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By Jim Fitzgerald:
Next month, 5500 Social Security recipients in Union County, Georgia, may not see their monthly check. These retired people over 65 constitute 26% of Union County’s population and if they lose their checks, it will be a significant blow to them and the Union County economy. And Union County has only itself to blame because they elected a radical extremist to Congress, Tom Graves. Rep. Graves is delighted with the prospects of default on the national debt just to prove a point…
Several times I have made the point that Republicans have over-reached their election mandate; making the same mistake Democrats did in 2008. Both parties have misread the mood of the public and continue to get distracted by their more extreme bases. In so many ways, Democrats handed the 2010 election to Republicans and now the Republicans appear to be handing it back to the Democrats. Of course we are 18 months away from the 2012 elections so events could change the election landscape but at this point in time, Republicans are grossly out of step with the electorate.
Every so often, an issue comes along that sort of turns principles on their head. The issue this time just happens to be gas prices. The prevailing economic theory is that supply and demand drives prices and that free markets ensure a “balance” between the two. Further, political theory holds that government should not interfere with the markets and that we should not look to government to solve our problems because that leads to bigger and more powerful government.
Along comes rising gas prices and skyrocketing prices for a barrel of oil. We were told that the disruptions in the Middle East might lead to a decrease in supply and when that did not pan out, it has become the Mississippi flooding. All of the time that we have seen $4 gas prices, there has been a plentiful supply of oil and gas. If the principle of supply and demand was not at work here, what was distorting gas prices?
It's the Economy, Stupid
Let me begin this column by apologizing to my readers. Normally, in an opinion column the writer presents the highlights of an issue without needing to present, in detail, the facts underlying the issue being discussed. However, this column is going to go back and demonstrate that my opinions do not come from either pure ignorance or deceit but, instead, are informed by creditable sources. In this case, my figures are coming from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO); Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The apology is because of the data-laden presentation that may put some people to sleep. The issue being discussed is the relationship between tax cuts, deficits, and revenue.
A significant clash is around the corner and as a bystander, I will be watching closely to see whether conservatives actually live up to their rhetoric. But do not count on it because the little man has far less power to affect changes than they give themselves credit for. The little man overwhelmingly elected conservatives to “slash and burn” government spending but now that these conservatives are in office they are beholden to all of the special interests that made victory possible.
For example, look at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This tax-exempt organization pumped almost $100 million into the 2010 campaign, 90% to Republican candidates. For that kind of cash, there are a ton of conservatives beholden to this organization. Now here comes the rub …
When one takes the high ground, they have a greater responsibility to follow through with their moral convictions. When one touts a standard and uses it to judge others, either explicitly or implicitly, then they are not only judged by the same standard but are held to higher account. They place themselves in the spotlight and everyone’s expectations of them increase tenfold. Frankly, this is never a good idea because it is too easy to be bruised and battered by a public that thinks you are most likely a hypocrite. It is too easy to lose your credibility and look foolish. When you raise expectations, people legitimately expect you to follow through with your commitments. No matter how difficult, no matter how hard, people expect principled actions. We have all seen the Tea Party rage machine in action. They were a very powerful force in the sweeping realignment of Congress. […]
I am wondering whether the Republicans learned anything during the November elections. It has been my understanding that the national debt was of huge concern to fiscal conservatives and that they sent a message to DC to reduce the national debt and end pork-laden earmarks. Apparently, that message has fallen on deaf ears suggesting that the national Republicans were “playing the game” of appeasing the folks back home but without any real convictions.
Dear Rep. Graves,
I had hoped that you would be a fresh start for this district (I live in Union County) but your latest newsletter scares me into thinking that you and your staff are not doing their homework. To say that the tax cuts for the top 2% hits small businesses hard, and that they are the primary source of new jobs, simply is not borne out by the facts.
You tell me that you want to extend all of the Bush tax cuts permanently but fail to mention that the 10-year cost is over four trillion dollars and subject to increasing the national debt by the same amount.
We were blessed, well, maybe blessed is not the correct word here, with a broad overview of the sweeping changes proposed by the leaders of the Deficit Reduction Panel this week. Frankly, in looking over the details, I agree with Gerald Seib, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, who wrote, “Deficit-Cutting Chairmen Call Washington’s Bluff.” However, I would take his statement even further because the Chairmen are also challenging all of us, in particular the right. As I said last week, campaigning is the easy part. Now the Tea must be poured. These newly elected representatives will be required to detail specifics of spending cuts and government funding. No longer can they get along with bumper sticker statements that sound so good. They are about to touch the third rail of politics.
Shellacking is an understatement. Rout may be a better word to describe last Tuesday’s election. Finally, the Party of No has taken a huge stake in the future direction of this country. Just saying no is no longer an option. They now have to get off of the couch and take responsibility for their actions. And if they think they received a mandate from the people, think again. Over 46% of the voters that voted for Republicans say their vote was not for the Republicans but against the Democrats. These are the swing voters that could just as easily swing again in 2012.
Interestingly, it was both moderate Republicans and Democrats that were decimated in the last election cycle. That leaves us with the most right wing portion of the Republican Party and the most liberal Democrats in charge of government.
When Georgia Republicans go to the polls during this election season, they cannot complain that they are holding their noses and voting. Holding ones nose and voting is the standard line to suggest that you are not happy with a candidate but are voting for them anyway. In the case of Nathan Deal, a vote reflects leaving ones principles, rhetoric, and beliefs at the door. It is not just holding ones nose, it is violating very basic, newly spawned, conservative principles.
It took an election year but, finally, the Republicans are beginning to talk about some specifics of smaller government. I think what puzzles me the most has been their entire approach to the revenue decline in Georgia. Small government rhetoric is nothing new but when finally given a golden opportunity to implement significant government cuts without a significant public backlash, they take an approach that defies logic. Unless, of course, there is little left to cut and they are engaging in smoke and mirrors.
First, they tell us these are lean times so we’re going to tighten our belt, implying that as soon as revenues increase, we can loosen our belts again and everything will go back to the way it was before the decline. Shouldn’t they be talking about permanent government downsizing instead?
America voted. In 2006 Republicans were under attack by the electorate and they lost both houses of Congress. In 2008 their losses continued and Democrats gained greater majorities in both houses. America had decided that Republicans had squandered their trust and the ability to govern had been compromised. In 2010, the attacks continue but this time from within the party. The far right wing of the party is vicious in its attacks upon moderate and conservative members alike, throwing them all out in favor of untested, untried, and unknown people. These new candidates have one thing in common – ultra conservatism that is unlikely to play well in a general election. As a friend said recently, the Tea Party appears to stand for the Take Everything Away Party. Everything such as Social Security, Medicare, unemployment benefits, food stamps, public education, and other social safety nets.
I am reminded of the late 1960s
What do Israel, Germany, Australia, Ireland, France, England, Spain, and 18 other countries have in common? They allow openly gay and lesbian individuals to serve in the military. Unlike the US, they do not have a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy but, instead, treat it as a non-issue. Apparently, they agree with the statement by Barry Goldwater: “You don’t have to be straight to be in the military, you just have to be able to shoot straight.”
The third branch of government, the courts, ruled last week that the “DADT” policy violates the due process and free speech rights of gays and lesbians.
The New York Times headline reads: Slumping Economy Jeopardizes Democrats’ Election Prospects. The author of the article went on to comment, “It’s no wonder that jobs – who can create them, who is to blame for the losses – are nearly all that candidates [in Ohio] discuss.” Of course this is the discussion taking place nationwide.
Here’s the interesting thing about this article. It suggests that, regardless of one’s opinion of the government, there is a clear expectation that the government is responsible for job creation. Government holds the key to prosperity and growth and the failure to create jobs is a significant result of failed federal and state policies. The corollary is that failed government policies are, also, responsible for job losses. That is, businesses are pawns of government, marionettes manipulated by the government. Businesses cannot grow unless governments adopt the “correct” combination of policies. In some quarters, that means eliminating corporate taxes. In others it means granting tax credits. That is, job creation is not possible unless business is given the freedom from any responsibility it may have to contribute to the very society that makes their success possible. There seems to be no expectation that businesses, currently sitting on over one trillion dollars in cash, have any patriotic responsibility to actively participate in our economic revival.
It has been eight years, eight very long years, since we invaded Iraq. That is the same length of time I spent in the military during the Vietnam era. And no, I did not fight in Vietnam because my specialty was repairing the guidance and flight control systems of a nuclear missile. But I wonder if we feel any safer now than we did eight years ago? The stink over a mosque in New York City would suggest that we do not. Ironically, the hateful rhetoric surrounding the mosque is undermining General Petraeus’s strategy of peaceful coexistence in Afghanistan and the US State Department’s message that our war is against terrorists and extremists, not Muslims. Our intentions may seem good but very shortsighted as we seem to have a knack for causing more harm than begetting peace.
The easiest way to write an article is to castigate your opponents and avoid their arguments. The easiest method to deal with political differences is to deride opposition arguments as ill-informed, stupid, unsubstantiated opinions, and illogical. The easiest path to frame your opponents in a bad light is to pick out the inconsistencies in their position and highlight them. When you consider that the majority of elections, including Presidential ones, are decided in the 52% to 48% range, it is not a stretch to say that the country is, primarily, divided into two significant political ideologies. However, the composition of Congressional infighting demonstrates that within these political ideologies there are considerable differences. For example, Democrats range from Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), considered very liberal, to Heath Schuler (D-NC), a blue dog Democrat (very conservative). Such a wide range of beliefs within a party is ripe pickings for negative columns.
Sarah Palin, in 2009, said: “The United States Constitution is one of the greatest founding documents in history because it charted a bold new path in the realm of political theory.” Senator John Cornyn, also in 2009, said: “The Framers created a written Constitution to make sure our constitutional rights were fixed and certain. The state conventions whom represented ‘We the People’ looked at that written Constitution and decided to adopt it. The idea was that our rights would be written down for all to see.”
Maybe you remember David Stockman. He was the Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Reagan. Mr. Stockman wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times last week which raises a significant question about the relationship between tax cuts and the national debt. The theory goes that tax cuts pay for themselves and, in fact, generate more revenue for the government than if they had not been enacted. If we dig a little deeper we can see that this “tax cuts equals increased government revenue” is based on supply-side economics. According to Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator for the Financial Times, “Supply-side economics said that one could cut taxes and balance budgets because incentive effects would generate new activity and so higher revenue.” Wolf went on to say that if supply-side economics followed the concepts underpinning the theory one could promise lower taxes, lower deficits, and unchanged spending. What’s not to like about such an idea.
Time has shown us that supply-side economics happens to be one of those pipe dreams that come along every so often.
During the 2008 Presidential campaign, one fear that surfaced was whether Obama would implement restitution for racial minorities if he were elected. Part of that fear was based on restitution we provided to the Japanese-Americans interned during World War II. On the other hand, that fear was mitigated by knowing that we never provided restitution for Native-Americans that were placed on reservations located where no one else wanted to live. Our history of dealing with non-whites has not been a pretty one and flies in the face of democratic principles that we hold to so dearly, such as equality for all.
When Social Security (SS) was signed into law in 1935, the poverty rate among seniors exceeded 50%. As far as I know, there were no private retirement programs at that time. Unless a senior was wealthy, they either had to work until they died or depend upon family to care for them. I will not go into the discrimination (against women, minorities, and certain types of employment) that was later legislated out of the original bill but, in general, for the first time this country took a stand that protected many, but not all, of the elderly from abject poverty. Today, it is estimated that all that stands between poverty and 40% of the elderly is Social Security.
As first established, the payroll tax to fund the system flowed into the general revenue fund for the federal government. However, in 1939, Congress created the Social Security Trust Fund to manage surplus funds and this Trust had the power to invest the surplus in marketable and non-marketable securities. In other words, like a private retirement account, the growth of surplus funds was intended to handle future retirements. In 2007, according to one source, there was a cumulative surplus of $2.2 trillion dollars in taxes and interest after benefits were paid.
Unfortunately, the Trust loans any excess money to the federal government in the form of bonds, giving Congress a ready source of funds. Of course these bonds have to be repaid, with interest, by more taxes later. The system is in trouble because the government borrowed the surplus, spent it, and now does not have the resources to repay the Trust. The way it looks, Bush was correct in referring to these bonds as “just IOUs that I saw firsthand.”
I hate to be cynical but the next conspiracy theory I am waiting to appear concerns the tanning bed tax. I’m sure the spin will be that the tax was designed to be a whites’ only tax since blacks and Hispanics are unlikely to need a tan. Then the logic will leap to a black President forcing whites to underwrite the health care reform bill since the tanning tax is to help fund the health care system, much like the new super speeder fine will be funding Georgia’s trauma centers. They might even say the tax is revenge for the tea party movement, 99.9% white, which did not exist until a black man was elected.
However, I have a conspiracy theory of my own and it concerns the Republican strategy for the November elections. Key elements that drive an election are fear, financial desperation, and a bleak view of the future.
The ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee apologized to BP for what he called the “White House shakedown!” Representative Joe Barton from Texas, the man who would be in charge of the Energy and Commerce Committee if Republicans were in control of the House of Representatives, told BP officials that he was “ashamed” of the “shakedown” from the President. The White House had just negotiated a legal and financial framework for BP to compensate the Gulf coast states and peoples for the biggest environmental disaster in our history.
As more tea party candidates are winning primaries across the nation, we are beginning to get a glimpse of their view of small government. I have wondered many times what conservatives mean by small government because without a sense of what government would look like after they finish reshaping it, how could you make an intelligent decision whether to support it? Maybe our favorite programs would be eliminated. Would we be willing to let it go in the name of downsizing government?
I just finished reading an article in the Wall Street Journal that was very enlightening, if not disturbing, about the philosophical shift in the conservative movement. The article focused on South Carolina Republican Representative Bob Inglis and the struggle to retain his Congressional seat. He was first elected in ’93, left for a failed Senate run, and was re-elected in 2004.
Inglis was a fire breathing dragon in the ’90s, and pushed for significant abortion restrictions and bringing down the Presidency of Bill Clinton. He was an ardent member of the class of ’93 and strong supporter of the Contract with America. He agreed to serve three terms when elected in 1993 and after three terms he was true to his word. He ran for the same seat again, in 2004, and easily won. He won re-election in 2006 and 2008 but this year it looks like he might lose his solid Republican district.
Forgive me if I sound confused but I think conservatives have made a philosophical about face. The very people who have shouted against big government and for states’ rights are now screaming for the federal government to stop the oil spill in the gulf. The “business knows how to regulate itself” crowd suddenly transfers all responsibility for the gulf oil environmental disaster to the big government they want to downsize. Bobby Jindal, who laughed off volcano monitoring, is now yelling daily about the disaster that has polluted his beaches and marshes. However, instead of yelling at BP to clean up its mess, he is yelling at the big government he despises to get the job done.
As you may know, Newt Gingrich is on a book tour selling his latest book, To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular-Socialist Machine. In his book, he writes that the administration is “a corrupt bureaucracy which uses manipulation, bribery, and dishonesty to steamroll the will of the people and destroy America’s core values.” He goes on to say, “The secular socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.” Of course, I wondered what he could possibly mean by comparing Obama’s administration to two of the worst regimes known to modern man.
Intrigued by Newt’s claim, I Googled the phrase “comparison of Obama and Hitler.” I received over 600,000 “hits.”
This country seems to have a love-hate relationship with regulations and regulators. Democrats think that stronger regulations – and enforcement – will serve as a preventative measure to curb greed. Republicans think that there are too many regulations, but rather than legislatively pare them to the bare necessity, they opt for lax enforcement.
With conservatives driving the truck, we have just finished several decades of ignoring regulations. Moreover, look what we have reaped as a result. On April 5th of this year, we lost 29 men in the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia.
Do you remember the movie called The Producers? The down-and-out director was fleecing little old women by selling them shares in his next play. Of course, he grossly oversold the number of shares and had to look for a play that was sure to fail. That way, he got to pocket the money and “comfort” the little women over their poor luck. They never knew the game was rigged – until the play turned out to be wildly successful.
I was reminded of this movie upon finding that Goldman Sachs, the most trusted and admired Wall Street investment firm, was charged with rigging the investment game against its own clients.
In earlier columns, I have upset conservative readers by suggesting that their response to Democratic governing has been to throw temper tantrums and to engage in actions that border on anarchy. One reader suggested that my view reflected a fear of conservatives. In particular, this writer thought I had real problems accepting “thinking folks” that disagreed with me. I do confess to a fear of non-thinking, viscerally oriented folks but thinking people excite me. However, I must ask the conservatives where the “thinking folks” are hiding. Party leaders and quasi-leaders sound just like the protestors outside the Capitol. It has been one gigantic, ugly, very ugly temper tantrum, especially since health care reform became the law of the land.
I have been looking for “thinking folks” within the conservative community. I prefer to discuss important issues with people who disagree with me. I have written before that I think the very best ideas come from the political dialogue between opposing views. Unfortunately, such dialogue requires all parties to seek a melding of ideas in order to forge dynamic solutions to thorny issues. This is the point where conservatives left the farm. Their message has been “my way or the highway.” Alternatively, as John Boehner said, “No, we can’t!”
Conservatives are really good at acting like victims. The latest injustice they are suffering is the proposed use of reconciliation to pass the health care reform bill. Conservatives are calling this method of covering an additional 30 million people and reducing the national deficit by 118 million dollars a parliamentary “trick,” an “assault on the democratic process,” and an attempt to “cram health care down our throats.”
If you look at Wikipedia.com, you can see that, since 1980, 17 of 23 reconciliation bills were signed into law by Republican Presidents, undermining current claims that the Democrats are doing something underhanded. Under Bush II, reconciliation was used three times to pass tax cuts even after the Congressional Budget Office predicted they would substantially increase the federal deficit.
Georgia, like most states, is in a financial bind. Revenues have been falling for two years, financial reserves are exhausted, budgets have been trimmed, federal stimulus aid has been spent, and some fees and fines have been increased. Now, facing another billion dollar shortage, legislators in Atlanta are trying to figure out the where, when, how, and what to squeeze out of the state budget. Fortunately, or unfortunately, as the case may be, small government, fiscal conservatives, govern our state. State Senator Chip Pearson (R- Woodstock) is telling us that lean times call for a lean budget. Personally, I thought that is what conservatives stood for even in fat times. However, I suspect that our fiscal conservatives are not seeing this fiscal crisis as the excellent opportunity it presents for them. They have the opportunity to implement their small government philosophy and give the citizens of Georgia a significant tax […]
Over the last year, it has become apparent that conservatives believe our founding fathers made a terrible mistake in creating a three-part, check-and-balances system of government. Their attacks on DC daily would lead one to believe that Obama and the Democrats gained power through a coup d’état rather than a fair election. Technically, Bush won office in 2000 by 576 votes (he lost the popular vote) but claimed a mandate. Obama really did have a mandate, winning almost ten million more popular votes than McCain and sweeping the Electoral College. However, Democrats have been hampered from delivering on their top priorities by losing the public relations battle. As I pointed out in previous columns, one would think the Democrats are responsible for the high unemployment rate and bulging national debt rather than being the savior of the economy.
As part of the PR battle, conservatives criticize the Democratic health care reform bill for having over 2,000 pages. They brag that the Republican version is a mere 219 pages. Ask any lawyer which version would be the easiest to slice and dice in a court of law. Ask any lawyer where you would find the greatest number of loopholes to exploit. Ask any lawyer which version demonstrates intellectual laziness. It is easy to state a broad principle but difficult to define, in detail, how that principle can be implemented in practice. The Prescription Drug Bill of 2003, contained over 1,100 pages so I suspect 2,000 pages may be too few for an overhaul of the entire health care system. On the other hand, 219 pages seem like an anorexic runway model.
Democrats do a very poor job of letting the nation know their accomplishments. On the other hand, the Republicans do a superb job creating catchy, even if misleading, headlines that leads one to believe the Democrats do little but over-reach.
The supposed liberally biased media freely repeat the Republican mantras. Reporters seem to repeat what they are told without raising substantive questions about the motive behind the sound bites or reporting serious policy differences. All of the talking heads just make things worse by exaggerating events to raise their ratings.
As I sit in Guam, half the world away from the American South, I realize the power of the internet and satellite television. The political debates in the US are evident even here. After watching Fox News and reading several letters to the editor that were posted online, I am reminded that conservatives continue to present themselves as little more than hysterical children throwing a temper tantrum. Temper tantrums require little more than pique over not getting ones way. They bear little relationship to reason or fact, just anger, pure unadulterated anger.
For more than two years, I have been arguing that people who complain about the decline of America should provide specific examples and cease speaking in broad, general terms. As one example of the latter, a recent letter writer sounded the alarm about DC– but offered not one ounce of proof. It was an emotional argument totally lacking reason or common sense. The writer wrote, “Washington has been hijacked by a group of ungodly, self-seeking, anti-American’s bent on destroying our country and the Constitution upon which it was formed under God.” The letter went downhill from there.Obviously, Democrats were the target of this vacuous diatribe.
Sarah Palin, bless her heart, is such a perfect spokesperson for the tea party crowd. I watched portions of her speech in Nashville before the tea party elite and could only shake my head. She has such a way of saying nothing so well it grabs your attention and leads you to believe she is on to something big. However, after the euphoria dies down, you sit there reflecting on her speech and think, “uh?” It slowly dawns on you that she speaks in broad strokes, stringing together a series of popular sound bites that convey little more than patriotic fervor.
As someone trained in critical thinking, I wince
Several years ago, I wrote a series of columns on the burgeoning national debt. I pointed out the steep loss of Bill Clinton’s budget surplus of billions of dollars, the first president in decades to end office with a surplus. I pointed out the unbelievable increase in budget deficits and national debt under a president and conservative party who campaigned on fiscal restraint. I pointed out that Vice President Cheney famously said that deficits do not matter. In addition, I pointed out that in spite of significant fiscal irresponsibility, Bush and the Republicans were re-elected to run the country for another four years.
In other words, all of the very same people screaming today about the national debt and increasing budget deficits were silent and passive when a Republican administration was feckless with their money.