Posts Tagged ‘teabaggers’

Reductio Ad Absurdum

February 13, 2010

I try to stick with political topics that are relevant and serious. While I sometimes comment on the nuttiness that seems to accompany contemporary political discourse, I try to place it in the larger context of public policy. This time I couldn’t resist.

There are a group of conservatives who have tried to make hay from some of the most ridiculous arguments. There are some who aren’t introspective enough to realize their ideologically-centered beliefs won’t live up to the light of reality – one might call them teabaggers – but many who fling their rhetoric truly realize their arguments are baseless. For some reason, they still feel the need to launch baseless and meaningless criticism. For those people, the absurdity eventually comes full circle and we can see their how disingenuous they are.

One of those criticisms that was leveled at President Obama was that he was not a person of substance. This was “proven” by the fact that he used a teleprompter. The argument goes that he is charismatic and gives a great speech, but that he needs a teleprompter to deliver that speech because, implicitly, he doesn’t understand the substance behind the words. Of course, there is another politician on the political stage that is also quite charismatic and is very effective at energizing the base. Sarah Palin.

Apparently Sarah Palin felt the need to avoid the teleprompter, given how onerous they are and decided to write some crib notes on her hand. There’s really nothing wrong with that, except that it is perhaps a little unprofessional, but one might even argue that it is part of her folksy charm. What I got a kick out of was the content. The word “budget” was crossed out. It’s unclear what the original bullet points were in her crib notes. Either the original item was “budget cuts” and it was changed to “tax cuts” or the original item was “budget” and that was replaced with “tax cuts”. It would be interesting to know what her thoughts were. If it was the former, it implies that she should indicate what should be cut from the budget. If it’s the latter, it would be interesting to know if she understands the relationship between taxes and budget. Of course, lower taxes means lower income for government operations, so you either need to cut something out of the budget, raise taxes or run deficits. It’s clear that George W. Bush didn’t understand that simple relationship – or at least ignored it – and I haven’t heard a recent Republican whose words or actions show that basic understanding, either. It’s a little more complicated, of course. You can also grow the economy, which increases tax revenue without increasing tax rates. That is the rationale of short-term deficit spending to stimulate growth, but there I go getting serious and this isn’t meant to be serious. Back to the hand.

To be fair, if I suggest that writing crib notes on the hand is unprofessional, I have to also say for the record that I thought is was unprofessional of White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, to mock it. It think it is contrary to the culture that I otherwise see from the White House and would have been more consistent with what critics called the “frat boy culture” of the Clinton White House.

What got me chuckling this morning and what motivated this blog was the teleprompter issue coming full circle. When reporters in Chicago asked John McCain about the crib notes, he was apparently irritated by the question. “Which is more egregious? Reading a word from your hand or from a teleprompter?” McCain added, “I continue to be entertained now by the continuing hysterical attacks on Sarah Palin who is very popular with a significant segment of the American people and I’m very proud of her.” I guess that particular conservative has suddenly decided that teleprompters (or hands for that matter) aren’t really a topic of serious discussion and commentary on such are hysterical attacks.

So there we have it. Two charismatic politicians, Sarah Palin and Barack Obama, who use assistance to deliver their message. Both have been accused of lacking in substance. I will leave it up to the reader to decide the basis of that charge. However, if you need help in deciding, I will reference the extemporaneous question and answer session that President Obama had with Republicans a couple of days after the State of the Union address and we can compare that with, say, the Palin/Couric interview from the campaign trail, or the Palin gubernatorial resignation speech.

Now I can get back to something more substantive.

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The “B” Side

January 7, 2010

Politicians have realized for decades the same thing that capitalists knew decades before that. In order to sell a product – or a politician – you need to create a bite-sized marketing message. For every marketing message there is a “B” side. It is a consequence of the message that was unintended or ignored for its unrelenting realness. It’s why McDonald’s hamburgers never look like the picture and why politicians rarely live up to their image.

For those readers born after 1975, single songs were sold on a 45-RPM record. The “A” side was the song that you heard on the radio wanted to buy. The “B” side was the other song you got when you bought the “A” side song – whether you wanted it or not.

Less Taxes

We all want less taxes. It would be helpful to be able to keep more of the money that we earn. Unfortunately, the reality is that taxes are what is used to fund our infrastructure. Those police officers and fireman that we all want available for us are funded by taxes. So is the military, social entitlement programs, road construction and a lot of ineffective bureaucracies.

If we want less taxes, we should have less spending. When a politician promises to lower taxes, ask them what they are going to cut – specifically what they are going to cut. Otherwise, we can’t have another thing we want – balanced budget.

Balanced Budget

It’s been a long time since we have seen a balanced federal budget. If we want to realize that goal, we need to raise taxes, spend less or both. (See above). It was a sad precedent that George H.W. Bush got politically penalized for raising taxes to be more fiscally responsible (Remember “Read my lips. No new taxes?”) We saw the alternative when his less pragmatic son lowered taxes, but didn’t understand that it should be accompanied by vetoing a spending bill or two along the way.

When (or perhaps if) we ever see an opportunity for a balanced budget, maybe we should pay down the debt or – gasp – create a surplus so we don’t have to deficit spend. Could you imagine the political furor of not giving back excess revue to the taxpayers? We know all-too-well know that good times are always sandwiched between bad times. Retaining excess revenue during good times is part of a strategy toward a balanced budget.

As much as I dislike deficit spending, a federal balanced budget law would hamstring fiscal policy during the bad times. History suggests that deficit spending during deep recessions are necessary. If you don’t believe me, research what happened in 1937.

An obvious consequence of balancing the budget is to look where we are spending the most money. That’s what capitalists do when they have revenue problems. Guess what, folks. That means we have to look at cuts in defense spending along with the other programs that are cited more often as the cause of excess spending.

Social Safety Net

I think all but the most insensitive people realize the value of a social safety net. However, we all know those who use the social safety net as a hammock. I think the Ted Kennedy-style liberals ignore the scope to which people figured out how to game the system.

While the vast majority of American begrudge multi-generational welfare families as a lifestyle, those entitlement programs also help those with physical or mental limitations. Cutting entitlements for adults mean that the children of those people suffer as well. It’s clear that conservatives had a problem with that part of the ideology and coined the “compassionate conservative” marketing message, although that failed to get much traction.

Smaller Government

This always sounds good, but it’s really quite esoteric. For conservatives, I think this is code for cutting spending on social entitlement programs. That has consequences, too. (See above).

For those with a libertarian streak, like myself, it means fewer laws that infringe on my personal decisions. For example, smaller government to me means getting rid of seatbelt laws and motorcycle helmet laws (although I always wear both) and especially drug laws (although I’ve never done an illegal drug in my life) and staying out of issues around reproductive rights.

Nanny State

Although the libertarian in me doesn’t like those seat belt and helmet laws, there is a social cost to not having them. Additional medical costs, and the social costs to families caused by accidental death are real.  I have to admit that.

Our current dysfunctional drug policy is an attempt at imposing legal consequences on what we do to ourselves. Again, there is a social cost to families as a result of excessive drug (or legal alcohol) use. There was a time with fewer drug laws and we saw the carnage of opium dens. We see that same problem today with meth addiction. The current policies add to the social problems by criminalizing even non-problematic drug-use behavior.

This is one of those issues were there are negatives on both side of the coin. This is where thoughtful political discourse can determine a worthwhile course of action. Unfortunately, that is quite rare right now.

Tough on Crime

It should be obvious that we want to reduce crime against our person and our property. Determining effective policy is much tougher. Being tough on crime means creating laws that create more criminals. Many of those criminals – like recreational drug users – aren’t really criminals, unless you ask the most extreme nutcases like Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County. I saw an interview with him and he stated that anyone that smokes marijuana should be in jail. Anecdotal evidence suggests that we would have to build a lot more jails.

It means we have “three strikes” laws where people are incarcerated for the minor “third strike” to a degree that is a stunning failure of the Constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment. When the pundits advocate tough-on-crime legislation, ask about those consequences.

Political Correctness

Some liberals have taken the notion of political correctness to an extreme. It is as though they feel that it should be illegal to hurt someone’s feelings. The most evil manifestation of this is the convergence of the political correctness from the left and the zero-tolerance from the right derived from being tough-on-everything.

Zero-tolerance means high school kids get kicked out of school for having cap guns in their locker or simply smelling like marijuana. Zero-tolerance means that judges can no longer judge and school bureaucrats don’t have to think about individuals and context.

So What Can We Learn?

What it all means is that these marketing messages are for getting elected and not for governance or a basis for policy. Governance is difficult and requires that people are insightful enough to understand the consequences of policies. As the commentary above reveals, these policy issues are complex and intertwined.

I have been baffled by the whole “teabagger” movement. It isn’t conventionally conservative or libertarian, although there were some of that in the mix. Some small part (in my estimation, anyway) is simply racism. It dawned on me that perhaps the teabaggers are a loose confederation of people who can’t differentiate between political marketing messages and real policies. They are people disenfranchised with the complexity of reality.

If we want to solve the very real issues of our day and position our country for what lies ahead, we need to seek out and be honest about the “B” side of the marketing message.