The Great Regression

The Great Recession sure isn’t/wasn’t much fun. According to economists, we have been out of the recession for a while, but for most Americans, with 9.6% unemployment we feel still deeply mired in it. We probably won’t feel like we are out of it until unemployment is around six percent or so, and we have recovered at least most of the wealth we lost in the 2000s.

Republicans of course are saying they want to create jobs. Naturally, the best way to do it is to follow their economic theories, which are largely the same theories that got us into our current mess. This time however there is a new wrinkle. They say this time they will honestly and sincerely shrink the size of government and balance the budget too, all while ensuring that no taxes go up. Just like they said they were going to do the last few times and missed the mark by a few trillion dollars.

President Obama tried to head them off at the pass this week by proposing to freeze federal salaries for two years. Republicans of course have a much more aggressive idea. To start, they want to cut federal jobs by ten percent and reduce federal wages by ten percent. Surely, this is just the tonic we need to reduce unemployment: pink slip hundreds of thousands of federal employees and cut their wages to boot, by at least ten percent. Oh, and those federal pensions sure look like they can be cut too, even though federal employees have been faithfully contributing to their own pension plans all this time. It’s not stealing if the government passes a law saying it’s legal!

If history is any guide, this latest attempt to shrink the size of government will in fact grow it. There have been ceilings on the number of federal employees for much of my federal career. This made it hard to attract new talent, but it certainly opened the doors to contractors who rushed into federal agencies to do much of our work, albeit with a substantial markup, generally in the thirty to 50 percent range. This allowed contractors to give money to Republicans so they could pass laws allowing even more contractors to be hired. It was a profitable cycle for both sides. Republicans may succeed in cutting federal salaries by ten percent or more, but when those private sector bids come in don’t expect that they will match reduced federal salaries.

Republicans have all sorts of curious ideas. Some of them, for thirty seconds or so, almost sound plausible. Most of them though sound strange at best and horrifying at worse. Conservatives have apparently decided that the further you can roll back time, the better things will be. What is amazing is that they may have the votes to enact some of these wacky ideals into law.

Some years back when some Republicans opined that some part of social security money should go into private accounts, Americans rose up in arms. It was one of the reasons the Democrats regained control of Congress in 2006. This time they want to make you wait until you are nearly seventy to collect benefits and when you collect them, to give you fewer dollars, all in the name of making social security solvent. Apparently, Americans haven’t bothered to educate themselves on the matter because a lot of them are now nodding their heads. Yes, they are saying, I need to retire later and get less of my own money back so that a system that is fully solvent for more than the next twenty years with no changes whatsoever can use its surpluses to pay for other costs of government. It makes sense that I should sacrifice my retirement!

Republicans also have their eyes on Medicare. Their solution to rising costs: give people vouchers to buy insurance. Of course, these same Republicans also want to repeal recent health care legislation, which is the first meaningful attempt to actually reign in health care costs by forcing efficiencies and fair play. Vouchers are a back door way to undo the alleged socialism of Medicare but won’t stop the spiraling health costs. This means, of course, that seniors who are not rich will be incrementally priced out of health care when they need it the most. What a satisfying way to stop “socialism”.

As weird and radical as these ideas are, these remain some of the tamer ideas. Republicans have much wackier ideas in their arsenal, all of which follow a general theme: let’s regress America back to the 19th century, no the 18th! How far can they go?

Well, there are plenty of Republicans who want to repeal the 14th amendment. This constitutional amendment says if you are born in America, you are a citizen. We have had the 14th amendment for 142 years, more than half as long as we have been a country, but these “conservative” Republicans now consider it wrong and radical. The animus of course is they are dreadfully concerned that there are too many people not like them living here now, you know, Hispanics and the like. If you can’t deport them, at least you can disenfranchise them. As you will see, other Republicans have much more aggressive ways to disenfranchise Americans.

Republicans are also forming a long line to repeal the 17th amendment. It used to be that state legislatures elected senators. They want to go back to those days, disenfranchising you from voting for the senator of your choice. Their argument: this is the way it was written when the constitution was set up, so it must be better than what we have now because original intent must be better than subsequent amendments. Never mind that it’s never a cakewalk to get any constitutional amendment enacted. It requires 2/3 of both houses of Congress plus three quarters of the states, a very high hurdle. They figure, if it was good enough in 1783, it’s got to be better than what we have in 2010.

When I first heard that some Republicans wanted to repeal the 17th amendment, I honestly thought it was a joke. Who in their right mind could possibly believe in something this nutty and antidemocratic? Much to my surprise, these people are serious. However, going back to the 19th century is not going back far enough some Republicans. To be faithful to our constitution, we have to go back to original intent. And in the very old days, states decided the criteria for who could vote and who could not. Generally, you could vote only if you were (a) white (b) male and (c) property owners. In short, you were not an “enfranchised” citizen unless you had enough capital to own property.

Just two days ago we learned that Tea Party Nation leader Judson Philips believes that denying the vote to those who do not have property is a good idea. “And that makes a lot of sense, because if you’re a property owner you actually have a vested stake in the community,” Philips actually said. He did not call for only white men to have this privilege, so perhaps that means he is a secret progressive.

I am not a renter. Yet, it occurs to me that if Philips had his way I would still not be able to vote. I happen to be male and white, which is good as far as original intent is concerned, but I do not own my property. Rather, I have a mortgage. You only really own your property if you pay off your mortgage balance. I have about $80,000 to go. Instead, all I really own is the equity in my house, which is not actual property. Most likely, you could not vote either, which would mean mostly rich Republicans would constitute the voter pool, something that doesn’t seem to bother Philips, naturally. After all, they are vested in the country because they have property, much of which was purchased with unearned inheritances.

If there were any doubt who Republicans really care about, you can see it in their actions over extending the Bush era “temporary” tax cuts. In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised Republicans would block any bill in the lame duck session of Congress unless tax cuts are first extended to the wealthy. Republicans have donned their Scrooge hat and are also blocking extended unemployment benefits for the chronically unemployed, a new START treaty with Russia and hosts of other things.

If all Republican fantasies came true and only property owners could vote, I suspect reverting to the 18th century would not be far enough. There is no limit to how far back conservatives can go. What they want is a Great Regression. Was feudalism really all that bad? And what’s wrong with a little polygamy? It was fine for many a Jewish leader, and the original Semite himself Abraham had plenty of wives.

Abraham probably didn’t pay anything in taxes either. I suspect this is their ultimate goal: to revert us way beyond the Dark Ages, into the pre-Biblical days where you lived by your wits, government did not exist and all were free to be savages preying on their fellow men. Justice was an eye for an eye; it was perfectly fair and natural. Their actions suggest this is precisely where they are going. Do not stop at Go and do not collect $200.

Yet we keep voting these clowns into office. It’s like the rest of us are abused wives. Yes, I must have done something wrong because he beat me, so beat me some more. I deserve it!

Let’s hope we all sober up by 2012.

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