

There are many more items I could pick on, but the bottom line is that when a politician makes a statement, even if it does resonate with you on some level, think it through. Follow the train of logic, if one even exists. Don't just take it at face value and assume they've already checked all the angles. The only angle they're really concerned with is the one that gets them into office. Just like a PR firm, a politician is trying to grab you with catchy phrases and emotional hooks. And a politician who is campaigning for office is not concerned with accuracy or workability. It's about motivating you to vote for them. A great example of this is health reform. Republicans will freely admit support for most of the individual parts of the law, yet in the media they are blathering on about "Repeal & Replace". Believe me, if they actually could repeal it, highly unlikely, they would replace it with something almost identical, but with a more flowery name. Of course to repeal it would require not just control of both houses of Congress, but a solid 2/3 majority in both to ensure an override of the inevitable Presidential veto. So you see, a politician can promise you anything he wants, but that doesn't mean he can or even wants to actually do it.

We have lots of problems and few, if any, have solutions so simple that they will fit on a bumper sticker. Cutting taxes will not, by itself, fix the economy or take millions off the unemployment roles. Tax cuts are also not without cost. And less money into the government means less money for the things we all demand our government do. It's fine to believe in small government, but if you do then you better be able to tell us what you're willing to do without. You can't support a government small enough to "drown in a bathtub" yet continue to pretend that it can do everything it does now. And if you really want a smaller government presence, then start by keeping it out of our personal lives. It has no place dictating personal choices that do no harm to others.  We, as voting citizens, have to hold all candidates and sitting politicians accountable for what they say and demand that they tell us how they plan to implement these grand ideas. What many candidates most fear is that voters will actually question their statements and realize that the only thing beneath the catchy tag line is their own personal ambition.