This morning I was reading a thoughtful piece by a Tennessee author named Amy Greene in the New York Times. In her piece, Ms. Greene bemoans the fact that in her native state the legislature and the governor have taken some pretty bizarre and extreme (my characterization, not hers) positions lately. Her piece was specifically triggered by a legislative action barring teachers from discussing hand-holding to school students on the ground that it is a gateway activity for sexual misconduct.
I know, right?
After reading the column, I sat down to write a piece on how this and the legislature's adoption of other laws allowing creationism to be taught alongside evolution in school science classes were perfect examples of where the conservative wing of the Republican Party says it wants small government but then continues to pass laws that cause the government to intrude further into many aspects of our lives. Such practice, i would have argued, inevitably means larger government, thus giving the lie to the conservatives' loudly ranted belief.
And I still think that's the case, particularly with respect to their much-loved social issues. But after some reflection I decided that sometimes what looks like a move toward bigger government can be an attempt to counter-balance or fine-tune big government of the other persuasion.
Take the right-to-teach-creationism (aka "intelligent design") legislation. (I'm not going to apply this thinking to the "don't teach kids about holding hands"; that one's too over the top even for my most conservative friends. I asked them.) It would appear at first glance that the GOP in Tennessee is hell-bent on expanding the role of government to include a law (and means of enforcement) that intrudes into the classroom and presumes to tell professionals (teachers) what and how to teach. That smacks of Big Government.
But hold on. Is it possible that before the passage of this bill there was already a state law banning such teaching? I don't know and a modest amount of research did not reveal the answer, but it's certainly not improbable. In that case, the government was already big — presumably thanks to liberals and moderates — and intrusive in the classroom. The conservatives merely passed a law redefining the powers of the big government and expanding the definition of what's permissible to teach.
Regardless of how I feel about the idea that teaching creationism as a co-equal theory with evolution (and I find it unpalatable and would fight it if it were tried in my town), the fact is that here is a case where both the right and the left want big government; they just disagree about the rules that government would enforce.
There's a fine line to be walked here and lots of room for nuance and gray. But at least I think I've learned a lesson: before I jump on a soapbox to attack the Right for wanting Huge Government despite their screeching about Small Government, I should consider whether they are really expanding government's reach or whether they are merely fine-tuning the operations of a Big Government they are trying to shape.
The town of Unioplis, Ohio, is about to cease to exist after a century of fierce independence. The town's budget was creamed by Ohio GOP Gov. John Kasich, who made a campaign promise to balance an $8 billion deficit in the budget in one year without raising taxes. The only way to do that is to slash spending not to the bone but into the very marrow of society.
The disappearance of Uniopolis, and undoubtedly hundreds of other small towns and cities in America, and the blatant anti-democratic dictatorship being forced down the throats of minorities in Michigan under its absolutely unbelievable emergency manager law
, are major clues to what the nation would look like if the Republicans win the 2012 Presidential election. The bottom line is simple: poor people and minorities get the shaft.
One aspect of this selective austerity — tax cuts for the rich, tax increases for the rest of us; unbelievable dictatorial powers; vote suppression — that doesn't get much press is what happens the day after austerity. For that side of the story, check out Colorado Springs
. In that town, the city was unable to convince voters to approve a tax increase three years ago amid warnings that services would be cut. The people scoffed, turned down the increase, and are now choking instead of scoffing. Street lights have been turned off, parks have been let go to seed and had trash barrels and their collection ended. But here's the kicker. If you are one of the folks who has a street light you'd like turned back on, just pay up $125 and the city will turn it back on for you. If you have a nearby park that you'd like to see watered and have trash barrels returned, cut a check for $2,500 and the city will do it for you. (You'll still have to collect and dispose of the trash, though.)
What's the inevitable result? The rich get richer, they get better services, and everyone else can just suck it up.
This is democracy? This is America?
Republican leaders and candidates have been accusing President Obama of trying to make America like Europe. But the GOP wants to make America like parts of Europe, too: Greece, Portugal, Ireland and other places where austerity programs rammed down their throats by the EU are causing massive deprivation and rioting in the streets. That may be precisely where we're headed if this insane focus on deficit reduction during an economic downturn is allowed to continue. You can't, as every economist worth his pedigree will agree, cut your way out of a depression.
I became aware today of a new movement that is apparently just getting off the ground. It sounds intriguing. I have a reservation about it, but there may be something really valuable here. I hope you'll check out the Win+Win Revolution headed by long-time technologist and business leader/philosopher Rick Raddatz and chime in with your thoughts about my reservation.
The basic idea makes a lot of sense to me. The one reservation I have is that it seems to me that Mr. Raddatz has overlooked one issue, or at least hasn't addressed it publicly yet. Depending whether Cap or Grade (you'll have to watch the movie to get that reference) is implemented first, I am unconvinced that the "other side" will be able to leverage its response from a group that will claim victory and close the debate. If government shrinkage comes first, the conservatives are, I think, unlikely then to be willing to discuss the prioritization of spending that is at the heart of the Win+Win Revolution. Similarly, if the first thing implemented is the prioritization of government spending that Raddatz sees as being of real interest to the Left, I'm not sure we'd then be ready to scale back government to do less than they'd already prioritized their spending plans around. And yet I don't see a way to implement both of these things at the same time. That may or may not be the Achilles Heel in this idea. What do you think?
(BTW I do take one minor issue with Raddatz. He says the Left is interested in government efficiency, in delivering great results. I'm not sure that's an accurate portrayal of the real heart beating at the core of Progressivism. But I'm willing to set that disagreement aside if this thing has legs.)
Congressional Democrats are moving toward including a provision in the upcoming health care reform bill that would eliminate a horrible public policy that allows insurance companies to escape federal regulation. But I predict it's a clever tactic that will not succeed on its own yet.
Since 1946, life insurance companies in the U.S. have been regulated not at the federal level where they ought to be but at the state level where they play divide-and-conquer and divvy-up-the-spoils with one another. As a result, a huge proportion of the states are dominated by one or two insurance carriers who can use their often laughable state regulations to effectively squash competition. Health insurance has fallen under this antitrust exemption umbrella and that has inured primarily to the benefit of the mega-insurers.
Now Democrats, who have tried to have this rule changed before, are in a good position to make it happen. But I think they see the public option on health care as being far more important. So here's my prediction. During negotiations, Dems will agree to take the antitrust exemption off the table in return for GOP promises not to filibuster the public option or something stronger. The insurance companies will almost certainly lobby harder to prevent the antitrust exemption's disappearance than about any provision of the current bills and may provide Republicans cover for switching their vocal opposition to the public option.
Or maybe that's too subtle a strategy. But it seems like it would be an interesting and potentially viable approach.
This is a great YouTube video of Florida Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson on the floor of the House last night talking about health care reform. (Thanks to my long-time friend Steve Michel for the pointage over on FaceBook.)
His closing is classic:
"If Barack Obama were to go out and solve world hunger, the Republicans would blame him for overpopulation. If the President were to bring about world peace, the Republicans would complain that he destroyed the defense establishment. In fact, if Barack Obama goes out and has a BLT tomorrow, the Republicans will try to ban bacon."
The GOP is not just the Party of No; they are the Party of Nobama. But I'll give them one thing. They're finally on message. They want President Obama — and every single thing he stands for, tries to do or accomplishes — to fail, regardless of the interests of the nation or even of their constituents. How pathetic.
We sent President Obama to the White House with a clear mandate for change but he won't use that power where it's most needed. Instead, he prefers to allow the Know-Nothing, No-Everything Party to have far too much influence on public policy in a sadly misguided effort to be bipartisan.
The latest casualty: the public option in health care reform. That loss would be totally unacceptable, Mr. President, to your "base". Trust me. Your base already feels betrayed by your early decision to take a single-payer plan off the table without a single second of debate. If you allow this provision to be gutted from the bill as well, you might as well just do like your predecessors and let the health care insurance industry write the legislation. Nobody who's been paying attention the last 30+ years believes we will ever reform health insurance without a public option. It's the only real lever in the current legislation that has a hope of getting the health insurance industry to curb its greed and act responsibly.
Please, Mr. President, stop the ridiculous posturing on bipartisanship. Notice that word begins with the prefix "bi" meaning "two". You can't achieve bipartisan governance when the opposition is only interested in being the opposition.
Your job now should be to use your bully pulpit and convince those independents who have been influenced into changing their views on health-care reform by the screaming madness of the un-American opposition to return to their previous understanding of what's good and necessary and then to get back to D.C. and impose some party discipline to get this job done.
I don't want to see you be a one-term President but if you keep up this lack of real leadership from strength, I fear that will be the result.