Right Wing Nut House



Ten billion dollars. Ten lousy billion dollars held up by Jim Bunning and Washington explodes in tears, hand wringing, and vituperative finger pointing at the retiring senator, the author of all this pain. (Evidently, Bunning did a little finger pointing of his own, but it was the middle digit and was directed at an ABC News producer - not necessarily a bad target but I question the timing.)

Welcome to the future. This is how it will be when even minimal, nonsensical, irrelevant, and paltry cuts in federal spending are attempted. It can be argued - and I am happy to do so - that Bunning chose the wrong time, the wrong place, and the wrong bill to fight for fiscal sanity.

But ten lousy, fricking, billion dollars engendering an explosion of hate and angst directed toward Bunning? What in God’s name is wrong with this country?

By the reaction, you would think that Bunning was trying to throw poor people out into the street, force grandma and grandpa to eat Meow Mix, strip soldiers naked and send them into battle, while singlehandedly increasing his carbon footprint to the point that the ocean drowns Los Angeles in a wave of melting arctic ice due to global warming.

The reality is, that what Bunning is asking is impossible; that the Congress find $10 billion dollars to cut at the same time they want to spend $10 billion on all these worthy, and necessary programs.

That’s $10 billion out of a budget of $3.6 trillion that the Congress can’t find. Are you getting the sense that Washington has turned into some bad Dadaist dream - a surreal nightmare with rabbits in top hats, chameleons sitting on park benches that change colors in rapid succession, while toothless hags wander among the ruins cackling uncontrollably? (That’s MY surreal nightmare, thank you. Butt out.)

Harry Reid farts and the EPA spends $10 billion on air purification. Nancy Pelosi sneezes and NIH gets a $10 billion grant to study allergic reactions by west coast society matrons. Max Blumenthal picks his nose and Democrats spend $10 billion to memorialize it.

Washington spends $10 billion - and ten times ten billion - without breaking a sweat. The spend $10 billion on their lunch breaks.

“But it’s an emergency!” scream the Democrats and liberals. Fine. If you don’t think a trillion dollar deficit is an “emergency” get the hell out town. When are we going to have the same zeal to cut spending as we do in increasing it? Are you trying to tell me that a couple of committee chairmen from the House and Senate couldn’t sit down for an hour and come up with $10 billion to cut? Are we that far gone where three trillion plus in federal spending has generated such powerful lobbies that Congress fears for its political life if they vote to cut less than 0.003% of the budget? What is going to happen when we are forced to cut hundreds of billions of dollars in order to deal with the deficit crisis?

Emergency? Absolutely. Let’s treat it like one. If you’re so all fired eager to spend $10 billion then by God, you should be equally glad to cut the same amount. We’ve reached the point in Washington where cutting a measly $10 billion in order to pay for necessary expenditures causes a reaction more in keeping with a threat to the stability of the republic rather than a simple exercise in minimal - minimal fiscal discipline.

Robert Samuelson
presciently describes the mindset in Washington:

There is a make-believe quality to modern American politics: People — and this applies across the political spectrum — say things that are stupid, misleading or unattainable and think (or pretend) that these very same things are desirable, candid and realistic. A disconnect between the language of politics and the nation’s actual problems is growing. The politics of the budget offer a splendid example.

On the right, we have conservatives clamoring for tax cuts when, as a practical matter, today’s massive budget deficits preclude permanent new tax cuts. With present policies and a decent economic recovery, the federal government could easily spend $12 trillion more than it collects in taxes from 2009 to 2020, reckons the Congressional Budget Office. So before reducing taxes, the tax-cut advocates need to identify hundreds of billions of annual spending reductions — or accept huge and hazardous annual deficits. Naturally, a comprehensive list of spending cuts is nowhere in sight.

On the left, President Obama and Democrats have spent the past year arguing that, despite the government’s massive deficits and overspending, they can responsibly propose even more spending. Future deficits are to be ignored (present deficits, to be sure, partially reflect the economic slump). The proposal is “responsible” because it’s “paid for” through new taxes and spending cuts. Even if these financing sources were completely believable (they aren’t), the logic is that the government can undertake new spending before dealing with the consequences of old spending. Of course, most households and businesses can’t do this.

Politicians can, because it’s all make-believe. They pretend to deal with budget deficits when they aren’t.

Certainly part of this “make-believe” is denial. Another aspect of fantasyland on the budget is an adherence to the old procrastinator’s maxim, updated to reflect reality in Washington; “Never cut today what someone else will be forced to cut tomorrow.”

Finally, simple politics is at play. It is more popular to spend money than to cut it out of the budget, more popular to cut taxes than to raise them. I mentioned the lobbies that have sprung up to protect their share of the $3.6 trillion budget. Every program, every proposed purchase that is cut affects real people. Let’s not kid ourselves. It’s not just the poor who benefits from federal spending. It’s the rich, the super rich, the middle class, and everybody in between and above and below. The government has burrowed so far into our lives in the last half century that removing it will be literally like operating without anesthetic.

America has been on a binge since the end of World War II and purging what we’ve gorged on will be worse than any emetic on the market. The problem has been that we - and through us, our elected representatives - have refused to make choices regarding what we want our government to do for us. Some need it to do more than others. Some desire it to do more than most. A few want it to do more than can be accepted in a democratic republic and maintain individual liberty.

Because we refuse to make choices - except that we don’t want to pay for whatever Washington does for us - we are staring upwards at a mountain of debt that will bury us sooner rather than later. And into this charged atmosphere comes retiring Jim Bunning like a bull in a china shop trying to bend the Congress to his will. He has made his point. It is time to relent.

As I said, wrong war, wrong time, wrong battlefield. But Bunning’s piquancy should be a cautionary tale. Samuelson again:

The common denominator is a triumph of electioneering over governing. Every campaign is an exercise in make-believe. All the good ideas and good people lie on one side. All the “special interests,” barbarians and dangerous ideas lie on the other. There’s no room for the real world’s messy ambiguities, discomforting contradictions and unpopular choices. But to govern successfully, leaders must confront precisely those ambiguities, contradictions and choices.

The make-believe of campaigns increasingly shapes the process of governing. Whether this reflects cable TV and the Internet — which reward the harsh hostility of extreme partisanship — or the precarious balance between the two parties or something else is hard to say. But the disconnect between policy and the real world is harmful. Proposals tend to be constructed more for their public relations effects than for their capacity to solve actual problems.

The result is a paradox. This electioneering style of governing strives to bolster politicians’ popularity. But it does the opposite. Because partisan rhetoric creates exaggerated expectations of what government can do, people across the ideological spectrum are routinely disillusioned. Because actual problems fester — and people see that — public trust of political leaders erodes.

When our chickens come home to roost, and the unsustainable debt and deficit has had its way with our economy, our budget, and our way of life, two partisans will be seen standing in the rubble tossing bricks at each other, screaming vile epithets back and forth, blaming each other for the collapse. Meanwhile, the rest of us will be sitting in the smoking ruins of a once dynamic, liberty loving country wondering pitifully what the hell happened.



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