Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Whew! Where to begin...

I found your narrative a little hard to follow, but I think what you are trying to say is that liberals are bad and that today's conservatives are bad also because they are acting like liberals. Neat trick!

What you are doing is confusing politics with philosophy. You know, there isn't anything inherently wrong with either philosophy. But as I've said before, the real problem is when folks begin to believe that one philosophy is always right and the other is always wrong.

The American Revolution itself was this nation's pre-eminent expression of liberalism. Now I don't want you to worry about this. Since you are a patriot, on Independence Day I assume you take the same pride in our country as I do . But had you been a true conservative in colonial America back in the early 1770's, you would have been a Tory - or Loyalist - and among the roughly 40% of colonists who favored continued allegiance to the Crown, which makes it all the more ironic that modern day "Tea Baggers" fashion their movement after the actions of this country's most revered liberals.

What you have to say makes a little more sense if you are talking about Democrats, Republicans and modern day politics as opposed to traditional liberals, conservatives and political philosophies. Today, politics is all about constituencies and has little or nothing to do with political philosophy. These days, politicians on both sides of the aisle pander to well defined groups of voters. It's no secret for example that blacks overwhelmingly vote Democratic or that white evangelicals overwhelmingly vote Republican. Moreover, the American public is divided into distinct groups along the lines of education, wealth, ethnicity and (obviously) gender. By the way, the Pew Research Center is an excellent site to go to and examine how these various groups are politically aligned.

In my life at least, I'm not sure if I can remember a time when politics was not this way. In fact, I think the source of just about all ineffective government has always been the result of politicians making choices based on money and votes as opposed to what works and what doesn't. You and I both can remember the constant strikes and shut-downs of the 70's. Republicans generally sided with business, Democrats with labor - and labor won.

But I guess we can both agree it was something of a Pyrrhic victory. The high cost of labor has now come back to haunt us all. Not just jobs, but whole industries have been shipped overseas in search of cheaper labor. As you know, we no longer have a textile industry in this county. Employment in the steel industry has declined from over half a million jobs in 1974 to now less than 150,000. The electronics industry is pretty much gone and the automobile industry is on life support. As these and other industries have disappeared from the American landscape, so too have the many thousands of jobs in various ancillary businesses. And Steve, gone along with these jobs are the taxes which paid for roads, schools, law enforcement, health care and yes, national defense. Back to your narrative...

I'll have to admit I'm a little irked by parts of your story line as well as a couple of comments.

In the first place, I think you want to want to design a history of American politics based on whatever happened in some alternate universe as opposed to this one. If you mark the beginning of the cold war as the end of 1945, welfare spending in this country from that point on stayed relatively modest up until 1961, where it spiked briefly as a result of unemployment benefits occasioned by a short recession, then dropped back down. As a matter of fact, except for the year 1961, welfare spending as a percent of GDP (2%) didn't exceed the level 0f 1940 until 1972. On the other hand, defense spending dropped from a war time high of over 40% to around 10% right after the war's end - and didn't decline appreciably until 1970. In other words, welfare and defense spending stayed relatively fixed for 15 years after the close of World War II. This is hardly the "dollar for dollar" match in welfare vs defense which you claim to have occurred during the height of the cold war.

Ironically, Republicans today are quick to blame Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" programs for a massive increase in welfare spending. They should read their history. Welfare spending during all of Johnson's presidency stayed below 2% of GDP. Nixon took office in January, 1969 and was succeeded by Gerald Ford, who held the presidency until 1977. It was during this period that welfare spending really took off, and climbed to a high of over 4% of GDP in 1977 - a figure not matched until 2010. Under Carter (a Democrat) welfare spending dropped from the 1977 high to under 3% of GDP in 1979. It was only under Ronald Regan that welfare spending climbed back up to 4% in 1984. Believe it or not, history shows that welfare spending generally goes up during Republican presidencies and goes down during Democratic presidencies.

I'd be remiss if I didn't respond as well to a couple of other comments you made.

You say "government manufactured the idea there was a health care crisis...". Say what? In this country we pay on the order of 3 times more than folks in other developed countries pay for health care - on top of the fact that over 10% of the population has no health care insurance of any kind. If this isn't a crisis, Rupaul isn't gay and Mama Cass wasn't fat. Furthermore, this is a crisis which hamstrings American businesses every bit as much as it does individual citizens. Think about that for a minute.

Personally, I don't need to go any further than my own place of employment to see the effects of this. Technically, I'm "covered" by health insurance. Yet in spite of this, if and when I suffer from a major illness, the odds are virtually certain what little savings I have will be wiped out by an extremely high deductible and co-pay. As a matter of fact, this has already happened more than once to some of our guys. As for the owner - who happens to be a pretty great guy - he's had to scale back coverage, increase deductibles and boost participation amounts. Yet still, his share of the cost has skyrocketed over the last few years. Steve, this same thing is happening to small business owners all over this country and to claim it isn't is, frankly, breathtaking.

Then we come to the "mythical" global warming... What irks me most about this is that your sources of authority for this claim are nothing more than unscientific, right wing "think tanks" and industry front groups. Since we have agreed to give this subject a rest, I'm only going to say that no where else but American politics can an institution which consists of amateur, untrained political hacks be considered transcendent over the conclusions of the overwhelming majority of well credentialed professionals in the atmospheric sciences.

OK, I feel better now.

Now if you are still reading this and not laying on the ground in the middle of an apoplectic fit, allow me to say I actually do agree with a lot of your thinking.

Steve, we are in the middle of a horrible recession. Just how bad it is can be gauged by the fact that The People's Republic of China, which lay in utter economic ruin just 60 years ago, is today the world's largest exporter - exceeding the value of U.S. exports by about two hundred billion dollars annually - and as a result finances almost a trillion dollars of our Federal debt.
And speaking of the debt, some bold economists are now beginning to conclude that it cannot ever be repaid.

Now I have no doubt that government bears a huge share of responsibility for this recession. But in a larger sense, it is more of a problem which is organic to the way American society has evolved. In essence, what we have done as a people is maintained a standard of living on borrowed money. Most Americans today have come to believe that not only can they have it all and have it now, but also that they are naturally entitled to it. And, when they are told they can't have it, they turn to government to provide it for them. If we are ever going to get out of this pickle we are in, this sense of entitlement has got to stop.

Personally, I believe the best place to start is by electing political leaders with the guts to tell Americans the truth - as opposed to what they want to hear. Politicians on the left are telling us that government can buy us a way out of this recession with borrowed money. On the right, they are telling us that if government shrinks by half, all of a sudden, magically, American industry will get rolling again on the road to prosperity. Neither of these promises really engages some fairly daunting realities.

We need politicians who engender the trait which is not only lacking in politics, but in American society as a whole: trust. We need politicians who can enter a room, hash out their differences and emerge with workable programs. They don't do that these days because the American public has come to view comprimise as a form of weakness.

Now I hate to close this on a negative note, but I honestly don't think we will ever elect the kind of leaders we need until we learn to trust each other. Steve, you and I have incredibly vast differences on a host of issues. But the fact that we can air these differences and at least try to reach an understanding is precisely the model I'm talking about. For instance, you accuse Democrats of deliberately engineering a fake climate crisis. But I hardly think you believe I myself am part of that deception. Frankly, I feel the same way about you. Despite what you often say which goes against my own beliefs, I would't believe for a second that you are trying to deceive anyone.

In short, I trust you. And you know something? I'd rather elect a person I trust than one who simply tells me what I want to hear.


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