Dear Congress: Grow Up and Act Like Adults!

The January 7 - 113, 2013 issue of Businessweek perfectly captures how our elected officials behave.

The January 7 – 113, 2013 issue of Businessweek perfectly captures how our elected officials behave.

If our federal legislature were employed by a big company, it would be fired.

As the latest issue of Businessweek proclaims on its cover, our nation is being governed by babies, who whine when they don’t get their way.

We avoided the dreaded fiscal cliff, but nothing has been solved. Obama kept his promise to the people by cutting taxes for the majority of Americans and letting the Bush tax cut expire on the top one percent of Americans.

He should have simply let the tax cuts expire. We should have just driven off the “cliff,” hit the reset button and started the debate from that point.

Economically, the Bush tax cuts have nearly crippled our economy, but it all started with Ronald Reagan. Reagan proposed that the government was the problem. Before he began cutting taxes, the marginal rate for the highest earners was about 70 percent. The economy ran fine at that rate. If that tax cut stimulated the economy, it was because of the size of the cut.

Now we argue, violently, about a few percentage points.

Oh, did I mention that the Reagan tax cuts also caused our deficit to grow rapidly?

The current Republican thought is that the government is the problem. I take issue with that. Can it be adjusted and fine-tuned? Absolutely! Our government creates the economic and social environment that secures our Rights to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Republican president Teddy Roosevelt said “The government is us; we are the government, you and I.” Such a comment by a Republican candidate now would be considered treasonous.

Taxes need to be at a level that allows the government to do its job. Right now the U.S. economy is running at about 6 percent beneath its potential. We cannot cut our way into national prosperity.

But, on the other hand, cuts need to be made. Our welfare, social security and Medicare programs are in need of repair. Simply cutting these programs is not a solution. The cuts would only increase poverty, something that hurts the economy. I believe strongly in these social programs, but believe they need to be rethought and restructured in a way that saves money and helps keep people alive, healthy and capable.

Both Democrats and Republicans have produced big ideas in the past. Now, both reflect the cover of Businessweek – infantile, immature and incapable of deep thinking.

It is a sad day when my comments here, traditionally considered right in the middle, come off as radical. I believe in American exceptionalism. We have done great things. But, with the Bush-era tax cuts permanent and no end of political cock-blocking in sight, our economy will shrink and exceptional will be a word never used to describe America again.

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When the Heck Did I Become A Republican – Part II

Friday I wrote about a letter I received from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney through the Republican National Committee. Among other things, the RNC accused me of being a Republican and wanting to help the party take over the entire nation.

While there was enough material to respond to for a week’s worth of articles, I have tried to stay focused on the points that stuck out to me as I read the letter.

The letter encourages me to choose “a bold, new agenda rooted in the proven conservative principles of limited government, free enterprise, and personal responsibility.”

Aside from the oxymoronic nature of that sentence, it sounds pretty good. Who isn’t for limited government, free enterprise or personal responsibility?

Of course, those terms have different meanings for different people.

As it stands, the current Republican agenda is seeking government to limit who you can marry, your right to decide if abortion is right for you or not and your right to vote. In Pennsylvania, Republicans have created a voter identification law that is so strict that it will not accept government issued military identification as valid verification to vote. This is not limited government.

Republicans continue to promise to overturn Roe v. Wade, a herculean task.   In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that the government did not have the right to interfere with a woman’s decision to have, or not to have, an abortion. Forcing women to keep a pregnancy, even in cases or incest or rape, is not a limited government.

And these same Republicans have continued to fight gay marriage. All of their reasons for this boil down to two things; tribalism and the desire to have the nation conform to the standards of their god. Gay marriage hurts no one. The problems involved in gay marriage are not any different that traditional marriage.

Yet, Republicans have continued to propose a ban on gay marriage by creating an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would define marriage as only between a man and a woman. They want a tyranny of the majority that can use the Constitution to take away rights rather than grant them. This is not limited government.

It is a restrictive government. It is a closed society. It is totalitarian. It is wrong.

“Free enterprise” is a great term for the fantasy utopia created by Adam Smith. Smith’s concept of a perfect society where the invisible hand of the market controls supply and demand, prices and wages is as realistic and practical a political theory as Marx’s “The Communist Manifesto.” The Republican claim is that they support a market free of government regulation.

The experiment in a free market economy collapsed with the Great Depression. But the United States is hardly, by any realistic definition, a centrally planned economy. Regulations were put into place to create a legal framework in which our free market economy could work and remain stable.

Simply put; government is part of the economy.

At the heart of our current recession is the deregulation of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. This act “prevented financial firms from being both commercial banks and investment banks,” according to economists R. Glenn Hubbard and Anthony Patrick O’Brien in the book “Microeconomics.” Congress repealed the act in 1999, allowing commercial banks and investment banks to share in exotic mortgage-backed securities.

Republicans continue to blame the “invisible hand” of the market for the recession, yet never bring up the role deregulation played in the state of our economy.

Of course, they were more than willing to let government interfere and bail out the banks that were on the verge of failing.

Republicans may talk about free enterprise, but are as eager as anyone to take advantage of the government’s role in the economy.

Personal responsibility seems innocuous enough. Who doesn’t believe in personal responsibility? Personal responsibility is at the very heart of republicanism, which has little to do with Republicans.

The principle of republicanism, as it developed among the Greeks and the Romans, placed personal responsibility on it polis to participate in government. It was considered a person’s duty to put aside his own financial interests for the good of the nation. The preamble of the U.S. Constitution even makes promoting “the general Welfare” as one of government’s main responsibilities.

Yet, Republicans seem to be very much opposed to policies that are republican. Personal responsibility, based on the Republican dialogue lately, is about taking care of one’s self and giving nothing to society. According to them, if a woman is raped, gets pregnant and keeps the child, it is no one’s fault but her own and there should be nothing provided by the government to assist her or her child. That is a bit exaggerated, but I believe the point is valid.

This does not mean America has become a welfare state¹. We take care of our own. We take care of our seniors, who have worked hard raising children and being a part of this nation. We take care of our veterans, who have been willing to put aside their personal interests in order to serve their country. We take care of our children, who need food, health care and education in order to build a stronger republic.

There is no utopia. The degree in which government is involved in our personal lives, free enterprise and in providing for the needs of citizens will always be open for debate and adjustment. But the RNC’s statement about these issues is a series of glittering generalities. I am tired of pleasant sounding words that mean nothing in politics.

¹I am fully aware that when the Constitution speaks of “the general Welfare,” it is not talking about our modern welfare system. However, the point is that there is a certain republican idea involved in both systems of taking care of our citizens.