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.