Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Waste of Space


Democrats love to parade legions of the aggrieved and deprived. Republicans should start their own parade, headed in the opposite direction. People who encountered difficult circumstances, but overcame them by practicing Republican and conservative principles, would populate a GOP parade.
Cal Thomas

Cal Thomas, the "most syndicated political columnist in the US," published a piece today that exemplifies the kind of political "dialogue" that flirts with truth, but never quite woos her to the dance. Thomas, whose website boasts that over 550 newspapers print his columns, boldly tells Obama voters that they made a mistake.

Thomas' particular brand of conservatism is the type that utilizes populist vocabulary by bashing on the "politicians," while hero-worshipping "the founders and their constitutionalist descendants" while adhering to political principles that focus on "opportunity, not guaranteed outcomes." And, of course, he posits that the economy cannot possibly function properly "when taxes are high" and the politicians who "seize ever-larger amounts of the money we make and misspend it as they do." Thomas tells his version of the truth with fear, manipulation and a lot of generalizations. One can only imagine the kind of emotional effect it must have on the millions who have lost jobs and/or homes since Obama became the President. However, Thomas does get specific in a central paragraph of the column:

Like someone caught up in a cult, [Obama voters] sincerely believe in the fiction they are peddling: more taxes will produce a healthier economy; the record debt is not a problem; more regulation will result in banks and big businesses operating ethically and for the greater good of their customers and the country; nationalized health care will mean better care for the sick; unrestricted abortion and same-sex marriage are fine; unenforced immigration laws are good because Democrats need to import votes and Republicans want cheap labor.

Thomas, first, compares Obama voters to "cult" members. Right on. Welcome to America. This is where Thomas, in the entire essay, gets close to capturing the truth. Practically every popular movement in the US--social, religious, political, economic--surrounds itself around a central, charismatic figure who promises far more than he/she can deliver. The Tea Party has Glenn Beck's tears. The suburban evangelical movement has Rick Warren's purpose. Sports addicts have Lebron's decision. And, yes, 66 million American voters have Obama's hope. We all need someone larger than life, yet just like us, who will give us meaning by being connected to them in some, mostly artificial, way.

Second, Thomas calls the consciousness of Obama voters a "fiction." Ironically, it is Thomas who is writing fiction. Let's analyze it one sentence at a time.

more taxes will produce a healthier economy

President Obama and the Democratic congress have not raised taxes...yet. They have actually decreased taxes (over the past two years in the stimulus package) for most American workers. However, we can expect the Bush tax cuts to expire next year (increasing the highest marginalized tax rate from 35% to 39.6%) and an increase in estate taxes for those inheriting more than $2 million (as advocated by Michael Kinsley here). These rates are still much lower than income and estate tax rates in the 50s, 60s and early 70s when we had a strong middle class, much less income inequality and a consistently lower unemployment rate.

the record debt is not a problem

I'm assuming Thomas is referring to the Obamanomic Keynesian fiscal policy of the past 18 months of increasing government spending and decreasing taxes in order to increase aggregate demand to spur recovery. Obama appointed a bipartisan debt commission that will come out with findings December 1 (sure, politically convenient...after the elections). The Democratic Party has, quite simply, prioritized extending unemployment benefits, while marginally increasing the national debt.

more regulation will result in banks and big businesses operating ethically and for the greater good of their customers and the country

What else would possibly protect the common good from the bottom line of banks and big businesses? The deregulation of the past 30 years (and especially since 1999 when Clinton and the Republican congress vetoed Glass-Steagall) has proved disastrous. How can Thomas even refer to this issue in light of the 2008 financial crisis, the West Virginia mine explosion and the BP oil fiasco?

nationalized health care will mean better care for the sick

The US has the 37th best health care system in the world and has the highest costs. We can only wait and see if this health care reform will help at all. Something had to be done while the Republicans offered a plan that would increase (according to the CBO) the number of folks without health care and keep the status quo for those wealthy enough to afford health insurance.

unrestricted abortion and same-sex marriage are fine

Social issues have proven to be effective tools to fire up the conservative base of the Republican Party to vote against Democrats. These passionate issues work phenomenally for GOP political leaders, but, in reality, how many Democratic political leaders actually believe that same-sex marriage should be legalized? Hint: Obama is most certainly not one of them. And how much did abortion policy really change in 8 years of Bush?

unenforced immigration laws are good because Democrats need to import votes and Republicans want cheap labor

The Obama administration has simply shifted enforcement policy away from Bush-style work-site raids (to arrest and deport undocumented workers) to employer investigations (fines for businesses that hire illegal immigrants). To be fair, both parties want to "import votes" and both parties want "cheap labor."

Thomas concludes with this fear-mongering-manipulating zinger:

The liberal wing of the Democratic Party is dismantling the America we have known and loved and transforming it into something it has never been: a socialist state. If we let them do it, there will be no forgiveness, no excuse and no going back. And our shame will be an indelible stain for which future generations will judge us.

"Socialism?" It's been the ultimate in conservative name-calling tactics over the past 18 months. Obama's health care and financial regulation legislation are a far cry from Western-European-style-cradle-to-the-grave-socialism (a region of the world that, by and large, has far better health care systems, a much smaller gap between rich and poor & is more economically mobile). There, quite simply, exists in the United States a large cadre of liberals (or "progressives") in and out of the Democratic Party who range from deeply frustrated to utterly furious with the lack of difference between Obama and his predecessor.

The point of this EasyYolk post is neither to "go-to-bat for Obama" nor to demonize conservatives. It is simply to identify an example of the kind of dialogue that we should all--from conservative to liberal--denounce as down-right simplistic and anti-intellectual. Thomas' name-calling and glittering generalities serve to rally the pissed off and fear-soaked troops. We desperately need more out of our political and economic coverage. Unfortunately, today, more than 500 newspaper publications wasted space with Thomas' "coverage" of the American political landscape.

--Theological Autopilot

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