Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Who’s Going to Pay and How?

Well, my title is the major question that seems to have become an issue in this year’s election. The Tea Party would like to say that the Democrats never pay for anything, and we need smaller government. It’s what “the people”, or as Bill O’Reilly calls them, “the folks”, want. Except that it’s not.

Check out this poll relating to the problems of paying for Medicare and Social Security, two giant government run programs that cost a heckuva lot of money. Here’s what actual people think.

As it turns out, most people admit these are major budget problems, but do they think that these government run programs should cease? No, the majority of people want them to continue. The majority of people also don’t want to raise taxes to pay for it. So if in fact the Democrats have run the country deeper into debt it’s actually exactly what the people want. But since Democrats in fact do not enjoy running further in debt let’s admit that some large percentage of the population live in an ideal world. It’d be real nice if we could leave these programs as they are and not raise taxes and still have everything be great. However we live in the real world. So we need to ignore the 38% of people who don’t want to take either approach, and seem to think that praying to God will magically solve everything.

So, of the 62% of the country which actually want to do something, 30% want to raise taxes, 20% want to cut benefits, and 12% want to do both. So contrary to what the sweeping tide of Republicans is saying, people in this country would rather raise taxes than lose their Social Security or their Medicare. Where has the Tea Party gotten all their drive from then? Oh wait that’s right. Remember that 38% who wanted to have their cake and eat it too? Well that’s what the Tea Party promises. We can cut government spending and lower taxes and end the deficit. All this wasteful Washington spending will cease. Why does no one ever think to ask them WHAT PROGRAMS they are going to stop spending on?

They certainly haven’t expressed a desire to withdraw from the war on terror, which has officially cost us more than a trillion dollars since Bush and co. set us down this awful road. They're always talking about the wasted spending of the bailouts or the TARP program, so I bet they'll stop that endless floe of money right. But if Tea Partiers read the news, not only would they know maybe one Supreme Court decision, they might also know that most of the TARP money has in fact been paid back.

I know what they'll do then, they’ll cut on stimulus. That’s good, because if we hadn’t passed a stimulus, maybe we could have lost even more jobs and dipped into double digit unemployment numbers. And we could have fired more teachers. Maybe that’s where they’ll cut our spending. I mean education is so overrated. It couldn’t be one of the major factors of income inequality in this country.

We’ve already established people don’t want their Medicare or Social Security cut. All my fiscal conservatives and Tea Partiers, please tell me what’s left. Earmarks aren’t nearly as large as you think they are, and they certainly won’t make our deficit disappear overnight.

Politicians should no longer be allowed to cop out with “I’m opposed to big government.” For an example of this ridiculous rhetoric see Carly Fiorina who thinks we can sit around and talk about waste while we end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and then the debt will magically disappear. As the Fox News anchor (rationality at Fox News?!) said, “We’ve been talking about waste for years, but there’s simply not enough money there.”

Instead of this bull$&@#,tell me where you really stand on things with a concrete analysis of what you’ll fund and what you won’t. Where EXACTLY are we spending money that you plan to not spend money anymore? If you plan to cut Social Security and Medicare, you don’t get to lump that in with “big government spending”. On the other hand, if you’re sick of wasting so much tax money funding a Department of War and Death, while we have a Department of Homeland Security which handles the actual defense of our country, stand up and say, “This is how I will reduce the deficit.” Let’s stop talking in abstracts and start talking in reality. There is no one who is pro or anti “big government”. Everybody makes their decisions about what they value more or less. If you want to cut taxes, you have to cut spending. If you want to cut spending you have to GIVE SOMETHING UP. The Tea Party is riding on the backs of the 38% of this country which believes that you can lower taxes while not cutting spending and somehow make the deficit go away. Well people, it’s time to wake up and come back to reality. If this wonderful Tea Party plan worked, I’d probably get behind it too. But there is absolutely no way to make money fall out of the sky. So either we make cuts as older generations of Republicans once might have argued (and then we have to be clear about what it is we will be giving up and why it’s not worth funding), or we raise taxes on the super rich as Democrats argue, because well history shows that it worked. But if instead this new, 21st century breed of Republicans takes power, we will avoid the hard choices that need to be made and ride the wave of debt into oblivion.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Is Democracy Really Working?

Our entire system of campaign finance calls into question the virtue of our so-called "democracy."

We live in a representative republic. We elect leaders to make decisions for us. And in some cases, we vote directly for referenda that changes laws without the middle men.

On one hand, the concept of direct democracy is potentially terrifying. We're just not that enlightened, to be honest.

On the other hand, there is a danger in the way we do things. By voting every so often, we receive symbolic feedback that the system is alright. "I voted." Therefore, it's at least a democracy.

But what does that actually mean? 

Is it a democracy in the sense that democracy embodies certain values we elevate in society? To be honest, do we really give a shit about "democratic values" outside of politics? It seems that in our education system, workplace, churches, and homes, for the most part (yes, there are morsels of democratic values in these places) we seem fairly comfortable with authoritarianism.

So why do we make an exception for civic life? For one, we had a revolution. But, underneath that, I presume it's because people inherently like feeling in control.

Our democracy might be the driver behind the wheel of a car, a dangerous vehicle that kills millions every year, but you get to control your car, so it feels safer because you believe you're a good driver.

The non-democracy might even be an airplane, a far safer vehicle, but you don't get to steer. That's the job of the pilot and the machinery. They know what's best, but since they're not you, you feel powerless to evade disaster.

Why do I use this metaphor? Not because I think democracy is a bad idea (or that people driving themselves is bad), but because I think our current system might just be a car designed without safety in mind, one that lulls us into a sense of control.

ThinkProgress, a liberal political blog that I highly recommend, broke a story showing that the United States Chamber of Commerce is receiving foreign money and using it on partisan attack advertisements. And I wonder which party they might be attacking? Hmm...

Their follow-up story provides a nice of list of foreign donors. I'll let you read the articles and decide for yourself, but after the Citizens United ruling earlier this year, and corrupt bullshit like this, I don't know what to believe in. Regardless of party, money has far too much influence in our electoral system.

I'm an American and a Democrat through and through, but the entire subject of campaign finance leads me to believe we might just be driving behind the wheel of a killing machine, only comforted by our apparent sense of control.

Perhaps we are so drunk with capitalism that we forget what we are driving in this demolition derby.