Monday, February 23, 2009


Some might call it a small point: Barack Obama, in his budget projections, has rejected the Bushian accounting tricks used to make deficits look smaller than they really were. It's something that always bugged me, that shameless sleight-of-hand, winked at by everyone in Congress.

The effect, of course, is that the deficits in the Obama budget, in their unprecedented honesty, will look larger than they would have, had the old flim-flam been carried forward. Including, as never before, the cost of the wars, Medicare payments, AMT effects, it adds nearly three trillion over ten years, just by honest accounting. You can be sure the right-wing screamers will holler at the numbers without ever mentioning what has changed.

Meanwhile, as he has always said, and by the methods on which he campaigned and was elected, the President has announced his intention to bring deficits under better control, cutting it by half in his first term. Wise or not, possible or not, it's a bold goal, under present conditions. That his plan includes (in addition to spending cuts) raising taxes on the wealthy will be decried far and wide; already I can hear the shrieks. But, assuming those Republican values of patriotism, sacrifice, and fairness actually mean something, it's hard to argue against the need. Income disparity under Bush grew to unprecedented levels, as did the national debt, in large measure because of his untimely and overly generous tax cuts.* In a time of such crisis, can those who benefited disproportionately from the free-for-all that led to our downfall not now see the need to give something back, at least until the leaks are plugged? To save the country? Eventually, one can hope (this one anyway) that Obama will be willing to go all Willie Sutton (snopes be damned!) and aim where the real money is: entitlements, and military spending in areas other than the wars.

Clinging, as is their wont, to the same ideas they've had for decades, it's apparent to me that many on the right, and most especially their elected representatives, simply can't or refuse to see how dire the world economy is, how unprecedented is the breadth and speed of the downfall. Nor, of course, are they where they are (in Congress, on the radio and at Fox) because of their ability rationally to approach a crisis. Quite the contrary. To them, change is impossible. If they saw it, they'd be unable to recognize it, any more than a line can recognize a cube. They were elected, or hired, to reinforce the beliefs of those who made up their minds long ago, or had them made up for them, not to create new thoughts. Most certainly, not to seek new truths. That's, well, almost like thinking. Like open-mindedness. (If you question the certainty that Republican leaders are elected specifically and only because of their close-minded stupidity, read this.)

Following the examples of a generation of leaders, when facts appear that contradict, they have only one reaction: ignore. Cleave to the old comforts. Things are fine. Deregulate, cut taxes, blame someone else. People who point out it's never worked are haters. Communists. Radical communists. Possibly even -- the horror! -- realists.

Until Republicans start electing people willing to open eyes, ears and brains, to define common ground as something other than complete acceptance of their sodden ideas, bipartisanship is not only impossible. It's unthinkable.

* I recognize the arguments that over-taxation can stifle growth, and I agree. I don't pretend to know the sweet spot. But I do know there was enormous growth, strength of the dollar, and elimination of deficits with the rates in place before the Bush cuts, and to which Obama is likely to propose returning. If not perfect, they seem to have worked pretty damn well. It's not as if something doesn't need to change.


egomosperficio said...

hi sid,
i hope you continue these political rants. i am maddened more than usual with the way the gop boys have been acting. they have the kind of non-thinking tactics of repeating their slogans over and over in a way that makes me doubt they even believe what they're saying-->they remind me of fundamentalists that keep talking about a lack of transitional fossils, or moon dust.
i am a canadian, and it is reassuring to know that americans aren't as dumb as fox would have us believe. here's hoping americans can keep supporting their new president and teach the gop that times have changed.

Anonymous said...

I take it you're familiar with EMTALA, which might rightly be called "an unfunded federal mandate". Likewise, Bush's Iraq war might well be termed "an unbudgeted presidential mandate". And the belief that deregulation of US financial institutions would affect only the US economy is plain, old-fashioned greed, stupidity, whatever you want to call it.

Obama may be an idealist, but he is also a realist The hollow Republican cry of "country first" and the shallow Republican claims of "patriotism, sacrifice, and fairness" ring with Rovian double-speak. The Republican attitude? Double-plus-ungood.

Timmyson said...

I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure it's just Paul Volcker's memory that's failing that bad. Some specific countries' economies may be falling at unprecedented rates, but we're still not at Great Depression misery. And certainly nowhere close in terms of magnitude.

Sure employment is a lagging indicator, but US unemployment has a long way to go before 25%.

Sid Schwab said...

I think that was his point: there are more measures of seriousness and potential downstream danger than unemployment. I have no basis for saying how right he is; just that that was what he said.

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