Friday, October 26, 2012

Barack Obama for President

The utter failure of Operation Clark CountyThe Guardian’s ludicrous and patronising 2004 scheme to influence the outcome of the American election by mailing Ohioans, asking them to vote for John Kerry – showed why foreigners should by trepid when seeking to interfere in the United States’ internal affairs. But to echo an odd phrase Elie Wiesel once used, I cannot not tell you something: that Barack Obama requires four more years in office, and that Mitt Romney’s candidacy has rendered him incredible.

The case for Obama

President Obama’s first quadrennial has not been without its disappointments, particularly his inability to fulfil the promise to change the very nature of Washington politics. Much time has been lost, particularly in the previous two years, to intransigence and partisan squabbling and grandstanding. The Republican Party must be faulted for this, but the President is an independent, essential actor too. Reforming the immigration, Medicare/aid, and Social Security systems in addition to passing environmental legislation like cap and trade are required for America’s advancement into the twenty-first century, and Obama has failed to achieve these things as far.

Nevertheless, Obama’s first term has been transformative in myriad ways. First and foremost, Obama prevented the United States’ slide into a massive economic depression by passing an $800 billion stimulus package, the American Investment and Recovery Act, and guaranteeing the future of the automotive industry through investment and restructuring. The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, with the aim of ensuring that the American people are never duped again by small print and banks and credit agencies act more transparently.

Obama’s other significant achievement was the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, which makes the best of a bad system by expanding healthcare coverage to 30 million more Americans. It also provides essential guarantees for ordinary Americans that the private sector could not or refused to do on its own, including mandating coverage for pre-existing conditions and allowed under-26s to stay on their parents’ insurance.

No president has done more the advancement of equal rights for homosexuals than Obama. He shepherded through the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, allowing LGBT citizens to serve openly in the military, and his Justice Department has ceased to uphold the constitutionality of the Defence of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. Obama has also become the first sitting president to publicly endorse the idea of same-sex marriage.

On women’s rights, Obama has made some important advances. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay, Obama’s first piece of legislation, removed the statute of limitations on employees suing their companies in gender discrimination cases. His Department of Health and Human Services has mandated free coverage in private insurance for contraceptives, expanding access for millions of American women as part of preventive care.

In terms of foreign policy, Obama was correct to show a little humility in order to rebuild bridges in Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East, regions in which President Bush’s personality did not travel well and his reckless persona did much to damage key bilateral relationships. Obama’s focus on international terror and away from traditional nation-on-nation conflicts enabled the elimination of both Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki, and the reduction in the capability of al-Qaida, while a shift against American unilateralism and towards multi-national coalitions through the United States forced the international community to live up to its responsibility to protect, preventing genocide in Benghazi and resulting in the fall of Colonel Gaddafi. Also in the Middle East, Obama handed sovereignty over Iraq back to its people by concluding the withdrawal of American armed forces, and the troops will be home from Afghanistan by and large by 2014.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Debate Night in America: Biden v Ryan

Quite clearly, the vice-presidential debate will be an occasion where liberals believed Joe Biden was the better man, and conservatives Paul Ryan. And, whichever man is declared the loser by Media will blame the proactive moderator for having asked too many tough questions of their man. Martha Raddatz, while I’m on that theme, moderated finely, hosting an excellent debate, asking her pointed questions in a way that only made Jim Lehrer look worse. 

As to the candidates, if Paul Ryan is to be declared the loser — and of the two, it would be he who is most likely to come off worse — is it because he sort to evade the questions frequently, lying through his teeth about the President’s record, and avoiding specificity on his own plan for the economy. Ryan once more failed, for example, to explain how exactly he would pay for his voodoo economic plan: a 20pc tax cut across the board while increasing spending on defence. All he had to do was name one deduction he would end: he couldn’t.

Moreover, on the topic of abortion, Ryan gave a concerning answer when pressed if he would seek to remove the protections that gave women a right to choose. Raddatz asked, “If the Romney-Ryan ticket is elected, should those who believe that abortion should remain legal be worried?”. Ryan, before asking, pushed, sighed, and snorted a little through his nose:

We don’t think that unelected judges should make this decision; that people through their elected representatives in reaching a consensus in society through the democratic process should make this determination.

In other words, if Republicans control the House, Senate, and the White House, Ryan would encourage the restriction of abortion access through legislation, in opposition to Romney’s current stance on the topic.

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Enter Paul Ryan

David and Charles will be pleased. In selecting Paul Ryan over Tim Pawlenty or Rob Portman, Mitt Romney has by his action done away with the narrative which suggests that he might be a competent yet benign fiscal conservative, ready to lead the nation out of recession, and entered into matrimony with a politician who would given half the chance destroy the social contract which has bound together the disparate states of the Union since the New Deal.

Were Paul Ryan made hegemon of the land between the Atlantic and the Pacific, the republic would be transformed into a conservative dystopia. Social Security would be privatised, an insecure and costly procedure involving the creation of millions of individual retirement accounts. Medicare would be thrown to the market, too, mutated into a voucher programme where elderly Americans with pre-existing conditions would be forced to purchase private insurance. Medicaid would be turned into a block grant programme, shifting the responsibility for providing health insurance for the poor to the states, dramatically impairing the viability and functionality of this critical service.

All in all, cuts in entitlement and discretionary spending would reduce federal spending as a share of GDP from 24pc now to 16pc by 2050, a level not seen since the Truman administration, and a diminution of the government’s outstanding obligations to 10pc of GDP, the lowest level since the First World War. All this, while the wealthiest Americans receive a substantial tax cut, with the top rate reduced to 25 cents on the dollar – in order to fund this folly, the qualification for paying the lower rate of 10pc would be broadened in order to drag millions of less economically-successful Americans into paying federal income tax. It all amounts to an omnishambles of bogus, voodoo economic policies which would leave richer Americans richer and poorer Americans even more hungry and destitute.

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Friday, July 29, 2011
felixsalmon:

Why Americans want smaller government: they have no idea what the government is doing for them.

felixsalmon:

Why Americans want smaller government: they have no idea what the government is doing for them.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Exodus from the Ryan Plan

He can try and walk it back as much as he likes, but Newt Gingrich was the first high-profile Republican to back away from the Ryan Plan with regard to Medicare - the plan to replace this guaranteed federal programme of universal medical coverage for the over-65s with a flimsy voucher scheme. Gingrich labelled it “right-wing social engineering”, and has been regretting it ever since.

Now, Tim Pawlenty appears to be shying away from Ryancare too. In his campaign announcement today, Pawlenty did give tacit approval to another part of Congressman’s plan, to “block grant Medicaid to the states”, which Pawlenty asserted would allow “innovative reformers closest to the patients can solve problems and save money”.

On Medicare however, the former Governor of Minnesota stated merely that it ought to be “reformed”, with with “”pay for performance” incentives that reward good doctors and wise consumers”. No mention of privatisation, voucher schemes or any other overtures to Tea Party desires to destroy Medicare as we know it.

Pawlenty said the following later in the speech:

Conventional wisdom says you can’t talk about Social Security in Florida. But someone has to say it.  Someone has to finally stand up and level with the American people.  Someone has to lead”.

That person, apparently, is not T-Paw, who backed away from one Republican interpretation of the things that “someone has to say”, claiming no-one deserves to win an election by “pitting classes, and ethnicities, and generations against each other”.

First Gingrich, now Pawlenty, will others follow? Is this the start of a trend? The answer is unlikely, and that Pawlenty’s words may have just been an oversight. However, we may witness a tweaking of Ryancare, dependant on the outcome of the special election in New York’s 26th congressional district.

For, what once was a solidly-Republican seat (one which backed Carl Paladino over Andrew Cuomo in the gubernatorial race last November), the GOP may be on to lose to the Democratic challenger, or so the latest polls indicate. Such an outcome would be an embarassment for the party, at a time when President Obama’s popularity hovers about 50pc, and the Democrats in Congress are faring even worse. Defeat in the fightin’ 26th might give the GOP cause of a reconsideration of their approach to governance, give greater credence to notions of reconciliation over the bugdet and the debt ceiling and punt Medicare reform into the never-never.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Ryan Plan

Having recently accused Republicans of adopting a vindictive and shameful garnish-based approach to deficit reduction, to use Bill Maher’s imagery, it is in one respect heartening to see that the GOP’s 2012 budget proposals contain measures to dramatically reduce spending by going after one of the three sacred cows of government expenditure. Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, has, in other words, gone straight for the meat and potatoes.

In brief, The Hill outlines the Ryan Plan as follows. On Medicare, citizens who turn 65 in 2021 or later would not enrol in the current government programme, but instead would receive a voucher to buy private health insurance. On Medicaid, the federal government’s obligations to that plan will be converted into a block grant, where their share of costs would be converted to a fixed dollar amount that rises according to inflation. Savings would amount to as much as $4 trillion over ten years.

There are a number of problems with the Ryan Plan, not least its hard-line conservative bent. As E.J. Dionne has noted, “the Ryan budget’s central purpose will not be deficit reduction but the gradual dismantling of key parts of government.” The Medicare proposal would absolve the federal government of the responsibility of providing medical insurance to the over-65s, and instead would throw vulnerable people out into the private sector.

The deep and savage cuts to Medicaid too, amounting to some $1 trillion, are evidently an attempt to undermine President Obama’s healthcare reform, which will expand the government scheme as to provide insurance for an additional 31 million Americans. Moreover, the block grant system is a ludicrous, heartless and mean-spirited idea. In linking funding for the programme to inflation, as opposed to the needs to the people, states will be unable to respond to fluctuations in the numbers who are eligible, say in the midst of a recession.

What’s concerning also is not just what the budget cuts, but what is leaves in tact. Having scorched Medicare and Medicaid – one part of the trinity – Ryan’s budget ignores funding to the Pentagon, and the possibility of reforming social security. Sources close to Ryan state that he “will not back specific benefit cuts to Social Security or suggest raising the retirement age,” even though the President’s deficit commission advocate “raising the retirement age to 69 by 2075 and changing how inflation is calculated in order to shore up Social Security.”

Moreover, the GOP budget has once again completely ignored the revenue issue, by setting aside the thorny matter of tax increases on the top or any tax bracket. If the Republicans are serious about this matter of external debt reduction, then they ought to be outlining plans now to let the Bush tax cuts expire, which would cut the deficit in half by 2021.

In this respect, it is evident that Ryan’s proposals have little to do with reducing the deficit in a manner that spreads the burden about. Rather, the elderly, the poor and the disabled will be enslaved as beasts of burden, as the wealthy rejoice in an additional extension of the Bush tax cuts. In fact, and again as Dionne has argued in a brilliant piece in The Washington Post, Ryan wants “both to preserve the Bush tax cuts and, over the long run, to enact more breaks for the wealthy, including the elimination of the capital gains tax.”  

Charles Krauthammer, that great sage on matters of American foreign policy, stated in 1990 in his seminal essay ‘The Unipolar Moment’, almost as an aside, that “what created an economy of debt unrivalled in American history is not foreign adventures but the low tax ideology of the 1980s, coupled with America’s insatiable desire for yet higher standards of living with paying any of the cost.”

This is a Republican problem. They have, since the accession of Ronald Reagan, encouraged a culture of taxlessness, particularly amongst corporations and the elites, without asking anything of the American people in return. Now, instead of raising revenue as a kind of penance, as a sign of understanding that mistakes were made, they are instead electing to solve the debt crisis on the backs of the most vulnerable members of society.

In the conclusion of my previous article on this subject, I called for “a studious, careful and honest appraisal of the national debt”, one which will “examine ways to increase revenue and decrease spending [that] won’t take the axe to, and kill the effectiveness of, essential welfare services.” This horror show, car crash of a budget is not studious, careful or honest. It is nasty, brutish and reckless.

Cuts will have to be made to Medicare and Medicaid for sure, but not in a manner that will tear the systems to pieces, as Paul Ryan is proposing. No budget which claims to be concerned with deficit reduction can be taken seriously until it includes tax increases, in conjunction with social security reform and a reduction in defence spending. I urge the American people to reject the Ryan Plan.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Elephants in the Room

Whether you live in the United States or not (or whether you just act like you do), everyone regardless of nationality should be concerned with the debate ongoing in Washington with regard to the federal budgets for this year and the next.

For, if the European Union is discounted, and in spite of astronomical Chinese growth, the United States by a distance has the world’s largest economy, with a GDP of over $14.6 trillion. When a dove flaps its wings in the Capitol, the wind currents can be felt for thousand of miles across the oceans. We all have a stake in the nation’s long term fiscal stability and potential for growth – what’s great for America is good for us all.

Citizens of the world have just reason to worry, then, given the current size of their national, or external, debt (a combination of public debt and intragovernmental holdings). At the time of writing, it stands at a level 97pc of GDP, some $14.2 trillion. While it is certainly common for industrialised nations with welfare mechanisms to run up large deficits, and although America’s external liabilities as a percentage of GDP is not as large as some of her European allies (Great Britain’s, for example, stands at 398pc of GDP; Norway 861pc), it is evident that the weight of such a large debt around a nation’s neck will hamper chances of economic recovery now and prosperity into the future.

What is more troubling than the size of the national debt, however, is the petty and pathetic nature of the debate surrounding what is to be done to smite the beast. At this time, the Republicans control the purse strings in a manner of speaking, being as they are in control of the House of Representatives. The freshman class of 2010 in particular were elected on a Tea Party mandate, which if it is anything at all stands for taking a serious look at the size of government and the deficit.

Yet during the initial months of this Congress, the GOP has used concern over government debt as cover to defund public programmes they consider to be ideologically heterodox. The House has voted to defund public broadcasting, including NPR, and Planned Parenthood, which provides vital health services to women across the country including breast cancer screenings (and abortions, for which it received no federal funding). Moreover, the Republican budget for fiscal year 2010-11 proposes cutting legal aid and home heating oil for the poor. When totalled, these vital services equate to a miniscule proportion of federal outlay.

Meanwhile, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle continue to ignore the three great juggernauts with constitute the majority of non-discretionary expenditure: social security, Medicare/Medicaid, and defence. The root to smashing the national debt lies in serious reforms to entitlements programmes (43pc of the budget), and taking a sledgehammer to spending on bombs and F-22s (20pc). Instead, Republicans are wasting the American people’s time with such ludicrous ideas as a Balanced Budget Amendment, which Bruce Bartlett has deemed ‘stupid’ and Ezra Klein ‘dangerous’.

To focus entirely on expenditure, however, is to only see half the picture. The federal government doesn’t only have a spending problem, but a revenue issue too. Thanks to two successive rounds of tax cuts enacted by the Bush administration, which were then renewed under the deal cut with the GOP by President Obama over the winter, the top rate of tax was slashed from 39.6pc to 35pc. As a result, over the course of the past ten years, as federal spending increased, individual income tax revenue decreased as a percentage of GDP from over 10pc in 2000, to around 6pc by 2009. Simply by letting the Bush tax cuts expire, federal intake would increase to such an extent that the Centre on Budget and Public Priorities project the deficit would be cut in half by 2021.

These are the elephants in the room that the some of the elephants in Congress don’t want to discuss. As Bill Maher has framed it, if the national debt is a plate of food, then lawmakers are ignoring the chicken, potatoes and rice, and are playing with the sprig of parsley on the side of the plate. Republican Congressman and Senators are too bound by corporate interests and the wants of wealthy party donors such as the Koch brothers to even discuss tax increases, and ideological dogmatism stops them from touching the sacred Pentagon.

The United States has real and immediate problems to confront. On midnight Friday, the federal government will in effect shut down if the legislature and executive cannot reconcile over the aforementioned piecemeal cuts proposed for the budget fiscal year 2010-11. Republicans have passed their punishing budget with $67 billion in cuts to vital services; the Democrats are seeking a deal at around $33 billion, but Speaker of the House John Boehner has yet to endorse such a compromise.

For now, the two parties need to come together to forge an agreement close to the $33 billion in cuts to allow the work of the federal government to continue, so unemployment cheques can be issued and payments of veterans made. But in the long run, this garnish-based approach, rooted in doctrine and bigotry, cannot continue. America’s elected officials must – for the sake for the nation, its people and the global economy – make a studious, careful and honest appraisal of the national debt, and examine ways to increase revenue and decrease spending which won’t take the axe to, and kill the effectiveness of, essential welfare services.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Party of Woe: an Essay

“I’ve spent my whole life chasing the American dream,” Speaker of the House John Boehner told ABC News shortly before his accession to the third-highest office of state. “What unites us as Republicans will be the agenda of the American people. They want us to cut spending and focus on creating jobs in America.”

Yet the only thing which seems to be uniting the Republican Party at this time is their grand project to tear apart and rip to shreds the delicately-woven fabric of American civil society. Backed by their masters and benefactors in the corporate sector – in banking, insurance and the military-industrial complex – the 112th Congress and the ‘new breed’ of GOP governor are piece by piece removing what is left of the measly, miserly U.S. social contract.

In sickness and in health

The first step in this direction came with one of the first acts of the 112th Congress: a 245 to 189 vote to repeal the ‘job-killing’ (or rather ‘job-crushing’) healthcare bill. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, among other things, extends the scope of Medicaid, makes illegal the denial of insurance for pre-existing conditions, and institutes an individual and business community mandate on purchasing insurance. In all, some 32 millions will now gain healthcare coverage as a result of this bill.

Some Republicans have argued in debate in the House that the law is unconstitutional because “the federal government is overstepping its powers in requiring Americans to buy health insurance”. Such claims have been dismissed by the Obama administration, but have been supported in a landmark ruling by U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in Pensacola, Fla.

Republicans too have been defensive of their efforts, stating that this repeal is anything but symbolic. “It respects the will of the American people and it paves the way to reform our healthcare,” so argues Rep. Nan Hayworth. But, given that this attempt at a rollback was voted down in the Senate, and would have surely been vetoed by President Obama, it is hard to see it as anything other.

More importantly, the repeal of healthcare legislation is, needless to say, completely unrelated to Boehner’s definition of the agenda of the American people: to ‘cut spending’ and focus on job creation. The Congressional Budget Office, which notes that the Affordable Healthcare Act would save the federal government $124 billion over ten years, announced that the bill’s repeal would add $210 billion to the deficit.

Rather, the repeal of what has been dubbed ‘Obamacare’ as an attempt at slander is motivated entirely by a desire to preserve the status quo in American healthcare: where those who can afford skyrocketing insurance premiums receive good coverage, whilst the rest either bankrupt themselves forking out for treatment, or simply turn up at the emergency room and pass on the costs of their care onto others (which, in turn, drives up the cost of premiums).

Back to the future

Their other budgetary proposals are no less dogmatic, and can in no regard be taken any more seriously. Instead of focusing on where the real money is spent in Washington, Republicans have gone back to the future with a resumption of the culture wars. For, no senior Republican, with any clout at least, has put forward serious proposals to tackle the three great bulwarks of federal expenditure: Medicare/Medicaid; social security; and Defence.

Instead, the Republican budget seeks to reduce the deficit by defunding institutions that are precious to certain constituencies: namely the poor, women, minorities, the educated and those in need; in short: those that don’t vote for them. The House has voted to eliminate monies for public broadcasting (including NPR and PBS) for the rest of the fiscal year, an act labelled a “death sentence for stations serving rural and small-town America.” (Currently, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting receives a paltry $420 million of federal funding.)

In this vein, Republicans have also gone after the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, in addition to cutting 29pc from projects related to climate change. The Legal Services Corporation would be eliminated, saving $420 million but axing a service that predominately aided poorer females. The Republican budget also “dramatically reduces food aid for low-income women with children and women who are pregnant.”

But perhaps the most heinous of all Republican measures was an amendment tabled by Rep. Mike Pence to cut off all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which passed by a vote of 240-185. Planned Parenthood is an organisation which provides family planning and sexual health services, including contraception and abortion. The latter is a legal procedure, for which the organisation receives no federal funding. Planned Parenthood also offers women essential medical examinations including screenings for breast cancer.

Rep. Pence has over the past few weeks conducted a one-man commando-style operation against this mandated and well-intentioned organisation. He has used hidden camera ‘gotcha’ video tapes to accuse Planned Parenthood of “facilitating the abuse of a minor and sex trafficking,” since tapes purport to show clinic employees offering advice to a ‘pimp’ and services for underage prostitutes[1]. “What is becoming more evident,” Pence trumps, “is that [federal funding of Planned Parenthood] has to stop.”

As Rep. Jackie Speier noted in an emotional and affective speech on the floor of the House, this has nothing to do with workers finding jobs or reducing the deficit. It is part of a vendetta against Planned Parenthood, and the right of the American woman to choose whether or not she must go through the difficult procedure of terminating her pregnancy.

Trickle-down warfare

The war against anti-conservative causes has now spread from the federal to the state level. In Wisconsin, previously a bastion of liberalism, rookie Republican governor Scott Walker has announced that he wants to “remove all collective bargaining rights, except for salary, for roughly 175,000 public employees starting July 1.” Moreover, he wants to “force state employees to contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries to cover pension costs and more than double their health insurance contributions.” This, at the same time as he seeks to provide millions of dollars in tax breaks to corporations that will add about $117 million to the state’s budget problem over the next two years.

Wisconsin has a serious deficit problem: The state has a $137 million shortfall in the current fiscal year, and has a $3.6 billion shortfall in the upcoming 2011-13 biennium (the two-year period that starts July 1, 2011). Gov. Walker has argued that without cuts, he would be required to begin massive lay offs. Public service workers, to their credit, have already declared their willingness to give back to the state some of the benefits won through collective bargaining.

What they will not sacrifice, and what you should not sacrifice, is that right to organise and collectively bargain. It would render the union movement in the state meaningless, a capon among the roosters in corporate America. Moreover, it would set a dangerous precedent, especially as similar bills have already been tabled in Indiana and Ohio.

Conservative pundits are practically foaming at the mouth like retarded, feral horses at Gov. Scott Walker’s budgetary proposals in Wisconsin. Sean Hannity spoke of the “unholy relationship between the unions and politicians,” and became moist recalling how Ronald Reagan broke the air-traffic control strike by sacking all those who did not return to work within 48 hours. Glenn Beck, who has become more unhinged in his doom bunker as the days go by, proposed that these unions are seeking to bring down the Republic, as part of a communist-socialist-jihadist alliance that, in partnership with Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro and Van Jones wants to construct a New World Order.

Again, Gov. Walker’s proposals are demonstrably utterly unrelated to the serious issue of tackling the state deficit. If that were the case, a compromise would already have been reached. Also, the state would in fact lose $46.6 in federal transportation funding if collective bargaining rights are stripped for these unions. To put it simply, Walker wants to bust the unions in his state for the benefit of his billionaire backers. This has become a crusade for the governor, above and beyond the safety, security and future of Wisconsin.

“A plague o’ both your houses”

This is not to say that Democrats are innocent, either: They too are in bed with corporate America. The Obama administration has achieved next to nothing in the way of regulating reckless and illegal practice on Wall Street. Moreover, they haven’t done anything to prosecute those who brought the world’s economy to its knees via credit-default swaps and bound-to-fail sub-prime mortgages.

President Obama received the following in campaign donations during the 2008 election cycle: $994,795 from Goldman Sachs (the second biggest contributor after the University of California); $701,290 from Citigroup; $695,132 from JPMorgan Chase; and $514,881 from Morgan Stanley. (The Citizens United case, incidentally, will only entrench the influence of big business in political activity.)

It it is patently evident that, over the course of the past fifty years, the Democrats have done more the advancement of America and the American Dream than the Republican Party, in spite of this weighty outside influence. President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act; Clinton created 22.5 million jobs and three consecutive budget surpluses; Obama has attempted to extend healthcare to 32 million uninsured citizens and repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Conclusions

Across the aisle, the Republican Party has since the election of Ronald Reagan driven up huge budget deficits by increasing government outlay at the same time as handing out generous tax cuts for the nation’s elite. As a percentage of GDP, Reagan exploded the national debt from 32.5pc in 1981 to 53.1pc in 1989. Bush 43, by way slashing taxes on the top bracket twice in three years turned Clinton’s surpluses into huge negatives, again increasing the national debt from 56.4pc (2001) to 83.4pc (2009)[2].

The GOP, thus, has come to serve only the needs of America’s top 1pc, at the expense of the health of national body. The Republican Party has raped the United States of America. It is a corrupt, exclusive and morally-bankrupt organisation, which has now been co-opted by the Tea Party: a rag-tag coalition of morons, bigots and prudes.

Now the Republicans have set out once more to shove its primordial values down America’s collective throat. Already, it has succeeded in sustaining the Bush tax cuts, and has, as has been outlined, begun to unleash hell upon the social contract.

In this perpetual war, the GOP never seems to emerge defeated however: time after time, enough voters return slavishly for another bout of punishment from their gun-loving, abortion-hating, evolution-doubting dominatrixes. Rather, the biggest loser is always the United States of America, and the people who live in this most free and liberal of nations.

And with every day, the American Dream dies a little more.



[1] This is not the first time conservatives have used candid camera footage to bring down organisations which aid those in need. Activist James O’Keefe recorded low-level employees at ACORN “sounding eager to assist with tax evasion, human smuggling and child prostitution”. Its federal funding was removed, and the group collapsed. O’Keefe was later arrested in New Orleans on January 25, 2010 on federal felony charges of attempting to maliciously interfere with the office telephone system of Sen. Mary Landrieu.

[2] President Clinton indeed reduced the size of the national debt as a percentage of GDP, from 66.1pc (inherited from Bush 41) in 1993 to 56.4pc by 2001. The debt decreased by 9pc in his second term. By contrast, it increased 20pc in Bush 43’s second term. President Kennedy, Johnson and Carter all reduced the size of the federal debt, too.

Friday, November 5, 2010

I maintain my right to deride the Tea Party: a Reply

A meaningful friendship should not be exclusive of criticism. By this I mean, for instance, to be a Friend of Israel entails defending an oft-persecuted nation from a multitude of detrital enemies, but also speaking out against their questionable encroachment into the territory of other displaced persons.

Friends of the United States, and I include myself in this too, find much to respect in their Constitution and Bill of Rights, such a wonderful and powerful expression of what liberty really means. Along these lines, some quarters have sort to defend the Tea Party movement, merely because they claim the legacy of the Founding Fathers as their own. Here is where I seek to make the distinction between admirers and sycophants: just because the Tea Party claims the mantle of freedom, does not make it so. Nor does it make their leaders palatable, or their agenda any more reasonable.

From its highest echelons to its lowest ranks, the Tea Party is a big tent, but their unity supposedly comes from their fear and loathing of ‘big government’: they will be the driving force behind slashing back the role of the state. Yet their message begins to fall apart once the finer details have been examined. While they would like to make cuts, they want to protect defence, social security, Medicare and Medicaid (note the fantastic slogan: “Keep your government hands off my Medicare”).

In the budget for fiscal year 2010, together, bombs and entitlements made up 60pc of the government’s total expenditure. Add in other mandatory programmes such as unemployment benefits and welfare payments which cannot be axed, plus interest on the national debt that must be paid, and that leaves only 19pc of total government expenditure for the Tea Party to fool around with. Taking tiny mouthfuls out of this small piece of the pie would be as effective and as rational as homeopathy.

Such is the nature of the circus that all kinds of eccentric and eclectic acts seek refuge under its canopy. While the Tea Party has no single clown instructor, the movement does have a number of jesters and fools for leaders, all of whom should be considered incredible. We are all too aware of Sarah Palin, but few know of Michele Bachmann, the Congresswoman who has called homosexuality a “sexual identity disorder” and, with Palin, helped to pioneer the term “death panel”.

Of the candidates themselves, Rand Paul is a libertarian opposed to a woman’s right to choose. Sharron Angle spoke during the campaign of "Second Amendment remedies" to America’s problems, and ran unashamedly anti-Hispanic advertisements in Nevada. Then of course there’s Christine O’Donnell who, witch-issues aside, said in a debate that the First Amendment does not mandate the separation of church and state.

Amongst the activists themselves, President Carter was wrong to suggest without condition most of the opposition to Obama is driven by racism. On the other hand, given that the state has been engorged for most of the twentieth century in the United States, the reaching of this critical mass cannot be coincidental to the election of the first African-American president. It is difficult to believe that when elderly, rural white voters hear Rand Paul saying in his victory oratory “we’ve come to take our government back”, it doesn’t mean something slightly sinister to people who came of age in an era of racial segregation.

A minority of the Tea Party even go so far as to express their racism overtly, through colourful placards at demonstrations and rallies which portray the President as Hitler or a voodoo witch doctor. Slogans include: “Somewhere in Kenya a village is missing an idiot”; “The zoo has an African [lion] and the White House has a lyin’ African”; “‘Cap’ Congress and ‘trade’ Obama back to Kenya”.

Above all, they are a flock who have been driven through fear – whether it’s a misplaced fear of ‘big government’ or more unsettlingly of ‘the other’ – into voting against their own best interests. The Republican Party, who have co-opted or have been co-opted by the Tea Party, plan to uphold all of the Bush-era tax cuts (which slice almost 4pc off the top tax bracket), and cut regulation in favour of the very Wall Street the Tea Party claim to despise. All this, whilst President Obama gave 95pc of Americans a tax cut as part of the stimulus programme.

With all this in mind, I do not feel as though I have to welcome the election results of Tuesday night as ushering in a new period of stability in the spirit of bipartisanship. John Boehner will become Speaker of the House, and has not up to this point in his career done anything which would suggest a will to aid and abet President Obama. The Republicans will continue to block his legislative efforts in both chambers, whilst using their new authority to attempt to repeal historic healthcare legislation. Plus ça change

A meaningful friendship should not be exclusive of criticism. So I will not excuse the Tea Party – this coalition of the terrified, these bigots, who spew back the bile fed to them by an extremist, mendacious and exploitative leadership. This movement is not the embodiment of the ideals of Washington, Jefferson and Adams, but the legacy of Lindbergh, McCarthy and Wallace. 

In reply to “Americans reject their leaders, but we sneer at our peril”, available to read here.