Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale


2 Comments

Right Quick: The Crazies

You hear a lot these days about the “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” types who would vote for the Republican Party if only it got its act together. MSNBC-friendly Republicans like Colin Powell and Joe Scarborough have each done their part to help sustain this narrative at times. To be sure, there are a number of social positions the GOP generally represents that are rightfully anathema to this crowd, and I understand that. What’s rather interesting, however, is the degree to which the Trojan Horse of “right-wing extremism” has come to extend to the very fiscal responsibility that would-be conservatives profess to want.

Republicans don’t all agree on the optimal way forward on fiscal issues any more than do the Democrats. But whatever the media hype to the contrary, we should all be able to agree that, say, continually raising the debt ceiling without substantial budgetary reform is less than ideal. To this effect, you GOP-leery fiscal conservatives, Jonah Goldberg has written you a letter:

“So, Bob, as a “fiscal conservative,” what was so outrageous about trying to cut pork — Fisheries in Alaska! Massive subsidies for Amtrak! — from the Sandy disaster-relief bill? What was so nuts about looking for offsets to pay for it?”

Even if you think the House mishandled the Sandy bill, their objections seem not unreasonable, and they did offer another, less pork-laden bill. But as that fight is over, let’s move on to the “moderates”:

“Well, let’s talk about Eisenhower, your kind of Republican. Did you know that in his famous farewell address he warned about the debt? “We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage,” he said. “We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.”

Bob, we are that insolvent phantom, you feckless, gormless clod. The year Eisenhower delivered that speech, U.S. debt was roughly half our GDP. But that was when we were still paying off WWII (not to mention things like the Marshall Plan), and the defense budget constituted more than half the U.S. budget (today it’s a fifth and falling). Now, the debt is bigger than our GDP. Gross Domestic Product is barely $15 trillion. The national debt is over $16 trillion and climbing — fast. The country isn’t going broke, Bob, it is broke.

When George W. Bush added nearly $5 trillion in national debt in two terms you were scandalized. When Obama added more than that in one term, you yawned. When, in 2006, then-senator Obama condemned Bush’s failure of leadership and vowed to vote against raising the debt ceiling, you thought him a statesman. Obama, who wants to borrow trillions more, now admits that was purely a “political vote.”

Yet when Republicans actually have the courage of Obama’s own convictions, you condemn them.”

This, of course, brings us to the crux of our spending problem of which liberals loathe to speak—entitlements:

“Anyone who calls himself a fiscal conservative understands we have a spending problem. Do the math. A two-earner couple who retired in 2011 after making $89,000 per year will have paid about $114,000 into Medicare over their lifetimes but will receive $355,000. When will it dawn on you that Obama doesn’t think we have a spending problem? I ask because when he said “we don’t have a spending problem,” it seemed to have no effect on you.

And yet you still think Paul Ryan’s budget was “extreme.” Do you know when it balanced the budget? 2040. What’s a non-extreme date to balance the budget, Bob? 2113?”

Until and unless Democrats get serious about transformative spending cuts, my fiscally conservative friend, the GOP is the only game in town for deficit reduction. I’m not saying the Party is perfect by any means, but a few rotten apples don’t change the fact that we, as a movement, are committed to the fiscal reforms that will move our country toward the right track. And every step of the way, the Left fights us tooth and nail. Remember that the next time somebody howls about “extremists.”


2 Comments

The War on Revenue

Update: An earlier draft of this post was adapted by The Daily Caller. You can find that article here.

“Lower rates of taxation will stimulateeconomic activity and so raise the levels of personal and corporate income as to yield within a few years an increased – not a reduced – flow of revenues to the federal government.” –John F. Kennedy

“We believe small businesses are the engine of economic growth in this country.” –Barack Obama

What do you mean taxes have consequences?

The U.S. Treasury Department announced yesterday that the federal budget deficit for the month of October 2012 was $120 billion.

For some fun perspective, Greece, Spain, and Italy produced deficits of about $9 billion, $29 billion, and $87 billion, respectively, in 2011. Read that again. In a single month, the U.S. government accumulated debt nigh tantamount to the entire annual deficits of three precariously recessive Eurozone countries. Of all the countries on Earth, only four—Japan, Britain, France, and Mexico—ran deficits in all of 2011 that exceeded Washington’s shortfall last month alone. Of all the annual surpluses of 2011—from Brazil to Sweden to Saudi Arabia—not one reaches $82 billion, let alone the $120 billion the U.S. spent by Halloween. Of course, these countries all have much smaller GDP, but it still makes for amusing comparison.

By now, you have already heard ad nauseam that Barack Obama has added more than half as much debt as he inherited. You also know that spending is at the highest levels since the Second World War, and yet Millennials are still, in a word, screwed. With the election behind us and the status quo ante more or less entrenched, we should expect the president will finally offer a real, centrist proposal to subdue the debt and unburden a drowning economy in way both sides can agree.

A week past the election, however, President Obama remains obsessed with effecting higher tax rates, which his allies are insisting do not matter. Before the election, the president campaigned on the need to lower corporate taxes in order to spur growth and create jobs. Now freed from the oversight of the electorate, Obama has reneged on this oftrepeated promise and literally doubled down on plans to sap resources from what he has agreed are the engines of our economy. Either the president has “evolved” on the question of private enterprise or he places a minimal premium on political and economic integrity.

Just as edible chemicals are not interchangeable for bodily health, not all forms of revenue have equivalent effect on the economy. Put simply, taxes retard growth, but certain types do so more than others—hence the once bipartisan agreement that corporate taxes should be cut and the fact of different rates for different kinds of income. (By the way, Great State of Illinois, sin taxes are terribly regressive.) As it happens—income taxes, which have already risen at the state level—are particularly associated with lower economic growth than other kinds of revenue, and the U.S. already has an unusually progressive tax system relative to the rest of the developed world. Hence, Republicans have long admitted and embraced the need for more revenue while insisting only that tax rates not be increased. From an economic standpoint, and contrary to the administration’s demagoguery, this makes sense.

We all know that President Obama won the election, and the Democrats gained seats in Congress. The Party of gracious victors was magnanimous enough to remind everyone of this fact, ad infinitum, in case we forgot. It was really very thoughtful of them. But now that the campaign is over, we need our elected officials to get serious about fixing this economy.

Equating Bill Kristol’s musing that the country would survive a tax hike with an endorsement of the idea is not serious. You could survive an amputation, if the party in power insists on it, and we may have to negotiate an arm down to a finger because they have won the upper hand (ahem). But that doesn’t change the fact that the powers that be are obdurately committed to hurting you, and we need to discuss ways that will actually solve problems.

At the end of the day, America still has a spending problem that can never be matched by revenue, and entitlements will start to go insolvent in the next decade. I would love to see the President of the United States reckon with the reality of the mess, and I expect the Republicans in Congress, however weakened, will continue to insist that he do so.


2 Comments

Right Where We Belong

“We do believe you can use government in a good way. Government is the only thing we all belong to.” –Overheard at DNC 2012

What’s so bad about anarchy, again?

President Kennedy once challeneged us to reconsider our relationship with America: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” It was an inspiring inaugural call to patriotism, duty, and common purpose. I imagine the Democratic Convention aimed to channel some of that former transcendence to make up for what they lost over the last four years. But instead they only succeeded, once again, in leaving us to wonder whether the Party of F.D.R. has finally derailed.

In context—always the first sleight of damage control—the narrator of that DNC video talks about our many different “churches” and “clubs” and how the government, from the local to the federal, unites us into a people. In other words, we presumably have a government of, by, and for communal unity. In this vision, the state is the embodiment of the general will, a la Rousseau, and the government is the expression of communal desires. And to this, we all purportedly belong.

It is a grand idea, save for everything wrong with it.

Since it apparently must be said, the arms of Washington are much too far away to grasp my neighborhood. And I would rather they not come any closer, thank you very much. I don’t even know the names of my local officials, let alone their political affiliations. But I’d bet $10,000—plus Stephanie Cutter’s audacity—that they don’t know most of my neighbors from Adam. Whatever the service of our elected servants, we do not vote on their bills, and they do not sit at our tables. Government is not community. It is a complex machine designed for certain limited ends, and like any machine, government has the potential to be disastrous if handled poorly.

That liberals seem incapable of understanding this reality underlies their obstinate expansion of the state into everything from dictating our beverage containers to micromanaging the terms of our healthcare policies, complete with ever growing debt to finance all this. By contrast, the “churches” and “clubs” so idly dismissed as divisive are full of people who actually know us well enough to touch our lives effectively. It is from such personal, spiritual bonds that we develop purpose and identity. Through our fidelity to our communities, we all belong to the American ideals of freedom, opportunity, and honor.

The president is not our friend and our officials are not our brothers. They are employees each elected or appointed to do a job. If any of them is unable or unwilling to meet our expectations, then our duty is to fire that one and hire another. As much as that callous, impersonal approach is abhorrent to the idea of family, government will never be a community to which anyone can properly belong.

The state can neither save nor love us. But it can get out of the way of our prosperity.