I get plenty of people asking me why, if I’m as non-partisan as I claim, do I spend so much time bashing Democrats.
That’s probably the easiest question to answer I can imagine. This is why:
So is this:
And of course, who can forget this:
Folks, Republicans are hypocrites. They’re liars. They have no moral compass, except the one that polls best in October of an election year. They would sell their own mother to the highest campaign donor, if that’s what it took.
But let’s face it: Democrats are flat-out CRAZY. I mean not, “Maybe Johnny needs a Diazapam” crazy. We’re talking full-blown, straight jacket ready, padded room required INSANE. Think Jack Nicholson in “The Shining,” or Anthony Hopkins in “Silence of the Lambs,” and you’ve got an idea how positively nuts Democrats have become.
So, yes, of course I’m going to drop as many bombs on them as I can. I have a faint hope Republicans can be reformed. Their sins are those of character, not utter foolishness. But Democrats? As long as their party is obsessed with trying to justify 37 genders and insisting everyone not named “Kamala Harris” is a racist rapist, they’re beyond hope.
Unless you’re living under a rock (and frankly, I can’t blame you if that’s where you’ve moved), then you’ve probably heard more about collusion than you ever imagined possible. Loretta Lynch colluded with Hillary and Bill. James Comey colluded with Barry, or Trump, or maybe both. And of course, the real biggie: the President of the United States colluded with the Russian government.
People, stop already. You’re throwing around the word “collusion” in place of the words you should be using to describe the things you’re actually trying to describe. Collusion is, by it’s very definition, a secretive quid pro quo arrangement whose aims are so nefarious the very history of the world would be changed. By it’s very definition, it goes beyond corruption as we normally think of it. Bribery, extortion, conspiracy – those all pale in comparison. Yet, in almost every case I keep hearing cited by the MSM, the right- and the left-wing alternatives, nothing actually rises to the level of collusion.
The reason I’m bringing this up is simple. After being unable to win any national election not featuring Barack Obama for a decade, the Democratic Party and their media shills have come to realize that a platform based on sowing division and silly “social justice” issues isn’t working. But lacking an alternative, they have seized on an issue that would be a sure-fire winner, if it were true: the President of the United States is a traitor. Make no mistake about it. That is what they are claiming every time you hear a Democrat politician talk about collusion. Every time Rachel Maddow spins a Glenn Beck-ist conspiracy theory tying the President’s youngest son’s hamster to the FSB, she’s claiming the President is a traitor. Every time Chuck Todd writes (as he did this morning) “The bombshell New York Times report from Sunday afternoon might not be the smoking gun in the Trump-Russia 2016 story, but it sure looks close to one,” he’s claiming the President is a traitor.
This is the worst kind of politics, in which innuendo is claimed as fact in order to hurl the most serious of all charges at a political opponent. Anyone who regularly follows this blog, or my social media feeds, already knows I am not a fan of the President. I think he is a dishonest, self-dealing, narcissistic, unprincipled human being of such poor character he should never be anywhere near public service. But it’s one thing to find a person’s character lacking and quite another to think them a traitor. It’s fine to disagree with someone on policy choices. It is quite another to say those policy choices are treasonous.
None of this is to say that I don’t think the Russians did their level best to interfere in the election on the President’s behalf. Of course they did. Vladimir Putin is as trustworthy as a desert scorpion and has been part of Russian attempts at destabilizing the US government since 1976. But a big part of the reason the FSB and SVR were as successful as they were in 2016 was because the Democrats ran Hillary Clinton, who staffed her campaign team with Clinton loyalists from the 1990’s. Their candidate was the only person in America whose character was even more questionable than that of Donald J. Trump.
Indeed, if the President weren’t such a blatant narcissist, this story would have been put to bed long before he even took the oath of office. All he would have had to say last fall was, “Sure the Russians interfered. But their interference amounted to reminding the American people why they hated the Clintons” and the whole story would have been over. But that deep-seated character defect does not allow him to acknowledge that anyone else might have had a hand in his victory. So be it.
I am certain the rest of the summer will be consumed by this nothingburger of a story, to the detriment of the major policy decisions we need to grapple with before October. That’s a shame. But if you claim to be part of the #resistance, than you are just as guilty. You’ve moved from principled opposition to a flat-out attempt to remove a duly elected President.
Now THAT’S treason.
When I announce my political affiliation, the usual responses range from subdued chuckle to loud guffaw. “Oh no,” people say. “You’re not one of those crazies, are you? An anarchist, ready to abolish the government?”
Well, I am a Libertarian and have been for a quite a long time. And the reason is pretty simple: if I’m crazy, then so were men like Thomas Jefferson, Samuel and John Adams, Patrick Henry, George Washington, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin. All, excepting Madison, signed the Declaration of Independence. You might have noticed that these men, the original Libertarians, while unafraid to fight for liberty – to give their lives in the cause of liberty, if needed – were hardly anarchists. In fact, when their first attempt at organized government yielded something much closer to anarchy than we even want to dream of today, they organized the first Constitutional Convention.
So, if that’s crazy, feel free to count me in.
To put it simply, Libertarians believe that government exists solely to protect individual freedom. But our views on where those freedoms derive are much different than that of the typical Republican or Democrat; in fact, they are diametrically opposed. Ask yourself this question: is government the final arbiter of what constitutes essential liberty? If you answered yes, then you hold the same world view as the vast majority of Republicans and Democrats.
Before you answer that the idea of a government not being responsible for deciding what freedoms we should enjoy is the definition of anarchy, consider the very document that founded our great country, the Declaration of Independence. It is more than a 236 year old piece of parchment that hangs in the National Archives. It is the very embodiment of what makes America, and Americans, unique among other nations and nationalities.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
Now consider the Preamble to the document that created the federal government, the Constitution for the United States of America. It is 11 years the junior to the Declaration, yet in it the nation’s founding principles are given their equal due – prior to prescribing the methods used to preserve Liberty.
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, to establish justice, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
When you actually read the words, two things immediately become clear:
- The essence of Liberty, of Freedom, is not something that comes from any government. It comes from a Higher Authority.
- Government exists to protect those rights, not corrupt them.
Understanding the first point is essential to truly understanding the American concept of Liberty and freedom. The only way individual freedoms are absolute is if they come from an authority higher than that of either men or their institutions. Otherwise, individual freedoms are a caprice, something to be given or withheld as determined by the fancy of others. Governments, rather than working to protect those freedoms, become dishonest arbiters of disputes. Eventually, governments (and the people governing) no longer see themselves as members of the general society, bound by contract and convention to uphold liberty. They become oligarchs; a separate class that believes itself superior to the rest of society.
Does that last paragraph give you pause? It should, because we are witnesses to that very transformation. It is not a sudden transformation that occurred in the past two or three years, either – it’s been underway for most of my lifetime. Is it beginning to snowball, accelerating in pace and breadth? Certainly, and the quickening pace over the past few years makes anyone concerned about preserving liberty queasy.
Now, as to why I identify as a Libertarian and not a Democrat or Republican: the proponents of the two major parties are our modern oligarchs, who see themselves as more fit to determine which liberties are essential and which can be abridged by the government. There truly isn’t much of a difference between them, in that both see distinctions in liberties; the difference is only in which liberties they deem more essential. The things they spend their time arguing over are actually further limitations on those essential liberties and freedoms, disguised as concern for safety of the overall society. The reason they feel secure in their deliberations is that the Nation, once enamored of Liberty, is today concerned less with freedom than safety – or at least, the illusion of safety. The people fear deprivation of material desires than the loss of freedoms. They are convinced the loss of freedom for one party will not result in a curtailing of freedom for themselves – when the reality is that any loss of freedom for any American necessitates that all Americans lose some aspect of their Liberty.
Terrific examples come from exchanges I had this week with unabashedly partisan Democrats and Republicans. I fed the same quote to both, and their reactions were remarkably similar. The quote, from Ben Franklin, is “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither.” The Democrat’s response was that Franklin has been dead 200 years, and his ideals with him. The Republican’s response was that changing times require changing mores.
That’s the final point that our founding document makes, that most Americans either forgot or were never taught.
“—And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our Sacred Honor.”
The nation’s founding principle is that the Liberty and the ideals of freedom supersede anything else. Liberty takes precedence over personal comfort, over wealth, over safety and even life itself, if necessary. The very ideal is worth fighting and dying for, as in the case of the American Revolution and the Civil War. What is more, if this principle is derived from an act of Divine Providence, then it does not disappear with the death of individuals nor the passage of time. It is an everlasting, eternal truth.
Because I am a free man and believe my freedom is not negotiable: That is why I am a Libertarian. Because I believe that the government is my servant, not my master: That is why I am a Libertarian. Because I believe that no man has the right to subject another to his will: That is why I am a Libertarian.
And if you believe these things, so are you.
If you’re a political wonk (or wannabe wonk), odds are you are already intimately aware of the mythical Julia. For the rest of you, “Julia” is an Obama campaign creation; a mythical middle-class woman who cannot survive without the government largesse championed by the President and the modern Democratic Party. (You can catch her life story here).
It’s a good bit of salesmanship. In one tidy slideshow, the President and his minions manage to tie together the themes of his candidacy. It defends the classic socialist cradle-to-grave view of patriarchal government as the only answer to the nation’s ills not by explaining how such policies work, but by fear-mongering. And it frames the defense by portraying Republicans as determined to wage war on (liberal) women.
That fully half of the show is dedicated to defending Obamacare is purely inconsequential, I suppose. That the Supreme Court now seems certain to rule the PPACA unconstitutional in June will undoubtedly have major political ramifications, not the least of which is that attacking Republicans for wanting to repeal it will simply be a moot point. I mean, the President and his henchmen could try to mount some sort of defense of an unconstitutional law – but that would certainly seem to point up Republican claims that the President is willing to take extra-constitutional measures, if that’s what it takes to pass his agenda.
The real question is how the Republicans in general, and Mitt Romney in particular, will respond to Julia. The Democrats have opened with the classic, neo-progressive view of a patriarchal cradle-to-grave government. Not pure socialism, but close enough. They haven’t mentioned how, in an era of runaway deficits and national debt figures that exceed the total wealth of the nation, this vision of government-centric society is paid for. And they’ve laid any alternative view as the bogeyman. A smart strategist would explain how a government that’s large enough to decide when and where you go to school, when you can marry, when (and how many) children you can have, when you can go to the doctor, what food you eat, what professions you can pursue – even when you’re too sick to live, is essentially the Chinese model of democracy.
The problem for the Republicans is their view isn’t terribly different than the President’s. And the chosen standard-bearer is as much a statist as Obama. Remember, this is the guy who created RomneyCare. The only real difference between the two candidates is not whether they favor government power over liberty or even whether they favor Wall Street and K Street over Main Street. Their only point of contention, really, is which side of Wall Street they prefer to walk down, the left or the right.
And America, that’s just not a good enough choice.
There are very few things if which I’m certain. One thing of which I fairly sure is that the political mood of the country is one of anger, driven by fear and angst. These emotions feed upon themselves and if not checked, they become self-replicating and self-fulfilling. If unchecked, the societal impact is not hard to measure. In fact, human history is replete with examples of societies that acquiesced to fear – and in the process destroyed themselves. People of my generation witnessed the self-immolation of Communism. Our parents saw the rise and fall of Fascism. Their parents witnessed the end of Absolute Monarchs. Those political systems were often imposed upon the national populations that fell under their thrall, but society in those countries willingly accepted them.
Fascism and Communism rose to prominence on the backs of charismatic leaders who were willing to demonize segments of the population during times when the general population was genuinely afraid of losing their ability to provide the most basic economic needs and afraid of losing their national identity. In Germany, Adolph Hitler castigated the Jewish population and the allies of the Great War – while promising a path to prosperity rooted in the nation’s militaristic past. In Italy, Benito Mussolini promised to curb the “criminal element” and restore the Roman Empire. Lenin inspired the Red Russians by castigating the White Russians as, ironically, agents of oppression to a populace that for centuries had been oppressed.
The United States was not immune to the social upheavals that led to these dictators rise to power. Our one advantage was seemingly being blessed by having leaders rise to dispel the notion of fear, replacing it with a an optimism borne of hope. From the very beginning, our nation has found itself rescued by leaders who believed that whatever the current troubles, our best days were ahead of us. Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan and Clinton all shared a vision of a nation whose best days were yet to come – and were able to articulate and communicate that vision to the general population. These men all pursued different policy directions, but delivered similar results. What binds them to one another is optimism and hope; their ability to overcome not only their personal fears but those of the nation.
Now consider the political leadership we have today, and have had for the first 12 years of this century. The actions taken by the political leadership of both major parties in responding to public fears have only worked to enhance those fears by giving them legitimacy. The Patriot Act, the TSA, the Wall Street Bailout, the Stimulus – all were the result of the public fear about the dramatic events that have taken place. But they have done nothing to alleviate those fears. No, if anything, they have only served to exacerbate them – turning a nation that was more unified on September 12, 2001 than at any time in the previous 60 years into one that is more divided than at any time since the Civil War.
This is the current political landscape: the Commander-in-Chief, instead of building on his election themes of “Hope and Change” and “Yes, We Can” now resorts to using the type of language that would make Lenin proud. He has found his scapegoat: the wealthiest among us, whose “greed and corruption brought about the worst economic catastrophe in three generations.” In his latest national address, last week’s State of the Union, he not only exhorted us to follow the type of robotic obedience for which the military is often miscast, but to grant him the level of control over local matters that any dictator needs. Sadly, the opposition party is led by a cast of characters that alternates between demonizing immigrant minorities, Jews, and pretty much any other ethnic group that can generate a few headlines. On the campaign stump, the current crop of presidential hopefuls extolls the virtues of fear and hate, lambasting one another for not being “conservative enough” while forgetting the true meaning of “conservative.” Indeed, our national politics now rely on fear to such a degree the principle argument of each party is to beware what the other party will do toyou.
The reality is that our nation is bereft of leadership. The modern politician, in a clamor to gain the most votes he can, resorts to following rather than leading. President Obama, seeing polling numbers that indicate the majority of his “base” perceive unfettered capital as their enemy, adopts a socialist stance – even though he has amassed a personal fortune, in large part thanks to unfettered capital. His Republican challengers, seeing polls that indicate xenophobia and racism play well in among their base, use coded language to ingratiate themselves. Both sides in Congress read polls that say compromise is the surest way to face a primary challenge – and nothing gets done.
Throughout our history, we have had the good fortune to find leaders who were able to overcome our baser instincts. As mentioned, there have been national movements that preyed upon fear before: the “Know-Nothings,” the KKK, the anarchists, the Communists all came about because the nation feared losing the things that make us exceptional and failed to see a way to preserve them. Each movement was met by a national political leader who overcame that fear by pointing to descriptions of the US like this:
“Our country is a special place, because we Americans have always been sustained, through good times and bad, by a noble vision – a vision not only of what the world around us is today but what we as a free people can make it be tomorrow”
I still believe that our nation’s best days are indeed before us. In speaking with many of my friends, in reading the posts in on-line chat rooms, in seeing the undercurrent of thought and desire among my fellow citizens I know I am not alone. Yet, I also hear the dual fears of economic calamity and loss of national identity espoused on a regular basis. That our political leaders do not share the vision of hope through freedom, but rather a vision of despair and ruin with our only salvation being to turn from our national character, is the great tragedy of our age.
One thing that never fails to amaze me is the reaction I receive from people when I describe my politics as Libertarian. I think it shows how remarkably uninformed the American people are regarding their history, their civics and their individual roles in government. I find myself wondering what Abraham Lincoln (16th President, saved the Union, etc) would think about modern politics and the modern citizen. Lincoln’s primary goal during his term was not to end slavery. While slavery was an underpinning issue of the Civil War, the real reason it was fought was eloquently expressed during the Gettysburg Address:
“…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Stop to consider those words for a moment. Let them roll around in your mind and ponder their significance. Lincoln considered the preservation of the Union to be paramount; of greater importance than ending the great immoral stain left behind the Founding Fathers. This is the essence of Libertarianism and is counter to the views of most of my fellow citizens, who see Libertarians as being one step from being anarchists. But Libertarianism is actually more aligned with what the media refers to as the “center,” some amorphous grouping of Americans that believe that while government has a role in our lives, that role should be minimalized to the greatest extent possible. We believe in Liberty – not just the ideal of liberty, but the pursuit and practice of Liberty. What’s more, we believe that a government that is supposed to be of the people, by the people and for the people cannot fulfill that role if it becomes bigger than the people. The people then become subsumed by the demands of government –the delicate balance envisioned in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers is upset. Rather than the a representative republic, the governmental form is turned into something else – a government oppressing the people, by the government and for the government.
Libertarians look at the proper role of government as being like a three-legged stool.
First, government acts as the final arbiter of disputes among people by imposing guidelines based on common morality, while not restricting anyone’s individual liberty. Wait, you say – morality implies religion, so are you implying that government applies a religious principle? No, not hardly. Morality can come from religious faith and certain moral codes are common to most religions (such as provisions against murder or theft). But a common morality is determined by a given society in general. So, while my particular religion considers certain actions to be immoral, general society does not. It is government’s role to say this is the general consensus. And in a well-informed society, impertinent changes to a society’s moral code as represented by the government’s actions are remediated by selecting new representatives. In this way, government does not establish rules of conduct for society and does not impose the will of any group or individual on any other.
Second, government is charged with ensuring the defense of society from those that would harm the society. Most people understand this to mean the defense of the society in cases of armed conflict. But more than that, it also refers to defending a society from internal destruction. Because this is such an awesome power the people cede to their government – the ability to force or coerce a course of action – the Founders took great care to ensure that the application of such force had multiple checks and balances, as represented by our three-headed government. I suspect they would be greatly troubled by the amount of power the Legislative branch has yielded to the Executive over the past 70 years.
Finally, government is responsible for ensuring that it remains the servant of the people and that the people are not the servants of the government. This is a difficult proposition, since it essentially means governments are required to be answerable to society in all cases. As enshrined in our Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
And so, we accept that in cases where government no longer abides by the first two principles, the third allows the society to overthrow the existing government and replace it with a new one.
For Libertarians, the problem with modern government is simple and two-fold: first, society has ceded too much power to government and allowed it to infringe on individual liberty, on any one person’s ability to be who and what they desire to be. Second, the Legislature has ceded too much of its power to the Executive. The result of this is that government is no longer responsive to society, but rather to powerful elements in society. And on those rare occasions when society demands a change in course by exercising its power on the Legislature, they find themselves stymied by a too-powerful Executive.
Tomorrow, we’ll delve into the practical implications that rose from America’s abandonment of Libertarian government –and how we’re still living with those implications today.
President Obama has finally realized the federal debt is a real problem, not something that can be pushed off for another decade or so. I’m not certain what woke him to a fact millions of Americans already understood, but welcome to the party, anyway. Unfortunately for the country, he seems obsessed with the idea that the reason our debt problem is crucial is because the federal government doesn’t have enough money.
On the one hand, the President is right when he says that federal revenues are lower than at any point in a generation. In 2011, the government is on pace to gather less than 30% of the nation’s GDP in revenue for the first time since 1983. But the reason for that isn’t because tax rates are too low – it’s because despite all of those reassurances that the economy is recovering, it isn’t. After adjusting for inflation, real GDP growth has fallen to less than 1% and is in real danger of turning negative. Add in the fact that that the economy is now 14 million jobs short of full employment (vs. 8 million when he took office), and it becomes pretty easy to see where the revenue shortfall comes from.
In traditional Democratic fashion, the President’s answer to the economic malaise has been to throw as much money as possible into the economy. The results have been disastrous. Deficit spending as a percentage of GDP during his tenure is running higher than at any point since the closing days of WWII. Since 2009, the federal deficit has averaged 9.91% of GDP, the second highest three year average over the past century. Only the period from 1944-1946 saw a higher level of deficit spending, at 24.02%. But besides the obvious (we were spending to save the world then), there are two marked differences between that period and this one:
- The US GDP accounted for close to 80% of the world’s total economic output. Europe and Asia were bombed out ruins and wouldn’t actually see real recovery for another 15 years. Africa and South America were not industrial or economic centers. Much of that debt was racked up as loans to our allies and repaid by the mid-1960’s. Today, the US is now less than 30% of world GDP and projections show us steadily losing share over the next decade. We face the prospect of having to pay much of our debt to overseas lenders, while at the same time having fewer assets with which to pay them.
- All of this new spending is taking place on top of what was already a huge debt burden to begin with. At the advent of WWI, the total federal debt – even with New Deal spending – stood at 67.62% of GDP. When the current recession began in 2007, debt stood at 85.53% of GDP. Today, we’re at 129% of GDP –the only time it was higher was from 1946-48. But by 1950, debt was down to 97.7% of GDP and by 1960, 70.51%.
The President has spent much of his time screaming from the mountain that the tax cuts enacted under his predecessor (which he voted for, by the way) are the leading cause of our current deficits. But he should re-check his math: in the 6 years after their passage prior to his assuming office, federal deficits averaged 2.04% per year – roughly one-fifth of the deficit spending under Mr. Obama. And federal revenues averaged 33% of GDP, slightly higher than the average for the previous 20 years (32.7%). So where is the discrepancy? If those tax cuts actually produced more revenue, why are deficits exploding?
The answer is completely on the spending side of the equation. Under President Bush, federal spending averaged 35.08% of GDP. Under Presidents Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton, federal spending averaged 34.83% of GDP. Under President Obama, federal spending has averaged a whopping 40.72% of GDP. For historical perspective, under President Roosevelt spending averaged 27.62% and under President Johnson (who also fought an unpopular war and greatly expanded social services) federal spending averaged 29.82% of GDP. In fact, the US government didn’t begin spending more than a third of our GDP consistently until the Carter administration.
In short, the President can stop with all his nonsense about needing to raise taxes. If he wants the nation to take him seriously when he says he wants to balance the budget, then he should start by simply bringing spending back down to the historical levels for the previous 30 years. That won’t solve all the nation’s economic ills, but at least that’s the starting point for a rational discussion.
When I moved my family to the NYC metro area 8 years ago, this seemed like the perfect neighborhood. Housing was relatively inexpensive, the neighborhood mix in terms of blue-collar and white-collar types, and a true representation of the American melting pot. Crime was low, the schools were better than average. In short, my town (and my neighborhood, especially) are about as representative of as you can find, with one glaring exception: this place is as solidly Democratic as anywhere in the country. The Republican party is virtually non-existent in the county and there is no local Republican organization.
I got to thinking about this yesterday after seeing one of my neighbors put a Mitt Romney sign in his yard and reflecting on recent conversations with others. There is palpable anger and despair with the current administration – anger and despair that emanates from the economic morass that Kearny, like so many other towns, finds itself stuck in. There’s a well-worn adage, coined by former House speaker Tip O’Neill, that “all politics is local.” There’s another equally well-known political saying, created by political consultant James Carville, that says “it’s the economy, stupid.” And after listening to my friends and neighbors, I found myself wondering just how exactly President Obama can win re-election. In a town where he holds an irrefutable edge in organization, he’s losing the local citizenry. And he’s losing that edge for one simple reason: the economy.
There’s the guy who owns the local bodega. He scrimped and saved to send his son to Columbia Law School. Despite graduating with honors and clerking at the Bronx DA’s office, his son cannot find permanent work. And thanks to the fact that nearly half of my neighbors are unemployed, his business is foundering. Where once he used to hire one or two local kids to help stock shelves, he hasn’t hired anyone. Instead, he has his cousin – an out-of-work software engineer – doing those tasks.
There’s a guy on my block who lost his job a month ago, because the company he worked for hasn’t had any new business in over a year. Despite more than 20 years working as a master stonemason, he is collecting unemployment for the first time in his life. He can’t find work. He’s falling behind on his mortgage. And he’s worried.
Around the corner, there’s a Brazilian restaurant that has cut back on their hours of operation and laid off half the staff. The woman who owns the place is in shock – three years ago she had a booming business ( you couldn’t even get a table without an hour wait) and even opened a second restaurant. Last week, she had to borrow money from her son just to turn the lights back on. She fully expects to have to shutter her business by September if conditions don’t improve.
Two doors up is a guy who owns a bakery. Every night, he leaves for work around 9pm. Last summer, he laid off his delivery driver and took to doing the deliveries himself. This summer, he’s been handing out free bread throughout the neighborhood – because orders are getting canceled at the last minute. While I’m grateful for the free bread, I wonder how much longer he can keep his ovens fired up at this pace. So does he.
After being vacant for two years, the house next door to me finally sold in May. The previous owner paid $378,000 for the property. The bank initially offered it at $290,000. The final selling price: $118,000. The new owners are excited. The rest of us looked at that selling price and weren’t quite so happy.
Down the street is an accountant I know. He got laid off in the bloodbath that was the Fall of 2009 and hasn’t found permanent employment since then. He’s surviving by taking much lower paying, no-benefit contract positions – a far cry form his former $100K salary. Where once he dreamed of sending his daughter to Princeton, the recent graduate is now headed to Hudson County Community College. And without a car – they had to sell her 17th birthday present back to the dealer, since they couldn’t make the payments.
These are just a few of the stories from my neighborhood. And as the anger seethes and despair grows, I can’t help but wonder if the President realizes he’s on a path to be remembered in the same vein as Jimmy Carter and Herbert Hoover. All because he forgot that all politics is local, and it’s the economy, stupid.
Yesterday, I documented how the nation’s fixation with “soaking the rich” is not only bad economics but bad public policy. To recap briefly, those who are better off are already providing the federal treasury with far more than their share. The top 400 earners comprise less than 1% of the population, yet their taxes provide more than 2% of total take – while some 45% of Americans don’t pay any income tax. The best way to improve the revenue side of the fiscal equation is to get those 45% to start paying their taxes again.
Of course, we all know that we can’t tax our way out of the debt hole. It’s too deep and deepening every second; even if we close all the tax loopholes and get those 45% to ante up we still won’t close the projected budget deficits for any year over the next ten. Spending needs cutting, although liberals are typically offended by that notion. But it’s the 800 pound gorilla in the room and finally people are noticing.
While the Washingtonians had their fun earlier with whittling away at discretionary spending, the fact is that chopping away at 12% of the annual budget isn’t going to make enough of a difference. (And the reality is, they chopped very little – about $352 million according to CBO). To really tackle our deficit – which needs to be done before we get to paying down the debt – we have to tackle entitlements.
The President’s seriousness about tackling entitlement spending was summed up by this line from his April 13th speech:
“We don’t have to choose between a future of spiraling debt and one where we forfeit investments in our people and our country. To meet our fiscal challenge, we will need to make reforms. We will all need to make sacrifices. But we do not have to sacrifice the America we believe in. And as long as I’m President, we won’t.“
Gee, Mr. President. Sure glad you reiterated for us your commitment to maintaining the status quo.
The small part of the speech he did dedicate to his Medicare reformation plan was filled with smoke and mirrors. There weren’t any concrete details, only a pledge to reduce Medicare costs by $500 billion over the next 12 years. In case you’re wondering, that is less than $45 billion per year – or less than the budget cuts enacted this year. Talk about fiddling while Rome burns! To accomplish that meager goal, the administration proposes to focus on cutting waste and fraud – laudable goals and an admission that the government is doing a terrible job at administering the program. If there is $45 billion in abuse, somebody needs to be fired. The rest is the smoke and mirrors part – relying on the IPAB to force reductions in payments. Grandma will certainly be happy when her doctor tells he can’t see her anymore because the government won’t pay him enough to make it worth his while.
The Republican plan put forth by Paul Ryan kicks the can down the road for another 10 years, then applies an indexed government co-payment to a private plan. While that does provide some cost certainty in the future, it does nothing to address the spiraling debt created today by the program. It also does absolutely nothing to address the cost inflation in health care. In short, it’s more smoke and mirrors accounting.
So if both plans are nothing more than speaking points and fall well short of actually tackling the problem of entitlements, where do we go from here?
The answer is to address the very idea of government entitlements. The very word “entitlement” means that a right to a specific benefit is granted by…somebody. What’s more, expectation of entitlements are often tied to narcissistic attitudes. If you don’t think the two are related, consider what your visceral reaction is to the idea that entitlements need to be cut: odds are that like most people in the Western world, you recoiled at the thought. What, take away my benefits?
The President danced around this very issue in his speech. Namely, what kind of society do we want to be and where do we to place our priorities? The President, along with most liberals, envision a society in which regardless of circumstance you will always be taken care of. To enable this vision, they propose that the productive members of society take care of the unproductive – the misfortunate, as the termed it. Most Republicans also think entitlements are just dandy, although they would prefer the private sector pony up to those responsibilities. In other words, they’re perfectly happy to let businesses handle society’s ills. Anyone who has ever read Dickens can tell you what kind of world that is.
It seems like a horrible quandary, doesn’t it? On the one hand, we’re faced with the prospect of a federal takeover of society; on the other, a return to Merry Olde England of the 1850’s. But there is another way – one that Americans throughout our history relied upon.
Tune in on Saturday to find out what that might be. J