Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Daze

Today my fellow Americans will go to the polls in midterm elections. Just two days ago, Ukrainians also voted in their midterm elections, and early results suggest that the ruling party of President Yankovich handily consolidated its power. But, nearly every person I know in Ukraine will tell you that he's an idiot, a puppet to Moscow, and so far has been a terrible president. So why did his group win?

Here, it comes down to simple power. People here don't believe for a second that the government actually represents the people or that the promises politicians make have any meaning. Those who vote for the party in power seek to improve their personal relative position of power. That's it. And it doesn't work very well for the country, as anyone who has spent time in Ukraine can attest.

But is America any different? Yes, in very important but sad ways. It appears that conservatives are likely to gain significant numbers of seats in the house and senate today, but not because those voting are looking to curry favor with the authorities. Rather, they seem to believe the bullshit flowing out of the conservative crowd -- tea partiers in particular -- that somehow American government is out of control and we have only to reign in the wasteful spending to make government smaller, better, and more favorable to individual liberty. Any Ukrainian would laugh at this naivety.

Let's look at some hard facts. The federal budget for 2010 will spend about $3.7 billion. They will take in about $2.2 billion in taxes, leaving a gap of $1.5 billion to create a balanced budget. Is this irresponsible? I think that's not an easy question -- we have an historic recession and are fighting two wars overseas -- but conservatives have seized on eliminating the deficit as a key goal of responsible government. So let's look at how they want to do it.

Nobody will touch government payments to senior citizens in the form of social security or Medicare. This is $1.2 trillion a year right now. Neither will they compromise our "national security" but cutting defense spending, which is another $895 billion. And here's where the reality of governance gets difficult, something most politicians don't want to talk about until AFTER the election. Throw in the small amount of spending on police services, and you end up with $2.34 trillion in federal spending on the things that conservatives see as sacred cows.

So to balance the budget, we have to eliminate EVERYTHING else -- welfare programs for the poor, all funding for education, all funding for the government itself (yes, that means our president on down must work for free, without offices or staff or money to pay for photocopies and mailing). We can't repair our roads, or regulate any businesses, or pay the interest on the debt that has been accumulated during the long Iraq and Afghanistan wars. We can't fund any research outside of defense. We can't regulate pollution. We can't do a lot of things. And we still would need to cut $176 billion from those sacred cows just to make for a balanced budget.

Now, this approach is overly generous to conservatives, because they also want to reduce taxes as well, making the $2.2 billion in federal revenue even smaller.

But such realities of government don't concern the people these days. They want simple answers because the economy sucks and too many don't have jobs or don't make what they used to. Unfortunately, though, simple answers are not available in complex times. When America is most in need of pragmatists, people willing to do the hard work of democracy (i.e. compromise, balance priorities, and work together), we are going to elect a bunch of sound-bite-spewing ideologues who will only hasten America's ongoing decline.

At least Ukrainians know what's up with their politicians. Will Americans ever learn?

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