[Another weekend political rant. Go no further if you came here for surgery.]
Like John McCain, I'm not especially knowledgeable about the economy. Unlike him, evidently, I can think in a straight line. Nothing could be more obvious: George Bush has ruined the economy in ways so disastrous that the necessary fixes are, very possibly, politically undoable. But John McCain has already pledged to keep the faith (which is exactly what it is.) He's promised "no tax hikes." Since he'll be the next president, as the Democrats self-immolate and the electorate inevitably votes once again on fear of terrorism -- despite the fact that Bush's war, which McCain loves more than his traveling team of lobbyists, has made us less safe -- we're screwed.
In the comments on a previous post, we had a bit of a back and forth about the concept that lowering taxes increases government revenues; let's think about it some more. Following the logic to its extreme, eliminating all taxes should make revenue infinite. Can we agree that's not possible? Likewise, I'll concede that taxing at 100% would end all commerce and life as we know it. So it must be that for a given set of circumstances there's a "sweet spot." And it's also obvious that Bush hasn't found it any more than he found WMD in Iraq. (Help me out here: wasn't there a guy in recent memory who raised taxes, balanced the budget, and saw the economy roar forward?)
The current budget deficit is more than 400 billion. The forward costs of the war are estimated to be two to three TRILLION (by Joe Stiglitz -- whom I knew in college -- who won a Nobel Prize in economics, and whose methods and predictions have yet to be refuted, or even, far as I can tell, criticized.) We have sold our future to the Chinese and the Saudis, who own most of our debt, with payment due from our kids and our kids' kids. The value of the dollar is at an all-time low, oil at an all-time high. (George Bush, when running in 2000, decried the fact that under Clinton the price of oil had climbed to thirty bucks a barrel; said it was a shocking failure. It's approaching quadruple that now.) From another website: "The federal debt has increased 54 percent since President Bush took office, from approximately $5.6 trillion at the end of 2000 to an estimated $8.6 trillion at the end of 2006. By 2011, the President’s budget would increase the public debt to $11.8 trillion. (U.S. Department of the Treasury, Bureau of Public Debt)" Calling Bush's economic policy a failure is like comparing the tsunami of 2004 to a flooded basement. Housing. Banks. Jobs. Oil. "No tax hikes." McCain thinks he can scratch behind his earmarks and find the money to solve the problem. Straight talk, indeed.*
That the myth of tax cuts persists can only be explained by the efforts of those who are beyond danger -- i.e. rich enough -- to convince those who are fodder to buy into it. Or to look away. To inveigle people into focusing on abortion and gay marriage, and fear of terrorists, rather than on that which is actually destroying us. It's political prestidigitation: look at my left hand while I reach into your kids' pockets with my right. (And when I have all I need, screw you.) It works like a 600 hp, dual overhead cam, supercharged V-10. With cup holders.
Because religiously insane people flew into buildings and might do so again, we are willingly looking the other way at policies that most inarguably have made us less safe. Because of George Bush's idiotic response to the threat, we are more in debt, more dependent on the providers of oil who are the very basis for that threat, more unable to respond militarily if the need arose, are witnessing rising terrorism worldwide and the reconstitution of al Queda in the very place from which they directed the attack. But when scare comes to shitless, we vote for more of the same. Raise taxes to pay for the war and the troops coming home, and to reduce deficits and solidify the dollar? Heh. People would scream and run to emergency rooms (where, it seems, they'll be greeted with sympathy.) (If you go to that link, you must also go to this one -- the one that's mine.)
Democrats will be no less happy about indexing Social Security and Medicare than Republicans will be about raising taxes. But both will have to happen, and not very much in the future. Liberals won't like looking into safer nuclear power, and conservatives will deny there are problems with depending on and burning carbon. But they're both wrong. Democrats at least talk about the danger to our economy and our planet; Republicans see danger only when they look into caves (or into non-white faces.) Invading countries that have little or nothing to do with terrorism won't stop terrorism. Republicans don't want to hear that. To protect ourselves from attacks, we need both high-tech and low-tech intelligence gathering. Some Democrats would rather not hear that. (Although for most, myself included, it's only about doing it legally, with a little oversight, which ought not be all that big a hurdle, once George and his Dick are gone.)
So what's my point? This: we really are in existential trouble, but it has much less to do with guys in caves (other than the fact that they suckered us into slitting our own wrists) than it does with problems of our own making: economic, strategic, energetic, Constitutional. Because people don't want to hear it, and because politicians (with, I'd like to hope, some exceptions) are too cynical and weak to say it (they know that after thirty-five years of being fed bumper-sticker phrases, most people have stopped thinking), the chances of fixing it are slipping away. It's only if the electorate were to grow up, smarten up, and demand it that there's any hope at all. But the old guard of both parties, who have too much invested (quite literally) in the old ways are seeing to it that that hope is smothered in its crib, while the masses acquiesce: enablers, deniers, diggers of holes for their heads.
On the left, too many heads are in the clouds; on the right, in the sand. I'd rather be the former, because at least they are seeing the problems from up there. The modus operandi of the right is to believe that which is no longer -- nor ever was -- believable. Faith-based problem avoidance. If there's hope, I'm not seeing it any more.
*One of the more amazing things about our current state of mind is the ho-hum that people evince over deficits. Fifty years or so ago, Senator Everett Dirksen is famously said to have said "A billion here, a billion there.... pretty soon you're talking about real money." Today, nobody blinks at the idea of twelve billion a month spent on the war, deficits of hundreds of billions, or debt in the trillions. I guess we're overloaded; no doubt it's intentional. So it's useful once in a while to consider what a trillion dollars really is. Not that even such analogies really make it grokable, but here's a few: here, here, and here. Bush has been right about everything else, so when he says the economy is fine, I believe him. And so, evidently, does John McCain.