Are we supposed to take this seriously?

If you listen to right wing radio or read the blogosphere it’s clear there is an angry minority of people that are ranting about socialism and profligate spending.  They seem to think their dismissal of the sound, thoughtful, reasoned arguments that support the current course is merely common sense.  i.e. Debt is bad, Keynes and all his intellectual successors were wrong, I dismiss them because I don’t like to use my brain to think. 

I have the same reaction to some one who dismisses, by their common sense, that the earth revolves around the sun or that evolution by natural selection is a sham.   Why are we supposed to take them seriously?  They aren’t even trying to frame an argument or if they are they don’t bother with logic or rationale, just hyperbole, factual relativism and vitriol.  The measure of this stupidity is how quickly someone compares Obama to Hitler in the comments.

For grins let’s pretend there’s an argument to the following claims:  

  1. When the government spends money on anything other than the military or homeland security it is being socialist,
  2. When a nation is in recession and in debt and spending beyond its means it should cut expenses and cut taxes.

Socialism: 

The government collects taxes and spends that money on things it thinks are important.  The process we set those priorities by asks the electorate to vote for officials who present a policy agenda and the winner is selected by a simple majority.  The officials that get elected are expected to carry out the agendas they promised and they are often judged on whether they meet those promises and how true to them they executed. If they get elected and they do something else that often costs them their electoral support.  Sometimes in the short run but inevitably in the long run.

So our President and the majority in Congress ran on an agenda to invest in clean energy, to reform healthcare, to invest in education, to withdraw from Iraq, etc.  When they were elected we knew that there was a massive economic crisis to deal with and the candidate who won promised a massive Keynesian stimulus to address the multi-trillion dollar drop in GDP that was happening.  We voted for that agenda.

So if that meant we voted for the socialist agenda then OK.  You can make up a name and call it that if you like.  Those investment areas – that’s what we were promised.  We chose that.  Calling it socialist seems like an attempt to use a pejorative label to invalidate it.   But that fails to address the reality of how we got this investment agenda in the first place.  We chose it.  It is what we want.  

Arguing you didnt vote for this guy doesn’t justify your argument or rationale either.  It just reveals your motive. Which means we should ignore you.  Suggest some alternate areas to invest in that will stimulate job growth and we’ll listen.

Debt & Taxes:

This part is the one that seems stupid to the level of moronic.  Consumer spending which comprises 70% of the economy is in free fall, business spending (10%)  is also plummeting. So that leaves government as the only sector of the economy with the discretion to act.  If government chooses to contract and in the process layoff millions of additional workers how exactly is that going to help?  Government revenues will decline even further because the economy is shrinking and that leads to more debt, in fact if the economy shrinks too fast then the government’s debt explodes anyway and all we’ve accomplished is fewer jobs, fewer consumers, fewer businesses and a massive debt.   How could reducing government spending help in any way?  If all you are upset about is the idea of debt, less spending won’t help, it could in fact be much worse than massive government spending.  At least spending will cause some growth and the gamble is it will cause enough to restore confidence in the economy.

But now lets throw on tax reductions too.  Not piddly little $300 billion tax reductions, but real meaty tax reductions to match the scale of the crisis.  How about $1 or 2 trillion?   If you gave Americans $5,000 each what would they do with it?  Well, in an economy that is shedding jobs at 600,000 a month why on earth would they not save it or use it to pay down some of their existing debt which is exactly what they did with the last tax rebate they got.  For anyone to argue for tax cuts they have to make a case for what good would come of putting that money in the hands of panicked consumers.  

The most common hyperbole is “you know better than the government”.  Oh yeah!  I know I want clearn energy and I want affordable healthcare and I want better education for my kids.  How exactly do I spend $5,000 and get that?  I also happen to want more NASA missions and basic science research among other things.  That requires massive, directed investment.  Seems like something the government is better suited than individual taxpayers to address.

If I got that money I’d save it.  My job’s not guaranteed, I work for a tech start up that has financing but needs to reduce it’s burn rate.  My wife works for a successful firm that’s also cutting costs.  So I’m not going to help the economy and I know I’m not alone, I’m gonna save and protect myself.  Look at the economic data!  That’s what consumers are doing.  Again if the claim is somehow that tax cuts are better than government directed spending then you might as well be arguing for the Easter Bunny.  It’s just nonsense.  It was when it was called Voodoo economics and it is even more so now.  Might as well start poking pins into dolls…that and tax cuts will get you just as far.

So the ranting about socialism and the out of control debt is bullshit.  It’s not an argument of any kind.  It doesn’t solve any problem and in fact proposes or implies ridiculously stupid policies.  Why are we supposed to take this seriously?  

The real debate is how do we implement enough transparency to make sure a massive spending bill produces the most desired effect.  How can we measure progress and course correct quickly?  No major undertaking goes according to the initial plan.  It requires management and stewardship.  So what’s the best way to do that?  That would be a useful and constructive dialogue.  We have recovery.gov, how should that function, what can we do?  

As for Rush Limbaugh – shut up!, Sean Hannity – shut up!  Congressional Republicans – shut up!  If you have a relevant proposal then bring that up, talk about the issues and how to work out a good solution.   But complaining about where we spend the money or arguing we should spend less and cut taxes is stupid, idiotic drivel with no basis in reality.

Feeling No Regret About Bush

I read an article by Christopher Hitchens where he claims no regret about supporting Bush which is not unlike many articles on the conservative blogosphere saying much the same thing. They have no regrets about Bush.  There’s an impossible contradiction in that claim.

Simply put, if you voted for Bush over Gore 8 years ago or you voted for Bush over Kerry 4 years ago then you got it wrong.   I understand the need for self rationalization to make yourself feel better in the face of the tragedy that choice wrought on this country but claiming no regrets is at best a self soothing coping mechanism.  It explains or justifies nothing.

Inherent in such a story is a disingenuous logic.  When you look at the chain of mistakes, policy errors, subterfuge and failure of leadership that define the Bush administration and then the terrible consequences of their erroneous decisions you can either see it as a chain of cause and effect or ascribe it to the inevitability of fate and presume any other President would have done much the same thing.  You have to do the later to have no regrets.  Only then is it irrelevant that you picked Bush over Gore or Kerry.  But then you also have to embrace the belief that leadership ultimately has little impact and that even personal responsibility is meaningless but no one I know or read embraces that obvious conclusion in the justification of their support of Bush.  In fact at the core of their belief system is that those two values are sacrosanct.

Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Armitage, Rice, Rove, and the other thought leaders of this administration had a warped, ill conceived view of the world and America’s role in it. Period. That led them to trust incompetent subordinates, to assume broad authority to ignore laws, treaties and even well founded experience and project their view of the world onto our government’s actions and repeatedly deny any failure was their responsibility. They did this over and over and over again, even when the trail evidence led straight to meetings where they explicitly set such ignorant and ill conceived policies in motion, often over the protest of reasoned and experienced officials.

Bush was a disaster that we’ll be climbing out of the debris from for years to come. Gore or Kerry might have been average or below average Presidents – who could know. Bad things would have likely happened on their watch as well, but governance is about how you prepare and how you respond to those terrible events.  What we know for sure is that nearly all of the preparation the Bush team made and almost all of the responses they orchestrated resulted in foreseeable and tragic outcomes.

We got nothing but false optimism from this administration. One happy lie after another. Gore or Kerry are actually too morose to pull that off. I think we might have been bored or irritated with either one of them but I don’t think we’d be ashamed of them.

So I disagree that you have nothing to regret. That merely shows an unwillingness to be reflective or responsible. By supporting Bush, you championed a disastrous cause that cannot begin to justify the cost in blood and money that it has wrought. Millions, maybe even Billions suffer for this administration’s follies and saying that you feel ok about that is self deception.

Cope with your grief however you need to, but I’m an unwilling audience to listen to your internal monologue as a justification for imposing George W. Bush on the world.  Get real.

Time to Move On

All partisans are entitled to their angst and determined hope.  In a contest as important as this one the supporters of either candidate have a right to feel deeply about their candidate and his campaign.

I know I sat through the 2000 campaign and was in despair about the prospect of a Bush-Cheney presidency.  I was only marginally impressed with Al Gore but I was certain that the Bush-Cheney ticket was going to be rough.  A month after the election when we still didn’t know who would be President I was resigned and cynical about the resolution.  Gore had played it so poorly and the Bush team had been merciless in their pursuit of using the legal system to force the result.  The hanging chad and butterfly ballots made it worse.  It was so clear the will of the people was being completely ignored.  Then the Supreme Court stepped in and in a belligerently partisan ruling called it for Bush and Gore conceded.

Now I read the conservative blogs and comments to gauge their mood, it seems familiar to me.  Resigned, desperate anger and hopelessness dressed up as prideful determination.  When Bush-Cheney won I expected cronyism and governmental inneptitude.  Ending the estate tax on the ultra wealthy, no bid contracts and the Katrina fiasco seemed easy to predict then, but my imagination failed me at conjuring up the debacle of the Bush-Cheney administration.

So I empathize with the conservatives who fear a socialist welfare state that wages a meek foreign policy.  The irony of their plight is not lost on me.  They thought they had brought the country to a neoconservative promised land when Bush-Cheney won.  Instead they wrought a political and economic disaster that brands their whole ideology as bankrupt.  To see Alan Greenspan concede that his objectivist ideology had led him astray was astonishing.  Reading book after book from White House insiders about the blind authoritarian model of decision making piled up a mountain of damming evidence against the judgement of the neoconservative movement and its devotees.

McCain should loose.  If only because his party has been shown to be so dangerously ill-informed, reckless and uncaring.  The Democrats won’t save this country but they will attempt to govern it.  There are no easy answers to the challenge of health care, the regulation of the financial markets, the resuscitation of the economy, exiting from Iraq, managing nuclear proliferation, addressing global warming and dealing with social security and medicare.

I don’t trust the Republicans to solve these problems with a fair hand.  Their track record over the past 8 years condemns them.  I don’t know if the Democrats are up to the challenge.  I am willing to trust them and see where it goes.

What’s Next!

Tuesday night November 4, 2008 was such a rush!  What a great concession speech by John McCain and such a beautiful moment for America and the World to witness and feel pride and joy in the triumph of our common humanity.  I know that some of my conservative friends would roll their eyes at that last point but consider that we’ve elected rich white men to be President since this democracy began and started it by declaring a black man as 3/5ths of a person and now we voluntarily and willingly elected Barak Hussein Obama to be our President in a very decisive turnout of voters.  I was not only proud of my country and happy with the result but as a Democrat I was in awe of the mastery that Barak and his team ran a 23 month campaign.  In my lifetime I have never seen a Democratic campaign run so well and be both tough and hopeful.  Politics is a gritty business and requires a stomache for bare knuckle street fighting and a capacity to inspire and to mobilize.  Well done President elect Barak Obama.

What’s Next

I know we are in an economic crisis and there’s all kinds of technical financial issues to resolve which I’m counting on experts far smarter that I to resolve as diligently as humanly possible.  Beyond those technical issues though is the challenge of how to restore confidence and inspire faith.  I believe the answer is to address global warming and make a commitment to a 100% clean energy economy in 10 years.

To anyone who believes global warming is false or not an issue I have to say “Stop it, cut it out.”  That is such an ostrich with it’s head in the sand gesture.  Blame is not important.  Global warming is real, no doubt about it.  It’s the most important issue and the best opportunity to inspire and restore faith for these reasons:

1. Global warming will negatively impact billions of people this century, it will be a massively disruptive series of events that will relentlessly drag on the global progress towards a healthy, economically sustainable livelihood for humanity, no other threat has a material fraction of the scale of negative impact.

2. Addressing Global Warming by switching to a clean electrically powered economy switches us away from the dirty carbon industries and their pollution, greatly reduces a major factor in the political instability of the Middle East, and rallies America around a long term cause that teaches the values of prudent action, saving for the future and investing with an eye to long term consequences.

3. A bold initiative of such scope mobilizes creative entrepreneurism and deploys our national resources in a cause that benefits everyone.  This is not a Manhattan Project but hundreds of initiatives, incentive programs, contests, regulatory adjustments and taxation policies coordinated to mobilize the country towards this goal.

Make us feel like we are here for a purpose greater than ourselves.

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