We’ve heard all the complaints about the current state of Washington: a new president has broken his promises and pursued a far left agenda, reneged on promises to get us out of Guantanamo, continued to employ Bush-era policies on surveillance and signing statements. Conservatives say he has quadrupled the deficit spending and forced an unpopular health care bill down the throats of American taxpayers, one that will force Americans to buy health insurance, a mandate that might possibly infringe their Constitutional rights. He has had the government take control of vast parts of our auto and banking industries. At the same time he and the progressive caucus in Washington are steering us toward tax increases at the worst possible time–when we are still suffering the withering effects of a recession and crippling unemployment that continues to hover around 10%.
Americans, angry about the state of the economy, their unemployed neighbors and perceived loss of freedoms, are very susceptible to these arguments and have taken the only course they know–they’ve lashed out and tilted right, vowing not only to vote in Republicans, but those approved by the libertarian-minded Tea Party.
Americans, in other words, are about to shoot themselves in the face.
I’m sorry, that doesn’t seem strong enough. What other aphoristic or pithy phrases could I use to get people’s attention? What if I said Americans are going to shoot their children in the faces? Or kill their own dogs? Or disembowel their family members?
It seems hard to choose the right violent imagery to describe how Americans are about to get it so entirely wrong on November 2–when they send to Congress people who loudly cried for a new Great Depression. Who rail against unemployment insurance when 10% of America is unemployed. Who scream against federal tax increases that haven’t actually happened. America is about to elect people whose biggest argument is that unemployment is still 10%, therefore we should have elected a government that did nothing to help save the economy in the first place. President Bush shouldn’t have kept banks solvent with a bailout (you do remember it was Bush who did that, right?) and President Obama shouldn’t have injected stimulus into the economy. The Tea Party argument? We should have let the economy crash and burn and unemployment go to 26% or 30%.
Shooting. Yourself. In the face.
We are about to punish Barack Obama for saving the economy from a new Great Depression. It’s as simple as that. We are about to thump the Democrats for keeping the car industry and several venerable financial institutions from imploding. We are about to body check a Democratic Congress for their part in making sure 95% of Americans have health insurance by the end of the decade. We are going to head butt Nancy Pelosi for making sure health insurance companies can’t turn away children for pre-existing conditions. We’re going to sucker punch Barack Obama for dragging the last combat battalions out of Iraq. We’re going to rabbit punch Congress for giving the middle class a tax cut (and even offering to extend it). We’re going to bitch slap Barney Frank for trying to police Wall Street, to stop the promiscuous mixing of bank deposits and speculative investments and stop excessive risk taking by banks that helped lead to the financial crisis. It was this free-market biases, deregulated, Wild West Wall Street that in 2008 led to people to lose their savings, their hedge funds and their faith in the meaningless pieces of paper that are the foundation of capitalism. We have short memories in America. We have decided Barack Obama is now responsible for all of that.
Shooting. Ourselves. In the face.
And what are we going to trade all this all in for? A group of people with no real agenda other than to hate government spending — at least if it is not spent on them. People who say the market takes care of itself. People whose only stated virtue is their anger. People who at worst make schizophrenic connections between Joseph Stalin and Nancy Pelosi and who at best are actively calling for the conditions that led us to financial ruin in the first place. Mainstream Republican leaders complain about the skyrocketing U.S. deficit on the one hand but refuse because of rigid ideology to do the one thing all economists agree would need to be done to balance the budget: control spending, yes, but also increase taxes, especially on the top 2% of the wealthiest Americans. The Tea Party is worse. They show little agenda but vanity and petulant conviction in categorically untrue things. They think cap and trade is a redistribution scheme. They think illegal Mexican immigrants are destroying the middle class. They think Medicare is a private company. They show no policy imagination but instead flaunt their ignorance as if that, like their anger, were somehow a virtue. These are not people who have not ever learned or cared about how policy affects real people like your grandparents and your poor neighbors but instead have learned only to smugly curl their lip and deride people who spent their lives in public service (whether it be Democrats or Republicans). It’s the kind of knowing smile you often see on people who know nothing at all–a popular gambit with teenagers who haven’t done their homework. We laughed at “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” when Jeff Spiccoli “cruised” history. Now Sarah Palin is the one cruising history. She’s gotten a free pass for knowing nothing. She makes dummies feel secretly wise.
These are the people you are about to entrust your economy to. Shooting. Yourself. In the face.
The problem with electing people who have no respect for government and no real policy agenda is that when they get elected, they are incredibly weak and susceptible to the new accouterments of their power. They will find themselves agreeing with more aggressive people who do have strong policy agendas. Lobbyists. Think tanks. The insurance industry. The military industrial complex. News Corp. And make no mistake–the real agenda of many alpha Republicans is a gutted government at home (one that pays, it seems, for nothing but Medicare) and an expanded empire abroad. Were Republicans to take power today in both Congress and the White House, they would not only ignore the ailing economy (since they believe it’s government’s job to do nothing), but they would try to get you to ignore it too by refocusing your attention on Iran, which would once again take center stage in our national discourse. A Congress of weak-minded Tea Party hacks would suddenly shed their “leave me alone” philosophy, which is not their real philosophy at all, and go along with the nationalistic, sloganeering patriotism that characterized the Bush era. Need proof? They already did. The Tea Party already failed the libertarian test by showing up late for the real executive power grab–and dressed for the wrong party.
This is perhaps the biggest danger of what we’re about to do. One of the biggest reasons that America is about to shoot … itself … in the face.
Often when you hear people on the far right complain about the government, they will tell you in a nice, clear, concise and short epigrammatic prose all you need to know about the economy: you have to cut taxes, deregulate and get out of the way. This is an article of faith for people who don’t realize how complicated economies really are. Macroeconomics is not the type of thing that easily gives itself over to the platitudes of the left wing or the right. The fact is that the economy, like your father, is more complicated than that. Ask almost anybody, even Republicans, what ended the Great Depression and they’ll say the Second World War, but they won’t work through the logic–government spending saved the economy. Ask them why Ronald Reagan was a great president and they’ll say he helped save the economy by cutting taxes and deregulating. They won’t talk about his huge military buildup–in other words, how government spending helped save the economy.
Meanwhile, overseas, another government has shown that throwing a trillion bucks in stimulus into your economy can make a great difference: the Chinese government has thrown about as much money into its sagging economy in the last two years as America has. Unlike we Americans, however, the Chinese forced their banks to lend. Of course, they suffered some overheating speculation in property, but their GDP has run circles around ours. In part this is because China is going online with its own major consumer demand–a huge engine of growth as the country urbanizes. But without a doubt, government stimulus saved it from plunging into the morass. Unlike Americans, the Chinese have no strange and self-defeating bias against a government helping its people against the depredations of capitalism gone out of control.
Tea Partiers do. They are so wedded to their beliefs, in fact, that they would let the economy fall apart and our society plunge into Malthusian chaos before they gave up on these beliefs. You don’t need proof for this belief. They have said it out loud. The Republicans poised to take over in the House of Representatives, not Tea Partiers, by the way, have said that if they takes over in the next session, they won’t be able to work with the president unless the president concedes that government spending doesn’t help the economy. In other words, Barack Obama will have to believe in the Easter Bunny if he wants Republicans to work with him.
Our banks should have been allowed to fail, say Tea Partiers, and the consequences be damned, even if it’s the average American who would have suffered the most. Theirs is a millenarian philosophy, a law of the jungle. “Creative destruction” means that if capitalism eats itself and mass unemployment results, so be it. Has any member of the Tea Party talked about what it would take to bring jobs back other than cutting taxes? Do you honestly think the real problem is that taxes weren’t cut enough? They were already at historic lows, as were interest rates, and that’s when rampant, crippling, stupid risk taking took place at almost every level of the economy, from subprime home borrowers to hedge fund managers. Look at the balance sheets of American companies and look at the record amount of cash they are sitting on, in an environment where taxes continue to be low, and then ask yourself if you can still be wedded to your obnoxious faith in economic libertarianism. It’s a bit like starving your baby by not giving up your belief in veganism. The reason unemployment is still high is that American companies find spoiled Americans with their luxury goods and their iPhones too expensive to hire. It has nothing to do with anything Barack Obama has done.
And yet it’s people who are crying about high taxes that you are about to hand your economy to. People who don’t even know their taxes haven’t increased. Shooting. Yourself. In the face.
Of course, it’s important to ask when government should be involved in the economy and when it should back off. Instead, the discussion has been hijacked by free market fundamentalists who make up in vitriol they lack in real economic insight. Centrists, Blue Dog democrats and even reasonable conservatives are afraid of these people. For some reason, when nobody seems to know what to do, we are always impressed by the people who have the most conviction of spleen.
You can definitely criticize Obama’s deference to these people. Deference to enemies somehow only gets the blood of your enemies up even more. I can’t think of any president in recent years so hot to cooperate with the party across the aisle and who for that quickly got Hitler mustaches painted on his effigy.
For that we’re going to hand at least one house of Congress back to the Republicans next week. Some are even talking about impeaching the president. For what? Starting an illegal war? Codifying water boarding? No, just for being, in their minds, a communist.
You can dislike the state of the nation. You can be unhappy, from either side of the aisle, with what Barack Obama has done or hasn’t done. But if can’t vote for him, then it’s important to know this Election Day that there is definitely somebody you should be voting against: extremists. The Tea Party is a dangerous movement of crackpots, at worst racist and at best willing to destroy the middle class and wreck the economy because of a reductionist, idea fixe. If there is a group of reasonable Republicans who want to discuss how misplaced liberal good intentions hurt the middle class, I’ll be happy to listen to them. But that is not who we are about to elect. We’re about to elect the people of Jonestown. Cultists. Crazies.
Shooting. Yourself. In the face.
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