October 22, 2010
By Peter Rodman
I recently received, from a conservative couple I am close to, a clipping about how retirees' health benefits are becoming unsustainable.
To be clear, they are folks who consider President Obama a socialist, and the single worst thing to ever happen to America; who believe all undocumented aliens should be apprehended and deported; who think taxes are too high, and government spending should be drastically cut; oppose gay marriage; think 'affirmative action' has outlived its usefulness; hate the public school system, and would rather people not have to pay into it, if they prefer private schools; who are actually stockpiling canned goods, in anticipation of the coming collapse of our economy; and who further signaled their hard-right turn by actually attended a Tea Party rally in Washington, last year.
Now they are worried--like we all are--about social security, medicare, the national debt, and the escalating cost of "retirees' health benefits."
Attached was a seemingly innocent note that said, "So what do we, as a nation, do with this dilemma? No politics involved."
Considering their vehement opposition to everything I believe in politically, I took a long breath...and finally decided to give them my unvarnished opinion:
Glad you asked.
But please...let's not pretend "it's not political"...or that having a frank political discourse is necessarily a bad thing.
We 'as a nation' have undergone a massive, wholly destructive re-thinking of what it means to be a good citizen, ever since Ronald Reagan declared "Government isn't the solution; it's the problem." Had he simply gotten elected on that clever slogan, it might not be so bad. But coupled with its intrinsic disingenuousness (Reagan grew the government and the deficit more than all of his predecessors combined), the popular mindset it engendered has set this country back a hundred years.
Instead of feeling like a part of the greatest nation of Earth, building interstates, traveling in space, doing scientific research, etc., we now feel like everything should be free.
Every road should fix itself.
Every school should hold a bake sale for books.
Every citizen should decide for themselves whether to pay that $75 a year, for fire protection!
Welcome to Private Sector World.
Our taxes, since Reagan's time, have been slashed to cripplingly low levels.
You now have the lowest tax, relative to your standard of living, in American history.
And in a way, you're right:
It's not political, any longer: it's endemic.
In fact, it's entirely symptomatic of a selfish populous, so infected by the handed-down anti-government Reaganisms that they are no longer interested in world affairs (other than to wage war); they give ONLY lip-service to paying cops and fireman and teachers, but are in reality unwilling to pay them a living wage; and so concerned with corporate freedoms and anti-unionism that we've finally cut the average American out of the picture altogether, and exported all but our service industry jobs--creating a fatally diminished revenue pool that is shrinking faster even than our taxable income pool.
I say 'pool,' because you are right, that it's a serious dilemna.
I think we can all agree...we're drowning.
But I would argue that it's less from our national debt than from an anti-civic movement that will disable us from all repair thereto.
It's the perfect storm, for a populous that cried 'wolf', until it went literally down the drain.
Each entitlement we decry is our own hard-earned rung, on a ladder of civilization and civic pride that was carefully built over hundreds of years of finely honed thought by the best minds this nation had to offer, and by respectful debate--by two parties, willing to sometimes sacrifice their dogma, in the long-term interest of the greater good.
Yes, it is political.
All of it.
Words like "fairness doctrine" are now considered terrible to you--yet, as American citizens now get pounded away at--day by day, 24/7-- with nothing but anti-government invective and "Where's mine?" philosophies, the entire notion of "one nation," (under ANYTHING) is evaporating, before our myopic eyes.
As we speak, President Obama's tax rates are--all of them---LOWER than Bush's, still lower than Clinton's, lower than 41's, etc.etc.--and that's the fact.
Yet, the caterwauling continues, and nothing but greed--both corporate and personal--is behind it.
The fact is, taxes were far, far higher--all of them--under Eisenhower!
Remember that socialist...Ike?
Remember actually building schools and university systems?
Remember how "handouts" (like the G.I.Bill, for starters--a far bigger entitlement/welfare program than any other) jump-started the post war economy?
Remember our post war reconstruction efforts in Europe...pure giveaways of American tax dollars, supported by the public, simply because it was the right thing to do??
Remember when bailouts saved us, not just in 1932, and 1976 (Ford to NY: DROP DEAD!), but just this year...as GM returned to viability, and the whole damn thing got paid back? Remember that??
It was one of the truly great moves by any president in history, to save a major symbol of American industry and manufacturing on OUR soil, at a time when the national psyche most needs it, which should have been regarded as being in the great tradition of benevolent leadership, but...but....instead...what happened?
The cartoon whack jobs of Fox News and hate-talk radio made their marching orders clear, to impressionable minds everywhere:
This was socialism.
"Obama is taking over Chevrolet!"
And so, even as ALL the money got paid back in record time, "big government" once again got no credit, only blame, and Americans further resolved to continue shouting it down, just in case anything good ever comes up again.
The answer to your question is a complicated combination of taxes and revenue streams which could be easily generated in a heartbeat--simply by restoring HALF of the (thought to be temporary, ten year) Bush tax cuts on the richest 1% of this nation.
Key word: 'Complicated'...but do-able, yes!
Under Clinton, those rates were famously 39%.
Problem is, with the politics of beauty-pageantry and bumper-sticker philosophies being foisted upon us by the 'sound bite right', detailed thought and complex answers have no room at the table, anymore.
If Joe the Plumber (who was not a plumber) can't grasp it...heck...let's just elect him to something!
Under Eisenhower, and for most of our lives, personal and corporate income taxes were as high as 95%! Obama's tepid suggestion that we go from the current all-time low of 15% back up to 'near 20%' is not nearly enough, yet even that is being shouted down--and (in true tea party, Bizarro World fashion) it's now actually being blamed for the whole corporate unwillingness to lend, because (so the narrative goes) "Wall Street hates uncertainty!"
Are you kidding me?
That is just ONE answer to your question--and a tax based one, at that.
I mentioned it first, because it's the quickest solution to solving the "dilemna" of honoring our long-standing promises to the retirees who've EARNED their benefits. More systemically, the decreasing revenue stream caused by the cutting of your dreaded 'union wages' (read: the whole middle class's wages) is another key reason we find ourselves in this national pickle. And it may well be the most important one, too:
When incomes fall, yes...corporations do better. But America does worse, as do those same corporations, in the long run...because nobody has any money to spend!!!
So here we are: The ultimate in deregulated society, happily legislating guns in bars, but unwilling to even face punishing punishing BP, without somebody on the right saying we're "stifling business."
The man who destroyed America, by appealing to our basest instincts to hate immigrants, revere corporate greed, outsource jobs, export war, and cripple the middle class--all the while increasing government spending on everything from imaginary safety nets in space (remember 'Star Wars'?) to financing small time dictators who then used OUR weapons to kill our own soldiers, time after time (Saddam, Chile, Contra...shall I go on?) has lived to haunt us still.
We hired an actor to do a serious man's job, when we hired Ronald Reagan.
We have since set about methodically demonizing the very best minds in America.
When they say things we don't like, they're "elitists!"
With...uh oh...a "Harvard education!!!"
And that's somehow scarier to you, than Christine O'Donnell or Jan Brewer?
I'm serious: America is in deep, deep trouble if we continue to look at shiny things (Sarah Palin) and shun serious ones (from Paul Krugman to Elizabeth Warren, to the president himself).
So go ahead, enjoy your daily cartoon party, imagining that the "founding fathers" would have loved this hatred of government, then offering up only friendly shrugs, to accompany the overall "dilemna" that creates.
Like everything else in our society, it seems that now, we can no longer even afford to take care of our elderly--and you want to blame everything BUT the most destructive and obstructive rhetoric in American history, which comes from your political camp--not mine. Because while this nation--this whole big, once-wonderful tribute to imagination and ingenuity-- is sinking like the Titanic, it appears the chorus of cackles from the mindless right will continue--also sinking the hearts, and the hopes, of millions in our nation--as they insist, "We simply cannot afford to be who we once were."
How lovely, to see that Raleigh, Nashville, San Francisco, and a few other cities are beginning to outsource crime investigations from the police to the 'private sector' (hiring people off the street!) so that...what?
A real incompetent can investigate your home burglary?
Because YOU say..."Hey...we can't afford it!"
How far-sighted, to alienate (pun intended) the more than 12 million undocumented laborers we've grown to count on, as a nation--as their families (and the future majority in this nation, Hispanics) grow.
Why do this? So that they will ultimately resent their mistreatment enough to finally put the last nail in our current system--knowing it hates them, and does not include them? Knowing that it does them no good to prop up an old order, for the bigoted white nostalgia that is its primary proponent now?
But YOU say..."Throw the bums out!!"
And how wonderful to hear your deep concerns--at this late hour--over how we're going to pay for such frivolous 'entitlements' like...health care, for our retirees!--when we all know, deep down, that it is our own fault:
We have lost our moral, ethical, and civil compass to a band of gypsy broadcasters, who stole our hearts, simply by amusing us to death.
Now, the Fox/Limbaugh machine has seized upon the (admittedly unjust) firing of Juan Williams, to demand the complete shut-down of NPR. No wonder. Why wouldn't they want to close down the last vestige of liberal thought on the radio, in America?
With no 'Fairness Doctrine' to hamper their invective, why not use the argument that "political correctness" is a worse scourge than the daily barrage of racist, hateful, jingoistic slime they proffer? Instead of calling for the firing of the lady who fired Williams, they want to erase this entire outlet of civility on the air.
"Let no bastion of reason slow our merry march toward oblivion!"
(Nobody said that...but they might as well have!)
Think about it:
Over these things, you'd rather have a 'Tea Party' and watch everything fall apart, than seriously begin paying into our nation's future, before it slips away for good?
It sure looks that way, to me.
So let the band play on--even as the whole ship sinks.
"Patriots, or pinheads?"
We report; you decide.
This article Copyright 2010 by Peter Rodman. All Rights Reserved.