Thursday, July 7, 2011

Why is compromise so hard?

Forget about the debt ceiling deadline, that's all smoke and mirrors for politicians to demagogue over and pander to their bases.  The US will not fail to pay it's debts, it never has and it never will.  This is why China isn't worrying, this is why the world markets aren't in turmoil and, most importantly, this is why Republicans and Democrats are so comfortable with fighting it out over their ideological demands, even while they claim our country is speeding towards the precipice of armageddon.  Sure, the Republicans are holding a gun to the head of the middle class, threatening to kill one hostage every hour if their demands aren't met, but there's no bullets in it.  If the Democrats don't give in to the Republicans threats, it's not as if the debt ceiling won't be raised.  Hell, they raised it 14 times while Bush was president and it never once made the news.  Raising the debt ceiling isn't a problem, it's just a platform.  It's an excuse for both sides to draw their respective lines in the sand and wait to see who flinches first.  It's a game of chicken, only they're driving those Lark power chairs and doing about 1/4 of a mile an hour, and even if neither side swerves out of the way, they'll just bump into each other, say "oof" and that's about it.

However, the debt ceiling argument is significant because it is bringing to light the out of control divisiveness that currently exists between the Republicans and the Democrats.  Yes, there has always been contention between the two sides of the aisle, but it has ramped up to an insane level over the last decade or so.  It started under Bush, with the Democrats stewing over being steamrolled by the Bush administration, and then it was the Republicans turn to stew when Obama won the white house, but the Tea Party influence has taken the vitriol into the stratosphere and kicked things up to a completely ridiculous level.

What we're seeing in Washington now is an ideological battle fought on a fiscal field.  We're seeing fundamental personal philosophies being debated, using the budget as a weapon.  When Republicans and Democrats both talk about "spending cuts" they aren't nearly as concerned about truly making government more efficient and trimming the fat as they are about winning their respective ideological battles by starving out the opposing armies.

Republicans chant the mantra of smaller government, less intrusion, more efficiency, less spending - yet they want more government when it comes to restricting a woman's right to choose.  They want more government when it comes to restricting marital equality.  They want more government when it comes to imposing morality standards regarding drug use, sex, pornography, the arts and so forth.  They want more intrusion when it comes to monitoring people's phone calls and internet usage in the name of "preserving homeland security."  They want more spending when it comes to funding all of these programs.

Likewise, Democrats blast Republicans for supporting their special interests in "big business", yet they are themselves beholden to unions, which are also corrupt, which are also self-serving, which are also responsible for huge drains on the federal and state budget.  Now, you know that I'm pro-labor, and I will always support the need for unions because I will always support the need for a single, unified and powerful voice to represent the working class.  However, it would be naive to act as if we don't need massive reforms in the way unions operate and the impact that certain unions have had on some of our most essential industries.

It can be argued that the UAW is largely responsible for the financial mess that forced the government to bail out GM and Chrysler.  These companies made unrealistic financial concessions for retirement benefits that basically kept costs low in the short term in exchange for massive, unsustainable expenses down the road.  The hope was that further concessions could be reached in the meantime where labor would agree to forgo some of those promised benefits and everything could be worked out, because the alternative, obviously, would be that these companies would go bankrupt and nobody would get paid anything if they weren't willing to give up some of what had been promised to them.  Unfortunately, once you give someone something, it's kind of hard to convince them to give it back out of the goodness of their hearts, and thus we ended up with a situation where these car companies could no longer afford to sustain the post-retirement entitlements they had foolishly negotiated and the government had to step in and bail them out, because they were "too big to fail."

Now, you can blame the executives at Chrysler and GM for being idiots and negotiating terrible deals just to get the unions off their backs, or you could blame the unions and the employees they represented for being unreasonable in their demands, but ultimately the cost of bailing these companies out was put on the tax payer and it was put there by the Democrats.

My point is, both sides of the aisle have demonstrated that, despite what they say when they're posturing for the cameras, neither one truly believes in smaller government, less spending or more fiscal responsibility.  Both sides are only interested in cutting funding for whatever helps the other guys win elections.  I am particularly hard on the Republicans, however, because they go out of their way to tout their fiscal conservatism, their commitment to smaller government and their ideals of less waste, more efficiency and superior fiscal management.  It's the same reason I take it to them harder on the issue of morality and family values every time some Republican politician gets caught cheating on his wife or taking a European vacation with a rent boy or busting out the wide-leg stance in a mens bathroom stall.  When you wear your values like the red badge of courage and prance around with the arrogance of moral superiority, you're going to get an extra helping of shit for it when your actions betray your hypocrisy.

So, what I'm getting at is this - if both sides know they're equally full of shit when it comes to fiscal responsibility, why the hell is it so hard to compromise on this budget?

I mean, if you were living well beyond your means, you would have one of three choices - either you sell everything you have and cut all your expenses down until you were within your budget constraints, you go get a second job or other source of income that is sufficient to cover all of your current expenses without having to sacrifice anything or you cut back on some of the excessive expenses that you don't really need and maybe you pick up some extra hours at work to make ends meet and find a happy medium.

That's exactly how simple this budget debate is.

Either we raise taxes until we generate enough money to cover all of our expenses and pay down the debt, we cut all government services and programs to the bare walls until we fall within our current revenue levels, or we have a combination of sensible spending cuts AND tax increases to reach that "happy medium" where people can still get a level of government service that we have come to expect while also meeting our debt obligations and paying our way out of this massive deficit we're currently mired in.

It's a choice that millions of households have to make every day, especially in this economy.

There are those in Washington who seem to think that the average American is a complete idiot when it comes to how things work in politics.  Unfortunately, there is truth in that statement, but it's not entirely truthful.  See, Americans understand a budget.  They understand having to make a paycheck stretch and the fallacy of "robbing Peter to pay Paul."  They understand that, when you are spending more than you make, you either spend less, make more, or meet somewhere in the middle.  They understand that a budget debate is only as complicated as you make it, because the fundamentals are so simple.  Something else the average American understands better than our politicians seem to think is when we're being used as a pawn, when our livelihood is being held hostage.  We understand perfectly well that the Republicans are holding a gun to our heads over this debt ceiling issue, and are threatening to pull the trigger if their demands aren't met.  We also understand that cheap populism and sloganeering doesn't cut it anymore.  Phrases like "You can't punish the job creators" don't carry much weight when unemployment is at 10%.  Saying that the richest people in the country need more tax breaks when they're the only group that isn't still suffering through this recession doesn't resound like it did when people weren't paying $60-100 a tank at the pump.  In this current economic environment, a red-herring like corporate jet tax breaks becomes a symbol of just how out of touch the Republicans are with the middle class and how beholden they are to their wealthy puppet masters, and when something that seemingly ridiculous is made out to be the deal-breaker in budget negotiations?  It's pretty hard to turn around and say you're looking out for the "little guys."

You see, middle class Americans have to make compromises every day.  We have to decide do we buy a gallon of milk, or a gallon of gas?  Do we get the premium cable package or do we get health insurance for our family?  Do we take the kids to Disneyland this summer, or do we make our house payment?  Those are the kinds of compromises middle class Americans are making right now, so it's kind of hard to get sympathy from us when your compromise is over whether or not the CEO's of the richest companies in the world have to pay for their own private jet expenses or not.  Whether it's a fair point or a red herring is irrelevant, because it's not about the cost, it's about the compromise.  It's about appearances.  It's about looking like you don't give a shit about the people upon who's backs this country was built and continues to run, and it's about one side being completely unwilling to meet the other side even 1/4th of the way.

Hey, we're all about standing firm and sticking to your guns, but not when they're pointed at our heads.  Sometimes you gotta make sacrifices that you don't think are fair to make the peace, sometimes you gotta give up some things you don't feel you should have to for the greater good.  It's called compromise, and if us "stupid blue collar" Americans can do it, so can you.  Because hey, if you don't make some tough choices now, we're gonna make some really easy choices come election time...

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