The political debates of the last year have have clearly defined the governance policies of the conservative Right. Tea Party activists may have “hijacked” the Republican party, but more likely, they are simply a manifestation of a growing conservative movement that has been evolving since the Goldwater Revolution of the 1960’s. We often characterize this growing rift in American politics as a “culture war” fought in legislative halls across this country.
Republicans, in their words and actions, have provided a well-defined architectural design for the country. What does that mean and why should you care?
1. Conservative Religious Policy.
Based on the Republican candidates for president, the GOP is a “god-based” party. I have no doubt that some readers of this blog believe this is an absolutely wonderful thing and getting the country “right with god” is job one for the nation.
The problem with this point of view is — god aside — that Jesus isn’t really the president’s co-pilot nor will he “take the wheel” when we hit a rough spot. At the end of the day, our leaders — god fearing or not — are just human beings with all the inherent fallabilities and foibles that go along with the human condition. When candidates for president publicly say that the decisions they make in life are dictated by discussions they have with god – that should scare the beejesus (no pun intended) out of you! The fact that it doesn’t scares it out of me!
Hypothetical – what if President Michele Bachmann, in a god conversation moment hears her maker tell her that it’s time to welcome Jesus back to earth by lobbing nukes on the Middle East; or a President Rick Perry, acting on god’s command, begins rounding up non-Christians for incarceration cause god told him this is what is holding America back.
Who can argue with that? Who could sit there, other than atheists like me, and not press the BS button? When you have a “higher authority” whispering in your head driving the nation, it’s pretty hard to hold an honest debate on the merits of god’s secret message. The difference between faith, and actually “conversing” with god may seem trivial to some, but it is and should be a serious concern for all Americans.
2. Economic Policy and Governance
This is another area that should concern all Americans. This is not an attempt to misconstrue conservative policies – they’ve been explicitly clear on their policy goals – cut government spending and hold or lower taxation, ostensibly leading to a balanced budget.
What does that mean? As a soundbite, this message plays very well in Middle America, but when you get beyond the soundbite in to actual policy implementation – the consequences of action will result in a “be careful what you wish for” future.
Philosophically, conservatives do not want citizens dependent on the government, seeing any sort of non-corporate dependence as a form of socialism. From a pure economist standpoint, the overwhelming majority of every government dollar sent is a dollar that is ultimately used or reinvested in the economy – that ranges from every social security check to monies used to purchase munitions.
These government expenditures are literally money multipliers in terms of job creation or conversely labor contraction. To illustrate this point, back in the 1990’s the US Army decided to move a combat brigade from the 25th Infantry Division from Hawaii to Washington state. The Honolulu Chamber of Commerce projected that the loss of 3,000 soldiers would impact the local economy several millions of dollars annually. 3,000 less soldiers means less daycare needed, less beer served, less uniforms dry-cleaned, less hair to cut, less rents paid, etc. Of course, in this case, as Hawaii suffers, the state of Washington gains – for the nation it’s a zero sum gain, but at the local level, there are consequences.
This is not to advocate for increased government spending and adding to the national debt – it is simply an acknowledgment of economic reality. For every dollar less the government spends there is an economic repercussion and ripple effect that will be felt throughout the economy. Our “recession” will need to be renamed or more aptly reclassified as as a depression. That’s not a “doom and gloom” assessment – it’s simply math.
America’s fiscal year 2010 budget is worth revisiting. The budget for the year was determined to be $3.7 trillion. Government revenues were only $2.4 trillion. The delta was the deficit – money borrowed to meet government expenditures which were added to the then $11 trillion or so (at the time) accumulated debt.
The scary thing about this is that of the $3.7 trillion of government spending, $2.2 trillion was marked as MANDATORY, or statutory spending. Cut all you want – without addressing the underlying spending required by law, there is no policy addressing government spending that results in a balanced budget without addressing increased revenues. Let that sink in and ruminate for a moment… Before dismissing this as a “liberal” idea, it’s neither liberal or conservative – it’s simply math.
Now, this is not to say that if you vote Republican in 2012 the economy is headed into economic free fall. I think these soundbites that play so well in tapping into the anger and frustrations of the American public do not necessarily translate in to effective governance policy for the reasons mentioned. In short – you’re being played.
3. Social Policy
I continue to find it specious that the same conservatives that always claim less government is better strive to enact social policies that would in effect create more government control over its’ citizenry. Obviously that type of social policy is driven by christian fundamentalism touched on in the first point, but this social policy goes beyond religious values that would impact abortian, school prayer, and marriage equality issues. This goes to a fiscal social policy impacting Head Start, unemployment benefits, and other financial assistance targeted to support the poorest Americans.
Our lower-middle class is tone-deaf to the plight of America’s poor. They’ve heard it all before and know they’ve had it hard too and no one was on their doorsteps offering a handout, and yet, somehow – possibly through the grace of god – they’ve made due with what they have.
Now a debate on poverty and fixes for the poor would be a fantastic one that could really benefit this country. I’m not advocating continuance of the status quo, but let’s examine some salient facts:
– One in six Americans live in poverty.
– One in three American children will not graduate from high school and by definition be I’ll prepared to find a better than poverty paying job.
– Our economy is constricting, meaning there are less jobs available.
– The American middle-class was built on strong unions. Union destruction is a contributing factor to the lower number of decent wage jobs available in this country. The American job landscape is beginning to look like Mexico.
Conservatives seem to think if the government simply takes less money out of the American paycheck, peace and prosperity will quickly follow. Here’s the sad truth – for every dollar you don’t pay Uncle Sam, your state and local governments, which are both running deficits as well, will find a way to get that dollar in their coffers.
The impact of this agenda is not just “losing” millions of poor Americans unable to participate in the evolving American economy, we will simply add more to their numbers. In every city in this country there is an underground economy taking place disconnected from larger American society. It is driven by the drug trade, crime, prostitution, and basic black market practices where more and more Americans are engaging in.
– Deregulation. Massive deregulation of the financial sector led to the crappy economy we are experiencing today. This is not a knock on conservatives – this started with Reagan, continued with Clinton, Bush, and into this administration. Conservatives are simply louder in their advocacy of continued deregulation giving industry a free hand to rape the country and our natural resources without any oversight or consequence management.
This article has focused heavily on the conservative agenda and for a reason – they’ve made their agenda known! I have no idea what the “liberal” or Democrat agenda is or what their priorities are. Every time I think I know, they find a way to compromise it away. As far as I can tell, they pretend to be “anti-conservative” until it matters. They completely fail to articulate their priorities and “core” issues.
It simply isn’t enough for a Democrat to say they want to raise taxes on the wealthy – they have to be able to make a case where the additional revenues will be spent. A novel approach would be for Democrats to actually state where government investments should go.
Such a case is annually presented in the nation’s budget. Budgets are simply an expression of priorities, but unlike a personal budget, a democracy’s budget must be accountable to its’ citizens. After all, if you decide to earmark $1,000 a month of your income to entertainment you are only accountable to yourself and maybe your spouse. Our government should be able to articulate the value derived for every dollar it spends.
Think about it – we make a case every year on our defense budget – after all, who doesn’t want to support our troops? Other expenditures – especially “Pork Barrell” spending come under more scrutiny, but tend to be peanuts in the overall budget picture. Not to say this type of spending should be tolerated – it simply doesn’t amount to anything compared to the big ticket expenditures.
Democrats need to make a case – for example, make the case that social security is a necessary program and that any change to the system would have an adverse impact on Americans and the economy. If the case cannot be made, then reformation of the system is required.
If it was possible to justify the expenditure of $3.7 trillion, then it stands to reason that revenues should be raised to a commensurate level in order to avoid borrowing the difference. Budgets should not be independent of the tax code – in the end, you really can’t have one without the other. We have operated the last 30 years as though the two were mutually exclusive and we’re now paying the price for it.