The actions of John Kyl and Jim Bunning recently bring into sharp focus, as Dr. Paul Krugman, the Nobel Laureate has said, the differences between the two most prominent political parties. But it goes beyond that.
When are you a citizen of a country? If I move to France to live, am I automatically a citizen of France? If I come across the border from Mexico or if, God forbid, one of those Socialist Canadians, with their despotic and radical national health care ideas, should come across that border…are they citizens? The answer: no. Because you live somewhere does not make you a citizen.
They can become American citizens, not always something that everyone who stays here for some time wants to do, especially when we are killing people in Asia or the Middle East. They don’t always want to become U.S. citizens. Many times they simply want to have the American experience and then return to Great Britain, or Sweden or Canada.
Some people come temporarily. But if you already have economic opportunity and enough space in which to live comfortably, the United States is not always some kind of Paradise. In Friedman’s crowded and flat world, good personal economics can provide some pretty entertaining lifestyles in many, many places around the globe. Switzerland or the south of France can be…yes, it’s true…more enjoyable than New Jersey or Delaware. It really has to do with economic factors.
So most of the Neocons who were born in this country take our lifestyles for granted. Guys like John Kyl, who thinks that unemployment payments are a negative influence and a drag on society. Or John McCain, the son and grandson of socially prominent Admirals, who could keep him from being booted from the “academy.” Life would always be good for John McCain, treating U.S. airplanes as if they were his own, reputedly crashing five multi-million dollar jets. They were. He was a privileged American citizen.
Many of us used to feel that way. Maybe not the same way as John McCain, but we did feel that we were better off than other people. After all, if one looked around the world, or better yet, traveled around the world, we had a much better life in most ways. Maybe the food wasn’t as good as France or Germany or the women as beautiful as in Scandinavia or the attitude as convivial as in Italy, or the mystery as great as Morocco, but we had a better life.
And Mr. Lincoln need not have worried. God was on our side. Or so it seemed.
But then, as some of us so often say with ominous portent…then came Ronald Wilson Reagan. How often do you hear the term…”a great American” associated with him? He was a great American in that he was a “great guy” who not only was a man’s man but was considerate of women personally, which not all “great guys” are. Maybe that was because of Nancy. She was a tough cookie behind closed doors. She got that from her mother. But Ronald Reagan seemed genuinely nice.
Even after having been governor of California, he was still a political neophyte. On the other hand, he was no dummy and he was no innocent. By the time he had sat in the board room of GE on Lexington Avenue a few times, he knew what General Electric expected of him. As with anyone who is not only paying your salary but giving you lifetime security, he was as good at looking the other way as any other political or social hypocrite. That is why, when we think of Ronald Reagan, we always think “BR” and “AR.” Before Reagan and After Reagan.
After Reagan, everything changed. Reagan’s charisma masked a huge swing in government from progressive, liberal ideas and policies that had been in place since the 1930s. We have had great leaders…Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, LBJ, Clinton and perhaps Obama. But Reagan, despite being there at a time when he was needed, and acting courageously once, was not one of them.
In the latter part of the 1970s, both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter had spent an inordinate amount of time trying to bring down inflation, which was growing and accelerating dangerously. We were finding that inflation brought down neither employment nor wages, contradicting the Phillips curve. Towards the end of Carter’s term, interest rates and inflation were killing the economy. The evils of inflation were finally overwhelming everything else and they might have become disastrous, if something were not done.
Carter appointed Paul Volcker to head the Fed and he short-circuited the money supply, causing a recession and ended inflation. When Reagan came in, partly because Volcker had begun to cool inflation with higher interest rates, Reagan stood by him under tough political pressure, as Carter had. The rest is history. But not all good history, because Reagan’s Presidency saw the beginnings of what people like Volcker and most other good economists recognized as a bunch of ideological and confused economists making wrong decisions.
Volcker’s actions seemed to prove that a zero-based target for inflation was a good idea. But voodoo, Laffer economics and Friedman free-fall economics caused untold unnecessary pain. Reaganomics spent more than it earned and led to nearly thirty straight years of budget deficits and our current disastrous $12 trillion debt. The problem with this is not only that these economists were wrong, but that Reagan did not know it. Consequently, if Reagan endorsed it, many Americans felt that it could not be wrong.
That was a mistake. Using Reagan as cover, economists spent entire careers creating idiotic scenarios to explain why ever increasing national debt was a good thing. They continued to maintain that, this time, tax cuts would actually bring in more revenues than the trillions that were going out the door. But it never happened. It was, in fact, a Right Wing “big lie,” the first of many. The Conservatives used Reagan’s name to create a Party of false prophets and deficits as far as the eye could see.
There is no free lunch. You can have tax cuts to the point that you are more than comfortable, especially if you are already wealthy. Or you can have Social Security and Medicare and an army and veterans’ benefits. But you can’t it all. Before you say, “OK, no Social Security and no Medicare” take a look around. About half the country would be bankrupt within about 24 months. Not to mention the fact that Baby Boomers, about to retire, are going to need Social Security to survive, especially now that many of them have lost up to 100% of the equity in their homes and huge amounts of their 401Ks.
We can solve all our problems right now. Here’s one way, a tough recipe. Cut Social Security by 5%, which would take a lot of people from $2,000 to $1900, top end. Increase taxes across the board by a straight 10%. The middle class would feel some real pain, but survive. The top end, however, at 10% more would pay off the national debt in about ten years and put the country on top of the world economically in the process.
But there’s more. We would need to pass health care reform. That will draw tons of money from Medicare and make it much more efficient, and make it solvent for the next 50 years. We will then also be able to control the health insurance premium costs which will begin to bring down health care costs for everyone. Eventually health insurance will be private but non-profit and be a huge benefit to the economy. It will basically pay for the tax increases and then some. You would actually have more money in your pocket over the next ten years—plus have guaranteed, affordable health care.
To get everything fixed we need to cut military spending. Two things are very clear. One, we need only to maintain our current level of technological research and maintain a targeted approach to terrorism. We dominate the world in military technology and if we keep that up, we are in good shape. We need to prepare for only one major war, do the training, prepare the staffing and mobilization plans. That means we can begin to close some of the 700 military bases we have around the world, from Japan to Germany to Latin America. We spend more, literally more, than the rest of the world combined, including Russia and China.
We need to use “paygo” to spend money on infrastructure and stop spending money on frivolous politically-driven expenditures. We have national parks. We don’t need to spend money on grants for every state park in the country. That is an example, not a specific measure. States need to begin to cut back, become more efficient and either tax people at the levels that are necessary or cut back on things other than roads, streets, safety and security, and poverty programs that help voluntary organizations cope with homelessness and hunger more easily.
In order to do all these things, have a society that may finally realize its potential and be the lamp that lights the world, we only need do one thing. It is not easy, but it is without question the most important, final thing. We need to vote out all Neoconservatives.