I watched enough of the debates leading up to Iowa to conclude that the Republican candidates for president seem to live on a different planet than the rest of us, one where the only problem this country has is named Obama. Unemployment at 9 percent? Millions of homes foreclosed? The erosion of the middle class? The obscene income gap between the rich and the rest of us? Cut taxes for the wealthy, destroy Social Security and Medicare and make sure health care and financial reforms don’t happen. Problems solved. Meanwhile, in the real world, the long economic slump continues to cause terrible pain for millions of Americans, and none of the right-wing fantasies indulged by the pretenders to the White House offer any hope at all. Am I alone in thinking that the the outrageous sum of $12.5 million spent by the campaigns in Iowa could have been put to better use? Say funding a food bank or two.
Even some Republicans, who have up to now been unanimous in their refusal to compromise with Democrats on anything, are beginning to wonder about the wisdom of the continued paralysis. The few mainstream Republicans who remain in Congress recognize that the latest debacle, the failure to pass even a temporary extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance, is a disaster for the party. The public is clearly fed up with obstructionist tactics, and is now clearly blaming the GOP, as it should.
The Republican candidates for president are suddenly all hot to propose flat taxes. First Herman Cain, the pizza czar, came out with his loopy 999 plan. Now Rick Perry, humbled by his lack of debating skills and challenged to present something more serious than shooting coyotes while jogging, has come out with his own flat tax, which, if anything, is even more ludicrous than Cain’s. Pressed on the issue, the ever malleable Mitt Romney is backtracking on his previous disdain for the flat tax, pending how his tentative new position fares in the polls. Flat taxes sound appealing until someone does the math, which invariable shows that, no matter which version we’re talking about, a major part of the tax burden shifts from the rich to the middle class. We have a long-standing tradition of progressive taxation in this country, in which those with the most pay a higher percentage than those with less, on the theory that the rich don’t need as much of their income for necessities and can afford to part with a slightly higher portion of their wealth. The rich, as you might suspect, would prefer a different structure. The counter-argument that they and their congressional serfs dish up is that the rich need every dime so they can create jobs for the rest of us. This hasn’t happened while the wealthiest Americans have accrued more and more of the nation’s riches, but this inconvenient fact never stops the fiction from being repeated by the politicians who derive their campaign funding from the people who stand to gain the most from having their taxes paid by someone else.
I’ve forced myself to watch the last three Republican debates. It’s one of those unfortunate sacrifices one must make to do this job. It’s getting harder each time to stomach the pandering, the self-aggrandizement, the bromides, banalities, platitudes and inanities, not to mention the mis-statements, half-truths and outright lies this collection of know-nothings, wannabes, also-rans and nonentities spout. Mitt Romney alone seems to have something that passes for a brain, but the contortions into which he twists himself in order to appear as nuts as the rest of the field (evidently a requirement for the Republican nomination these days) make him even less appealing than the honest lunacy of the rest of this bunch. No wonder so many rank-and-file Republicans keep asking for another candidate to step forward.
I’m still stunned, appalled and deeply disturbed by the last debate among the candidates for the GOP nomination for president. Not by the candidates themselves (although there was plenty there to dislike), but by the crowd, which cheered lustily when the number of people Texas has executed since Rick Perry has been governor was announced, and cheered even louder for the idea of allowing the uninsured to die if they can’t pay for their health care. Now we know what the Tea Party really stands for. Lose your job and your employer-paid health care, go broke, have your home foreclosed, be forced to choose between feeding your kids and paying for health insurance? Too bad. Die. What social contract? Me, my brother’s keeper? Compassionate conservatism? Oh, pul-eeze! Just don’t raise my taxes. Disgusting.
You’ve got to love the thinking here. Obama proposes a hefty $450 billion jobs bill, containing many items that Republicans used to favor. The tab is to be paid by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans to their pre-Bush tax cut levels. The Republicans (surprise) oppose asking the rich to pay for the jobs the bill would create because the rich will use that money (drumroll, please) to create jobs. That no jobs have been created in the years since the tax cut was enacted does not deter the GOP from fantasizing that it will happen this time. In the meantime, the gap between the rich and poor continues to widen while we wait for those mythical jobs to come pouring out of the gated communities of the well-to-do.
Unless things change dramatically in the next few days, the Republican party will take this country into default on its obligations for the first time in history. The fanatical freshmen members of the House, elected in the depth of the recession in 2010, are in no mood to compromise in any way, even with their own leadership. Clearly, these men and women do not understand the gravity of what they are doing; they openly prefer default to raising the debt ceiling, as though raising the debt ceiling means spending more money. It doesn’t; it simply means that the U.S. can borrow enough money to pay the bills it has already run up. Failure to do so will have catastrophic results on the U.S. economy. But the extreme right wing of the Republican party no longer believes that this country should continue to do business as usual, even if that business has made us the most prosperous nation in the history of the world. And there are certainly those in the GOP camp who see this as a golden opportunity to destroy any chance that Obama will be reelected. If the economy tanks, he certainly will lose, never mind the inestimable harm that will result from a national default.
I’m on the road right now without access to all of my tools, so this one is in black and white only. It still amazes me that the GOP can get away with unabashedly siding with the wealthiest Americans against the interests of the poor and the middle class, and still manage to persuade so many that their agenda is in our best interest. Their absolutist anti-tax pledge means one thing: that any deficit reduction will come only from programs that benefit the tax-paying working stiffs and the the most vulnerable among us. In very real terms, this country’s policy has become to pay for the aggregation of wealth at the top by raiding the pockets of the working man. I’m glad Obama is finally speaking out, but it’s way too little and too late. He’s allowed the Republicans to frame the debate, and any concessions he receives now will be trifling compared to what he should have extracted had he made a strong case from the beginning. His habit of letting the debate happen and then engaging at the eleventh hour has cost us all dearly.
Anyone other than us pundits watch the debate among the presidential wannabees on the Republican side the other day? Of course, they all ganged up on Obama, who, if the folks on stage are to be believed, is single-handedly responsible for all bad things that ever happened, are happening, or will happen in the United States. Hs is probably the anti-Christ, if not Satan himself. They all agreed on that. They also all agreed that cutting more taxes for the rich will miraculously cure the economy, that health care for all is a terrible idea, and that the deficit is really,really big. The only thing they didn’t agree on was which one of them was the most conservative. It’s a miracle the stage didn’t tip over, given how furiously they all fought to occupy the farthest right place on the platform. Yes, I’m biased, but I didn’t see anything there that ought to make Mr. Obama lose any sleep. I certainly had trouble staying awake for the duration of the debate. If this group is the best the GOP has to offer, they might as well swear Obama in for a second term now.
The Republicans sure love drama, don’t they. First they threatened to shut the government down unless their demands were met. Now they’re swearing they won’t agree to raise the debt ceiling unless they get the deep cuts they want. Shutting down the government would have caused some pain, but no permanent damage. Failure to raise the debt limit would put the United States in default for the first time in its history, with truly dire consequences. Sadly, the Democrats, running scared as ever, are negotiating with these bullies, who, I have to believe, have no intention of actually letting the country default. They’re simply trying to exact as many concessions as possible before agreeing at the last second to raise the limit. I’m becoming increasingly confident that this tactic will backfire, much as the Ryan budget’s attempt to destroy Medicare did. People instinctively don’t like government at the point of a gun. That is, it will backfire IF the Democrats have the backbone to stand up to the thugs. A big if, these days.