Sunday, September 26, 2010

Useless Pledges

This past week, the Republican party published a wonderful, glossy, 28-page work of fiction entitled A Pledge to America. It's a great read, full of the sort of pious platitudes and self-righteous chest-thumping you'd expect from the GOP. Heaven knows how much it must have cost to print (except that I'm sure some printing company is writing off the cost on its taxes this year).

And, if you'll pardon my French, it's bullshit of the highest and purest order, probably produced by bulls on a farm that receives rich subsidies at your expense.

The word pledge is defined by my Webster's New Collegiate dictionary this way: a binding promise or agreement to do or forbear. You might want to remember the part about binding when the time comes to hold the authors of the Pledge to America accountable. But you won't, because we Americans have short memories.

One of the things you first notice about the Pledge to America is that it's long on denunciation of the current administration and on faithful promises to reign in big government, "act immediately to reduce spending," and "root out government waste." It all sounds great, doesn't it? Who could argue against this? Well, as it turns out, it's not so easy as a glossy bumper sticker makes it sound. It's hard to find spending to reduce and government waste to root out. If you listened to Robert Siegel's interview of House Chief Deputy Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy on NPR the other evening, you heard a master politician shamelessly dodge every single attempt by Mr Siegel to get him to identify a single federal agency or program that the Republicans would cut. If you missed the interview, you can read the transcript or listen to the recorded interview here.

Yesterday I found this article by Washington Post economic and domestic policy writer Ezra Klein: There's No Such Thing As Easy Spending Cuts. It's very short and to-the-point, and it does a wonderful job of explaining why the Pledge to America, for all its slick production and how-can-you-argue-against-something-obvious words, will accomplish nothing. Mr Kline makes the point that there's no budgetary line item for waste, other than things like farm subsidies (check out Mike's post for a way to see who's feeding at that trough) ... and that "just about everything in the federal budget is protected by powerful constituencies and politicians."

The sad truth, as Mr Kline notes, is that it's all but impossible to slash the federal budget as the Pledge to America promises to do without wiping out programs funded by your tax dollars that are third rails for very vocal and very powerful constituencies - things like veterans' benefits (hey, I'm a veteran!), the National Institutes of Health, the FAA (John?), national parks, defense, social security, and many other beloved programs.

And that part about slashing taxes? At the risk of again sounding like a one-note trumpet, I have to remind you that taxes are the way governments raise money to operate. At least, they were before we started using them as a system to reward political allies and perform social engineering experiments. Actually, there are three ways governments can raise money: levy taxes, charge fees for services, or borrow money. But nobody likes to pay taxes, everyone cries foul about fees for services (aren't my tax dollars paying for that already?), and oh-by-the-way you and I are funding the spectacular rise of China as a global competitor because - surprise! - they're buying up our debt. We are becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of Beijing.

So let's stop being stupid about all this. Let's agree that the Pledge to America is a meaningless document that relies - as all good cons do - on the gullibility and short memories of those about to be shamelessly fleeced. It tries to convince us that our problems can be solved if we just do all sorts of things that sound great, but but are politically impossible to do without more spine than anyone in Congress (or the Executive Branch, for that matter) has displayed for many years.

When you receive your next door-to-door visit from someone flacking for a candidate for office, ask him or her my five basic questions. Insist on details rather than vague promises and the old dodge-and-weave.

And if they ask you use your bathroom, you can offer them a copy of the Pledge to America in lieu of Charmin.

Because that's all it's worth.

Have a good day. Ask the hard questions and demand the hard answers. It's your government, after all.

More thoughts tomorrow.



The Mistress of the Dark said...


John said...

Bilbo for President! It's not to soon to start campaigning for 2012! (My retirement eligibility date is 1/7/12 so I'll be available to serve in your cabinet!)

Mike said...

Like John said, it's not to soon to start raising mone..... I mean start campaigning.

KathyA said...

This this post to the NY TIMES!