More advice for Republicans

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s been a while since I have given advice to Republicans. There is lots of handwringing among Republicans after their trouncing in last week’s elections. There is a general consensus that losing the presidency, two senate seats and at least a half dozen house seats was really awful and that some rethinking is in order in order to change things. Republicans would be wise not to rush back to their political consultants who performed so miserably for them in this election season. But with few other places to go, they probably will, and this class of prognosticators will probably keep their cash registers busy in the years ahead.

They could at least hire Donald Trump, not that he did any better at this business, but simply to tell these consultants what they should hear: “Your fired!” In fact, Trump turned out to be a supreme embarrassment for the party. I often wonder if he is pulling a long-term joke on pretty much everyone. He is way too smart (I hope) to seriously think Barack Obama was born in Kenya, is a secret Muslim and faked his grades. I figure in maybe a year he will say, “Fooled ya!” and reveal he is a secret Democrat. Not that, speaking as a Democrat, I want him or his money in our party.

The losing party is required to go through angst and hand wringing after a drubbing. Democrats have certainly done this periodically. When Republicans took over Congress in 1994, my party went through a lot of the same soul searching. Back then the sacking by Republicans may have been useful, because Democrats were largely captive of special interest money. The thinking then was that Democrats had to tack back to the center. It resulted in Blue Dog Democrats and the Democratic Leadership Council, a group of right leaning Democrats that made it hard to tell if they even were Democrats. They sure did not vote like Democrats.

Republicans may invent something similar, but I doubt it. The initial reaction seems to be to double down. The thinking seems to be that their message was not quite heard correctly, and if it had been heard correctly America would have voted the “correct” way. A significant number of Republicans feel despair. They know their message won’t resonate with voters generally, so they want to cash in their chips. After Bush won reelection in 2004 many Democrats (including my wife) wanted to emigrate to Canada. I can’t see Republicans doing this, as it is rife with socialized medicine and value added taxes. Others are talking about moving to Australia. Surely those leatherneck Aussies are stout Republicans at heart, overlooking the fact that they too have socialized medicine, and their female prime minister is an atheist. I am afraid there is no place to run to, unless a nice comfortable dictatorship appeals to Republicans. There are plenty of them. Serbia might work, if they don’t mind learning Serbian.

Secession was decided by the Civil War, but at least Texans still see it as a solution. They could secede and all the good Republicans could simply move there. That might work for a while, but if one man, one vote holds in Texas, at some point Democratic-leaning Hispanics will overwhelm white Republicans. Rush Limbaugh was threatening to move to Costa Rica if Obama won. That works for me. Se habla español?

In reality, the reason Republicans lost was not because of their ineffective advertising, but because long predicted demographic changes are starting to be felt in a blue direction. Whites as a percent of the voting population are down to 72% from 78% ten years ago. This trend is going to only increase. It’s unlikely Republicans will persuade whites to have more babies per capita than other minorities. Voter suppression was tried ruthlessly this election, but it seemed to only get the minorities only more riled up, often waiting in hours long lines to vote.

It turns out the most reliable predictor of whether you are likely to vote Republican or Democrat is the density of people in your community. The Washington Post published a map of how people voted in the Washington region today. It’s startling: the more people per square mile, the more they voted for Obama. Democrats are leaching into nearby Loudoun County, Virginia, which voted blue for the second presidential election in a row. It’s because their housing is denser, and it is being filled by better educated people with significant amounts of minorities. Since land is finite, Republicans can’t really count on more of their type moving to less dense neighborhoods.

What can the Republican Party do then? It won’t be easy, but they need to jettison some of their baggage and concentrate on what is achievable. It’s obvious what is not achievable. They should stop wasting time trying to defeat gay marriage and overturning Roe v. Wade. When voters in four states in one election give the okay to gay marriage, you know it’s a lost cause. More importantly, young voters simply don’t get all the hostility. Social tolerance is something they have grown up with. Even worse, this one-size-fits-all approach to social issues undermines their core principle of federalism. New philosophy: marriage and abortion laws should be something states decide. End of discussion.

Clearly a dying party must attract non-whites to survive. Good news: Hispanics tend to be very religious and have entrepreneurial hopes. They still believe in large families too. It’s time to embrace immigration reform instead of opposing it. Give these non-citizens a path to citizenship, rather than revile them. You need them anyhow, to do the work you won’t want to do. See them bussing tables, mowing your lawn and cleaning out toilets. Push for micro loans and fund small business education. Hispanics are not the only minorities anxious to get ahead. What about African Americans? They vote overwhelmingly for Democrats mainly because you hate them so much, but they too tend to be deeply religious. Instead of Crossroads GPS wasting money on political ads, why not invest the money in entrepreneurial initiatives for blacks and Hispanics, in particular? Admittedly, this will be a challenge for Republicans. Many of them still rush to the restrooms to wash their hands after shaking hands with minorities.

Also, wake up and smell the coffee on undeniable issues, like climate change. Opposing the obvious makes you look retarded. Push for market based solutions to these problems, like carbon exchanges, one of the better ideas of the Bush Administration. Welcome the eco-friendly into the party. You don’t need to be the party of mass-marketed and mass-produced food. You can be the party of Whole Foods instead.

It’s time to jettison Grover Norquist. He is causing you all sorts of problems and is boxing your party in. Instead of “no new taxes” what about “revenue should be limited to a percentage of gross national product”. Most Americans agree with the notion of limited government, just not austere government, which is what you want. Go halfway and you look sensible.

Okay, that’s all the free advice I have for you this cycle. I have pages more advice I could give, but I suspect you won’t take any of this to heart anyhow. I don’t want your party to win, but I do want genuine competition between political parties. I don’t want political dysfunction, but I do want clear, well thought ideas between political parties so voters have intelligent choices. Right now the trends are that Democrats will be the dominant party of the 21st century. Without good competition, Democrats will become moribund like they were in the past when they had overwhelming political power. We need to be kept honest. If you are true patriots, you will do your part by giving us genuine competition, not slogans and hate. Right now you resemble the latter.

Calling their bluff and Obama’s trump card

The Thinker by Rodin

The temperature hit a record 105 degrees Friday at Washington Dulles International Airport, a new record. The temperature must have been at least as hot at the White House. There President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner were engaged in their latest discussion regarding raising the nation’s debt ceiling. Apparently tempers flared, Boehner left, and the president and speaker were left to give dueling press conferences to explain why the other side was being unreasonable. Meanwhile, social security recipients were anxiously wondering if they were going to get their checks on August 3rd.

The dueling press conferences were at least instructive in underscoring the fundamental issue of disagreement. It’s not the deficit that really matters, it’s not even the debt ceiling, and it’s not jobs or the state of our economy. It’s taxes. For House Republicans, the bottom line is no taxes must be raised, not even when our deficit is more than a trillion dollars a year. Unfortunately, they have boxed themselves in by claiming that debt and the deficit were more important when all along it was really about taxes. Now, as President Obama pointed out in his press conference, they are left with the inability to say yes.

To Republicans, the deficit is less important than no new taxes. It turns out that for them taxes trump everything. It used to be that Pentagon spending was sacrosanct for Republicans: how could we possibly endanger our national security? Well, not anymore: when push comes to shove they would rather reduce our military budget than raise a dime in new taxes. The logic gets fuzzy when it comes to agriculture subsidies and the like. In their minds, taking these away without adding subsidies somewhere else is a tax hike. Thus spake Grover Norquist. But cutting Pentagon spending in general, even though there is a huge defense community that depends on federal spending, is apparently okay if it avoids a tax hike.

The debt ceiling is fungible as well. Republicans are not opposed to raising the debt ceiling, but only if there are no new taxes and “savings” by cutting expenditures exceeds the amount by which the debt ceiling is raised. It is also fine to not pay our bills, bring the economy into depression, leave grandma without her social security check and raise our long-term borrowing costs rather than raise a single dime in new taxes.

One can arguably say that Republicans are crazy, but one cannot fault them for inconsistency. They mean what they say and they say what they mean unless, and this is a very big unless, they can have a sudden change of heart or Speaker Boehner can convince enough House Democrats and non-Tea Party Republicans to go for another deal.

So far Republicans have been remarkably tone deaf to their corporate masters, who are now telling them, “Okay, enough is enough. Time to sober up and compromise now.” Too bad these same corporate masters were not working to elect establishment Republicans rather than Tea Party Republicans last year. While they achieved their desire for a majority of Republicans in the House, it came at the expense of political accommodation, hitherto a necessary skill when there is divided government.

Yet, there is a power stronger than even Grover Norquist that Republicans have foolishly ignored until now, but they will discover on or around August 3rd if the debt ceiling is not raised. It is the power of senior citizens who depend on social security but who will not get it. It is the power of sixty million angry and desperate phone calls from hot-tempered grannies and gramps who, if they are mobile, will also be picketing outside their representative’s offices. You really don’t want to rile up these folks, because they were the ones who voted you into office, but they did so on the condition that you would not mess with their junk.

Politically, letting Republicans push us into default probably would help rather than hurt the president, providing it can be shown that he did everything possible to prevent a default. Given that the Senate has already rejected the House’s plan, this has already been demonstrated. The economic effect of default would likely be catastrophic, but the political effect would be to throw the Tea Party out in 2012, and likely lead to the demise of the Republican Party brand.

Still, there has to be one adult left in the room. If I were President Obama, and if push came to shove I would say that the 14th Amendment gives me the right to extend the debt ceiling unilaterally to cover all debts covered by law. I would also cross my fingers and hope that at the 11th hour that there were enough worthy creditors willing to loan us money to avoid default. I expect he has his lawyers all over the problem. That is his trump card that he will be forced to pull out only if all else fails.

Playing Public Debt Poker

The Thinker by Rodin

Predictably, Republicans walked away yesterday from negotiations on extending the federal debt ceiling. It was predictable but it was also childish. Led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Republicans attending the talks led by Vice President Joe Biden said there was no point in continuing negotiations unless all tax increases were taken off the table.

Essentially, Republicans at the talks no longer believe in negotiations. By definition, when parties are negotiate each side has to compromise. In negotiation, no side gets to have it completely their way, particularly when Republicans control only one house of Congress. Republicans do not want negotiations; instead, they putting all their chips on the capitulation square.

That’s sticking to principle, but it’s not going over well with voters. Voters are completely comfortable with tax increases as part of reducing the deficit, particularly on the well off. Naturally, Republicans contend otherwise, although numerous polls contradict them. The only poll that seems to matter to Republicans are surveys of other Republicans. The rest of us are, after all, something lesser. We are those little people that the late Leona Helmsley despised. Yet voters, like Republicans, also suffer from cognitive dissonance. A majority of voters also do not favor extending the federal debt ceiling, so in that sense Republicans are following the will of the people. Voters also want to keep Medicare in its current form. Voters, like Republicans, want to have it both ways.

Only of course you can’t have it both ways. Our debt problem is a direct result of decades of doing just this. Republicans at least realize that if you cannot raise taxes then to reduce the deficit significantly you have to butcher entitlements like Medicare. If they succeed in their plan, then they guarantee their own political irrelevance in the next election. What is needed is some give and take. What is needed, frankly, is something rarely seen in Washington of late: statesmanship.

Statesmanship means looking out for the good of the nation as a whole instead of just your own partisan interests. It means that to achieve a larger goal, everyone has to make sacrifices. So far Democrats have given a lot, and have largely conceded on the point that expenditures need to go down to balance the budget. Now is time for Republicans to show some statesmanship as well and agree that at least some taxes need to be raised. Some of it can be done by removing subsidies, which, contrary to the opinions of Grover Norquist are not tax increases. In any event, when you have a budget deficit as large as we have now and have divided government, it cannot be fixed instantly. It happens slowly and incrementally. It’s very much like trying to instantly turn an aircraft carrier. You can’t turn one of them on a dime.

The federal government, for better or worse, is a huge institution and an economic machine with intricate ties into our economy. Defaulting on our debt would exacerbate our problems. It would make borrowing money more expensive. If we needed to fight another war, no matter how noble, and needed to borrow money to wage it, if we default we might not be able to do so. No one knows exactly what would happen if we did in fact default but almost everyone agrees it would be very bad. Some Republicans live in La-La Land, and think a short-term default would have no negative consequences but would give way for capitulation to their demands. If default happens, it is likely to be calamitous to economies and markets not just in the United States, but also across the world. Default is also the greatest way to ensure the irrelevance of the Republican Party. If they are seen in retrospect as responsible for default, a new depression is no way to garner political capital.

It may not be convenient and it may be politically painful, but this problem will resolve itself not through capitulation but only through negotiation. Where to go from here? Eric Cantor suggested that the big boys need to step up: President Obama, Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Reed have to cut a deal and try to sell it.

To make the deal though will take some external actors as well as some smart tactics. Thankfully, the external actors are already nervous. Bond rating firms are threatening to lower our nation’s bond ratings if an agreement is not in place by early July. This means fewer will want to lend to us, and those that do will demand higher interest rates. The biggest stick out there is probably the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has threatened to work against Republicans who refuse to extend the debt ceiling. Generally, only big business gets the undivided attention of Republicans.

Lastly, it’s time for the President to make an aggressive case to voters. Thus far he has been under the radar on the issue. It would involve not just Oval Office speeches, but going on the road, outlining the scope of the problem, making the case for tax increases as part of a solution, and noting that deep cuts have already been agreed to. He needs to use the power of his office to peel off just enough nervous Republicans to make a deal happen. He needs to paint a potential doomsday scenario if default occurs, and bring with him noted and credible authorities, like the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. There are still no guarantees, as Republicans are obviously not playing with a full deck. But it might work. If it doesn’t, it will be clear which party was not interested in negotiation, but only in capitulation.

To most Americans, the debt ceiling is abstract. They are against debt in general, but have little idea that not raising the debt ceiling means defaulting on our debt. They do understand the importance of having a job, so it will be important to make the link between a default and an economy that could tailspin.

The most likely outcome will be last minute incremental extensions to the debt ceiling without real political accommodation, simply dragging on political paralysis. The economy is faltering for many reasons, but given the huge effect of the federal government on the economy, what is really making everyone nervous is that Washington’s deeply partisan politicians simply refuse to give and take. Business likes predictability in affairs, and unless there is bipartisan plan forward, there will be none.

Republicans are still happily insane

The Thinker by Rodin

Happy Tax Day! Okay, I doubt any of you are glad to pay your income taxes, but civilization does not come free. Even if I ended up paying $16,589 in federal income taxes in 2010 and $6566 in state income taxes, I only resent paying my share of taxes when multi-billion conglomerates like General Electric, which made tens of billions of dollars in profits last year paid virtually no federal income taxes. Wherever she is, Leona Helmsley is smiling today. I must be one of the little people.

I have become convinced that if you are a Republican you can be convinced that the federal government can be run on a dollar a year. It’s easy, really. First you have to scope down the federal government so they get out of pesky duties like food safety, air traffic control and defending the country. Instead of civil servants drawing salaries, they can emulate Afghani civil servants and depend on corruption instead; it’s so much cheaper! As a civil servant, I need to be entrepreneurial. Like most IT (information technology) types, I get paid to move bits around. Since I am the gatekeeper for a lot of public data, I should put up a tollbooth in lieu of a salary, maybe $100,000 a year for The Weather Channel to get to our data. It’s probably less than what they spend on lobbying anyhow. That alone should almost cover my salary. Others in our organization could do likewise. The $1? That would be a donation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that they can mail in (the Post Office, of course, would be privatized). $1 is a bargain compared to what they spend now on lobbying.

I’m being facetious, of course, but to think like a Republican you have be so wedded to ideology that you can no longer see the forest through the trees. That was why I was so amused by this article, which really told me nothing I did not know before, but did stimulate some new thoughts. The Washington Post article basically says that many Republican consider removing any tax break to be a tax hike. No, really, this is not a joke.

For example, many Republicans assert that if we remove agricultural subsidies for farming conglomerates, this would be a tax increase. Even Saint Ronald would have choked on a jellybean had some Republican made that wacky assertion back in the 1980s. Sadly, this is what passes for conventional wisdom among Republicans and Tea Partiers these days and this is a topic of serious concern among Republicans in Congress, the Post reports, who are realizing they might actually have to make a deal with Democrats someday. Apparently there are still some Republicans in Congress with enough functional brain cells to realize this is total nonsense, but they cannot seem to convince the rabid anti-tax crowd that it is nonsense.

You would think that if this assertion were valid then what is sauce for the goose would be sauce for the gander. For example, any rent subsidy for a struggling family or any low income heating assistance payment that got cut in order to reduce our deficit would also be a tax increase. After all, if a corporate farmer doesn’t get his $1,000,000 subsidy from Uncle Sam, that doesn’t mean his company really pays more in taxes, it just means that he doesn’t get free money anymore. But if you think this is a tax increase, following Republican logic, taking away a heating subsidy from a poor family is also a tax increase. It just all figures to a Republican or Tea Partier! Yep, two plus two now equals five. It’s the newest math, and it’s great because this newest math is a heck of a way to lower the cost of teaching our children arithmetic. Whatever answer gives you the answer you want to hear is correct! This new math saves even more money because we also no longer have to teach our children critical thinking which, obviously, Republicans never approved of either. It’s sort of like teaching evolution. Tsk, tsk.

What Republicans really mean, of course, is that removing a subsidy is a “tax hike” only if it is a constituency that they care about, i.e. someone who votes reliably Republican. Of course they are concerned about small businessmen, which is why if they had their way they would never pay a dime in taxes, because even a dime in taxes might mean they would never expand their business. In fact we need to give them money, which is why communities across the country give all sorts of taxpayer incentives so businesses will settle pretty please in their area.

The few sober Republicans still out there are realizing that while they would like to cut the size of government and heap even more government largess on the wealthy, eventually government must live within its means and it is not possible to do it solely on the backs of the disenfranchised. So at best some subsidies will have to be moved around. Maybe, since food is in short supply and food prices are very high, agricultural subsidies are wholly unnecessary. Maybe that money could be shifted to something else, like to fix a decrepit bridge or something, which might be using the money wisely. But when you suffer from cognitive dissonance then of course it becomes, no! That would be a tax increase! And Saint Ronald said taxes must never be increased! (Which is a laugh, because Reagan signed many tax increases into law, including tax increases that kept the Social Security system solvent.)

Reagan believed that Americans were taxed too much. He did not say that America could flourish without taxes at all! He did not want to drown the federal government in a bathtub, like Grover Norquist. In fact, he expanded the government, and by not raising taxes enough he produced what were then record deficits.

I am guilty of being left-brained here, but it seems to me that if you refuse to cut wasteful spending like agricultural subsidies to your corporate agricultural buddies, enough of your spending goes to places like this and you don’t raise taxes, rather than close the deficit you expand it. In short, you simply make the deficit worse rather than make it better. But if you are going to claim that ending any subsidy is a tax increase and you bozos are running government, then we may as well put up the white flag. Standard and Poor (which seems to be getting a clue) may as well rate U.S. Treasury Bonds as junk bonds. Abandon all hope, ye investors of government securities! Maybe the U.S. Treasury will pay interest in Confederate dollars. Now there’s a currency a Republican can believe in!

It’s a good thing I am not the President because I would not be able to keep my mouth shut. When Speaker John Boehner came to visit me in the Oval Office and started spouting this nonsense, I would be dialing up 911 and having them cart him over to Saint Elizabeth’s. Maybe he could share a room with John Hinkley. The therapy would start with remedial math.

I’m sorry, Republicans. For the most part you are wonderful people personally, considerate neighbors and I appreciate how well you tend to your lawn and lustily sing songs praising Jesus. But if you believe that cutting a subsidy to your moneyed friends is a tax increase, you are insane. But then again, this is not news to me.

A new inconvenient truth: we need to raise taxes

The Thinker by Rodin

Way back in 2003, I penned this post that more than five years later still gets regular hits. (It has received eighty hits since the start of the year, according to Google Analytics.) I was very politically incorrect back then when I suggested that we are not paying enough in taxes. I still feel this way and I am sad to say that recent news articles bear me out. We are woefully behind simply maintaining the infrastructure that we have. This was tragically borne out a year ago with the catastrophic bridge collapse of the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge in Minneapolis that killed thirteen people. As a direct result of this event, federal and state money suddenly materialized to replace this bridge. The replacement bridge will cost $234 million and is scheduled for completion by Christmas.

You would think that this event might have changed the dynamics. However, as the Associated Press found, just twelve percent of our most structurally deficient high use bridges have been repaired. It would cost an estimated $140 billion to repair just the bridges that need to be repaired right now. Yet, President Bush is threatening to veto a transportation bill because it spends $1 billion more than he likes. It will not surprise you to learn that Bush’s motives are wholly ideological. He is a conservative and conservatives do not believe in raising taxes or spending money on projects not considered essential. Apparently, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, bridge construction is not essential to this president. Our War in Iraq though is essential, and at least some of that money is going to build new bridges for Iraqis. Apparently, bridges are essential for Iraq, but are not essential for the United States. Go figure.

I picked bridge repair as an example only because it is easy to see the consequences of inaction. In fact, our infrastructure is crumbling all around us. Here in Virginia, our state House of Delegates once again bollixed up attempts to raise transportation taxes. The result is that not just bridges that are suffering, but cars spend much time sitting in traffic and consequently unnecessarily spewing emissions. So far this year there have been three Code Red air quality days for the Washington region, and twelve Code Orange days.

Better air quality, like safe bridges, are solvable problems. Neither is solved by rocket science but by the application of money and will. Just as maintaining your car means you extend its useful life, bridge life can be extended through regular maintenance too. Instead, we would rather defer the cost of maintenance to have a little more cash in our pockets today. The result is like driving your car on a half a quart of oil. You can do it for a while, but at some point, you are looking at some very expensive consequences. It is pennywise and pound-foolish.

The anti-tax crowds, epitomized by nuts like Grover Norquist, are pennywise folk. They are convinced that all expenditures of money by governments are ultimately wasteful no matter how much they address a public need. Their philosophy though amounts to living in the moment and closing their ears when the application of their philosophy results in inconvenient news, like what happened in Minneapolis one year ago exactly on August 1, 2007. These problems do not go away by ignoring them. They simply get worse and more expensive to fix.

The irony is that if instead of aggressively cutting taxes we had prudently kept the old tax rates then we would have had the money back then to fix many of the systemic problems that are cropping up all over the place today. Our tax rates seemed quite acceptable to the American public when our president was inaugurated. We were even paying back some of our massive debt. Granted, even back in 2000 we were not quite spending what we needed to spend to address problems like deteriorating bridges. This was due in part to federal gas taxes not having changed since 1993. However, construction costs have increased during that time. The result is that there is less money available to fund projects like bridge maintenance. Rather than raise gas taxes, thus far Congress’ solution is to charge it. Hopefully only as an interim measure, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to add eight billion dollars to the Highway Trust Fund by supplementing it with money from general Treasury funds. In other words, we will go into more debt to pay for it and pass its cost on to future generations.

Our fiscal crisis in many ways mirrors our blindness with the oil crisis. We buy more foreign oil because we are used to an oil-based economy and do not want to think about how hard it would be to change to something else. We know that recoverable oil is a finite resource that in general will only get pricier because it will be harder to extract. Similarly, we borrow money from creditors on the expectation that they will always be willing to lend it to us. As some overleveraged homeowners are finding out, if your liabilities exceed your assets no one is willing to loan you any money. The same can happen to the United States government. Our weak dollar, trading at record lows, suggests the time may not be that far off.

To solve the oil crisis we must realize that we cannot drill our way back to our previous lifestyle. To solve our fiscal crisis, we have to realize that we cannot indefinitely depend on our creditors unless we first show a willingness as a nation to roll up our sleeves to fix some of these problems. In short, we need to raise taxes.

Raising taxes is never convenient, particularly at a time when so many Americans are struggling. That is why my suggestion will go over like a lead balloon. That is also why if I were ever inclined to move my fantasy run for president into a real run for president, my message would fall mainly on deaf ears. Like John Anderson in 1980, I would lose spectacularly.

Still, most of us, if we stop listening to the spin and start listening to our hearts, know that we face a new inconvenient truth. The cost of not raising taxes today simply means that to fix these problems tomorrow will cost even more. So yes, for a while, those extra taxes would hurt. At some point, you sufficiently address the under-funded infrastructure problems and taxes can be eased. Nevertheless, taxes must never be eased beyond the point that we can adequately maintain the infrastructure we need to run our modern society.

Instead of running for president, all I can do is be that fly in the ointment. I am more than willing to pony up my share of additional taxes. Most likely, I would pay disproportionately more in taxes than many of you, since I have a six-figure income. I do not like paying more taxes either, but I am willing to do so. I do know that despite laughably naïve men like Grover Norquist, we are interconnected. We critically depend on our infrastructure and our social safety nets. Since like you I get great value from these things, I am not afraid to pay my share.

As was true when I wrote about it in 2003, things cost money! They cost what they cost because that is how much it costs! No ideology can change this. I expect to pay close to $200 on Monday to have a locksmith fix a bad lock, which must work with our house key. It seemed like a lot of money to me too, but that is the going rate for fixing a problem that I cannot fix by myself. I would rather pay the $200 than find that anyone could get into my house or that I could not get out when I needed to.

We have a great nation that thanks to the low tax mantra is rapidly moving from first-class status to second-class status. I think I am a patriot by coming forward to proclaim that I am willing to have my taxes raised to make sure we remain a first class nation.

The Ugly World of Grover G. Norquist

The Thinker by Rodin

Grover G. Norquist is the founder of Americans for Tax Reform. He has made it his mission to radically reduce the size of governments. Norquist is not talking about cutting a little fat here and there. The cuts Norquist is talking about would make even a die hard Libertarian blanch. He wants to shrink government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” (2000). He also actually said the same year:

Cutting the government in half in one generation is both an ambitious and reasonable goal. If we work hard we will accomplish this and more by 2025. Then the conservative movement can set a new goal. I have a recommendation: To cut government in half again by 2050.“(2000)

So it should be no surprise that Virginia has come under into his scope. And of course he has to take dead aim. From today’s Washington Post I learned:

Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist has begun mailing to Virginia residents a “Least Wanted” poster that features the state lawmakers who voted for a $1.5 billion tax increase during the 2004 General Assembly session. The poster and an accompanying letter urge the ouster of the representatives in the next election.

In Norquist’s book if there is anything worse than Democrats raising taxes then it is Republicans raising taxes. Earlier this year the Virginia legislature (currently dominated by Republicans) modestly raised taxes. The sales tax in Virginia, one of the lowest in the country, went up half a percent for most goods. Our tax on cigarettes, the lowest in the nation, went from 2.5 cents per pack to a still extremely modest 20 cents a pack. A few other minor tax increases also were enacted into law. I was one of the many people shocked that our Republican legislature agreed to the tax increases. But I was not shocked in a bad way. I was shocked that our Republican legislature actually did the right thing.

Since the economy went sour Virginia had been on increasingly precarious fiscal ropes. It spent its surplus pretty quickly. It either denied teachers raises altogether or gave them tiny increases that didn’t keep up with the cost of living. Funds for new road building pretty much dried up. Even funds to keep the roads we currently have maintained were reduced. Tuitions at our public universities went through the roof. But despite all this obvious pain and the fact that the dollars could simply not stretch anymore to cover even basic services, I still bet that our legislature would forego tax increases. After all many of our newest members had come into office decrying even the idea of a tax increase.

But unlike the Federal government there was no printing press the Commonwealth could use to crank out new money. With its accounts in precarious positions and projected deficits looking increasingly ominous in 2004 our legislature finally figured it out. Apparently money doesn’t grow on trees. Apparently if we want to fund services we actually have to pay the market cost for them. And apparently the citizens of the Commonwealth consider such things as roads, prisons, public safety and education to be essentials of state government, not frills. The cuts had become tangible and painful. Even here in Fairfax County state cuts to education caused real problems. Classroom sizes increased. With raises given out in such a miserly fashion our teachers were shopping around in other, better funded school districts. Vitally needed plans to widen highways like I-66 were dropped. The pain of budget cuts, abstract to many taxpayers, became quite tangible. And sufficient numbers of us pressured our legislature to take the obvious steps needed to fund basic services.

So some Republicans did a very brave thing: they voted in the best interest of the state instead of their own short-term interests. They looked at the growing red ink, weighed the likelihood of an economic recovery and modestly ($1.3 billion in all – hardly more than what my county spends on its school budget in one year) raised taxes. You could hear the sighs of relief across the Commonwealth. As the Washington Post also reported most people did not even notice the tax increases. It felt as painless as it was.

Such genuine bravery by our Republican colleagues though must have really raised the hair on the back of Norquist’s neck. Now he and oxymoronically named Virginia Club for Growth are busy sending out their mailings of Virginia’s Least Wanted politicians. They want these Republican scalps. They feel badly burned.

Never mind that business leaders across the state, who know true growth from a faux growth, were the first ones to call for the tax increase. Businesses don’t like to pay taxes anymore than the rest of us. But they also know that a good, sound economic infrastructure doesn’t just happen. It requires mutual collaboration between businesses and government. If the roads are not there then their employees are wasting hours in traffic instead of working. And their deliverymen are squandering corporate money burning hydrocarbons in stop and go traffic instead of efficiently delivering the goods. And they know that if the schools near their businesses are not top notch then the top tier employees they need are going to try to work some place where they are.

Norquist and his minions see none of this obvious synergy. Their mission has nothing to do with reality: it’s all about ideology. They feel that taxes are too high, government is too big and they don’t like it. With their meat cleaver like approach they simply don’t give a damn about whom they hurt. If we have to release half the people in our prisons to cut the government size in half, so be it. If public education has to go down the tubes, it’s not a problem. They apparently feel that mothers should home school their kids anyhow, or parents should place their children in private schools. At its root this so-called “Club for Growth” it’s all about rampant, Ayn Randish “objectivism” selfishness.

They don’t care about the detritus that would result from their actions. They just want the money. Never mind that if the world were ordered they way they want then when they need to be hospitalized that there likely wouldn’t be enough nurses around to take care of them. Here’s a clue Norquist: if people can’t get a basic education then they won’t be positioned to go into nursing school. Instead they’ll be living on the margins, probably in poverty and filth. And amazingly roads don’t build or maintain themselves. The companies that maintain the roads actually demand to be reasonably compensated.

I have seen your ideal future. I found it in the Philippines in 1987. It is a society with almost no middle class. There are the rich (few in number) and there are the voluminous poor. Without the tax base to support it there are few constraints against businesses or people. So they throw their raw sewage into the rivers. They drive around in dilapidated cars, if they can afford them at all, spewing unfiltered exhaust into the air. Without a public education system their children don’t end up in parochial schools. Instead, the children run around on the streets getting into petty crime and grubbing for money. Survival for a woman often means surrendering her body to strangers for pesos. Survival in general there means markedly lower life expectancies, polluted air, polluted waters, long hours of work, and little likelihood of moving out of poverty.

This is the kind of state and country I would live in if you and your friends had your way. It would be an uglier, more divided, more crime ridden and thoroughly awful sort of place. The fact that we don’t have this society is because after thousands of years of trying it and realizing the noble-serf thing didn’t work, we became enlightened. We chose to be a civilized society and give more of our money in the form of taxes, not just to maintain a common infrastructure, but also to ensure that every person has an equal opportunity at life. And because ordinary people do have an equal chance we have a vibrant economy and a generally healthy, happy and prosperous society. Progressive taxation has been a win for everyone, even you and your Club for Growth. Without this government directed progress that you disdain you would most likely be scraping by for a living, not pressing for insane and radical cuts to our government.

Thankfully Virginians are becoming enlightened again. But you are not. You and your kind have devolved into some sort of bizarre medieval groupthink. When I see a brave people like Virginia State Senator John Chichester speak out for modest tax increases — simply to ensure that Virginia stays a state with some class — I feel more inclined to vote such Republican. Why? Because I vote for politicians who are grounded in the real world. You are not in the real world. You inhabit some sort of bizarre fantasy universe. I expect that when campaigns start again in earnest I will be doing something unusual: sending money to my Republican friends in the state legislature who showed genuine courage and leadership in voting for needed tax increases. Any self-serving twit like you can act in their myopic self-interest. But increasingly Virginians see you and your kind as part of the lunatic fringe. Thankfully we have a tradition of fiscal responsibility in our state. I don’t think that we’re going to let you and your kind devolve us into another Louisiana or Alabama.