I was originally going to write about how campaign discussion harping on super-specific minutae obfuscates the real broad issues of ideology but after the GOP Convention and after reading a terrific piece on The Huffington Post today (ref below) I think I can expand the scope a bit. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the political discussion hinges on something like the specifics of a more than 700 mil cut to Medicare, whether those cuts in The Affordable Care Act come from service providers and insurance companies and not the actual services provided to make those corporate entities more efficient, or only telling half the story conveniently as the Republicans are doing in order to scare seniors while not admitting their own budget calls for much the same number without any of the service safeguards. It doesn’t matter to discuss the specifics of whether Planned Parenthood funding goes to support abortion providers among the vast majority of women’s health services that PP does provide. And it doesn’t matter to discuss reverting more power to States and Localities by cutting taxes on the Federal level. None of this matters because the big issue is actually more important. The big issue is that the overarching strict ideology of the current GOP as embodied in a Paul Ryan is that a seemingly beneficial adherence to tax cutting to stimulate the economy is merely the first piece of a strategy to pare down the Federal Government to some falsely nostalgic level as prescripted by a so-called conservative reading of he Constitution.
All of the half-truth bending and counterproposals of the GOP are only designed to create a situation where the Federal Government is so starved of funding that it has no choice but to shrink irrespective of how that shrinkage would affect the population as a whole. Most people are unaware that the current Federal system reapportions national tax revenues among the 50 states in the same way that Major League Baseball shares revenues among big and small market teams in order to keep the League competitive and healthy, and therefore financially healthy. Revenue sharing has only lead to ever increasing profits for the MLB. On a governmental level, this inter-state welfare helps balance the playing field across the country as a whole since to think that what happens in a state stays in a state is to discount how each state affects any other. I would think that infrastructure, education and health deficiencies in one part of the country somehow affect us all in higher medical costs, increasing crime, and ultimately disaffection that leads to the all encroaching cancer of prejudice and hate.
If the States were left to really think about the services they individually should provide relative to their own tax revenue, the shrinkage of the Federal Revenue because of tax cuts and thus the income redistribution that goes along with it – eg. California and New York and net providers while Mississippi and Alabama are net acceptors of Federal revenue – would ultimately have to be made up on the State and Local levels. The total amount of money required for the running of necessary services we all take for granted doesn’t really change regardless of where the money comes from. We want to pay ever decreasing taxes, but the GOP never really spells out what the ultimate ramifications of their idea of true Federalism would be. The money has to come from somewhere.
Let’s imagine the result of the current GOP scenario, where Federal revenue shrinks to ONLY provide for the Common Defence and to Promote the General Welfare (whatever that really means to today’s GOP), where lower revenue States are forced to drastically cut even basic services or significantly raise taxes to make up for the shortfall of declining or eliminated redistribution (why would California or New York want to help out these other States unless they had to under this formula?). There might be increased tax revolt, or there might be a mass migration to more solvent States, further shrinking local tax bases, or there might be a sudden pulling together in an ideological GOP Kumbaya where localities decide to really shoulder the burden. I don’t really see the last bit happening. Instead, I see a lot of people complaining to their State, Local and Federal governments about how they got into the mess without ever realizing they forced a large part of it by never seeing or ignoring the big picture down into the future. I don’t really see how this scenario really helps make us stronger as one country. Didn’t we draft a Constitution, a National Constitution, and fight a Civil War, to declare the primacy of one country and not, now, 50?
Would that the GOP would actually spell out the big picture. They had just that opportunity during their convention. We can certainly debate whether reducing Federal power and reach resulting from a starvation diet in order to provide more opportunities for State and local governments to control their own priorities is as good a plan for the 21st Century as it might have seemed in the 18th or 19th or 20th to some. But should it seem odd to me that as we continually struggled to be ONE large country, the Federal Government became ever more important (and growing) to provide consistency of law and policy throughout the many States? This is not to say that there shouldn’t be government that is better left to localities. But lets have a real discussion about the costs and benefits of altering that system without resorting to some false notion of patriotism, or an arrogant ideology that makes claim to understand original intent of a document that was purposefully vague enough to grow with the population. Even Jefferson himself, one of the beloved Framers, suggested that the country should rewrite the Constitution in every each generation to better reflect the development an ever modernizing of the country. The Framers knew their place in History, and couldn’t dare to imagine the specifics of the future – their goal being merely a good push off the dock. And Jefferson, the most famous of the early advocates of de-centralizing power made as much use of Federal power as any other President once he sat behind that desk. Republican Abraham Lincoln led the country through a Civil War to assert the primacy of a single country over individual states. The actual practicality of governing nearly always trumps blind adherence to ideology. Except for the current GOP.
Their big policy wonk and ideologue, Paul Ryan, ran away from ANY specifics during his speech, not to mention the pervasive half-truths if not outright lying, despite the fact that he’s consistantly praised for telling the hard truths. The actual following of the overarching blind ideology to lower Federal taxes and more power to States and Localities, in this case the starving of the Federal Government in order to have no recourse but to shrink it, is never coupled by an equally powerful vision of how real services are to be paid for on the State and Local level. If something costs $20, it doesn’t really matter if you’re getting the whole 20 from your dad, or 5 from each of 4 uncles, it still costs $20. If Mississippi decides to massively cut education spending, health spending and infrastructure spending because of a derision to paying taxes, you’re going to see a lot of people migrating to states where the citizens have a different vision. And coming back from the dead is much harder the second time around. If one calls themselves a true Patriot, tell me how this vision really provides sacrifice for the greatest good for the country as a whole.
It is this last point which is the most important. If one thinks that government of any kind is the problem, what is that person patriotic toward? There have been times of great ideological divide throughout our history, but for the most part both sides of the aisle have worked from their respective positions to move the country forward. This obviously involved compromise and the understanding of the art of politics. We can complain about how corporate money drowns out the little voice of the individual, unless of course the individual takes just a little more time to learn about the issues. Yes, this might be a big thing to ask, so tremendously unrealistic, that it borders on the utopian. That is just too depressing for me to consider as an absolute. In this day, we have more access to more information than ever before. If the big lie will be told and believed, it’s not for want of accessible refutation. It’s just that in the past (let’s say Nazi Germany, or Soviet Russia) people could get a pass for ignorance because there were no other sources of information (look at the effect of increased information flow on the politics of the Middle East). But here, today, some of our citizenry just don’t want to hear the other side because it just increases their own responsibility. They don’t want to be responsible. It’s easier to blame the people who they elect to look out for their best interests once they realize what those best interests are after it’s too late – like when anti-Federalists will complain about the sorry state of their low tax based States and look with envy at states that, from their point of view, now seem greedy, or, for some, nirvana. Then they’ll get really angry! Or angrier! Really!
What if we just realized once and for all that we’re all in this together? This is not a call for bigger government, but a call for smarter, more realistic government in this day and age. I really doubt that the Framers thought the country was going to stay in a state of ossification from 1789. That would be like admitting that many of them didn’t anticipate the coming of a Civil War, even then. For them, the Constitution was an initial compromise to get things going, not a bible for time immemorial. I think they would be less perplexed by the complexity of the current world than one might think. And more flexible too.
The Center and Left should not get bogged down discussing or answering specific charges, but should really go big and articulate the broader vision of how government can and should function in a complex world in opposition to the broader vision articulated by the Right now and what the ramifications of that vision would be. Obama needs to counter this small potatoes tiddly-wink debate with laying out just what the hard truth of the GOP idea would bring, not just on the middle class, but on the country as a whole and how the Democratic vision is different, that Government can and does make a difference all the time, in daily lives of the rich, middle class, and poor. Let’s not get bogged down on answering the sloganeering of who built what, and instead articulate clearly that Federal protections and infrastructure building we’re always uniquely responsible for creating the playing field for wealth creation. If that requires scaring the other side by articulating a doomsday scenario of their ultimate ideological goal, then so be it. They waste no time in doing the same. And part of this vision should be about empowering the population to educate themselves and participate. For every super-specific that’s brought up, the President should go really big and brush those off like gnats at a humid Southern sunset.
Which brings me to recommend a great piece in the Huffington Post today by Ryan Grim. It’s an excellent analysis of the governing strategies of the Obama Administration for the first term, playing the inside game and outside game with regard to the GOP, and a complete refutation of the claim by Mitt Romney in his acceptance speech that the President went back on his promise to reach across the aisle. No half-truth here. Just lies from the Right– and potential disappointment for the Left, with a President who perhaps believed too much in One Country to play an outside game, going directly to the people, and shame the GOP into working, from their end, on the project that is the United States of America – emphasis on United.