Thursday, November 4, 2010

Is the Tea Pot Empty?

In an historic turn of events, the Republicans surged in the 2010 mid-term elections as no party has since 1938. Primary factors are attributable to general voter anger at the focus of the Obama Administration on expanding social welfare to a degree not seen since 1964 (a.k.a. Obamacare) while the country continues to feel the fearful effects of the Great Recession, particularly in the area of unemployment. (As a point of qualification, Bush's Medicare Part D entitlement costs have been (so far) larger than even Obamacare. To the tune of many trillions of dollars of public debt already committed into the foreseeable future. The fact is the Republicans are no less to blame for the entitlement binge than the Democrats.)

The “
audacity of Hope” seems to have had its chance as far as the voters are concerned. The politics of Fear seems to have decisively won the day. With the Democrats losing control of the House while maintaining only a slim margin in the Senate it is unlikely anything of real substance will now be accomplished domestically over the course of the next two years. (See 2010 political map here.)

As I have mentioned before, economics usually trumps every form of wisdom. If you don’t have a job, if your job is uncertain or pays less, then fear inevitably triumphs over every hope in most cases. This is a clear, if uninspiring, human truth within the functional reality of consumer culture.

I voted for President Obama but, like many others, find myself
disenchanted with him. He spent so much effort on healthcare reform that he ended up burning far too many bridges and cashing in virtually all his political chips on something that – though it perhaps would have been a nice perk – essentially rendered his administration ineffective against the “real issues” as most Americans saw them.

The result is that in two short years the overwhelming wave of enthusiasm for “change” in Washington ended up appearing to be more of the same,
with many of the same interests still empowered, and far too few results on “main street America.” Whether actually disconnected or not, Obama has ineptly come off that way and the resulting backlash has given us the Tea Party movement.

It will be interesting to see how the next two years play out. Nothing of substance will be accomplished.
Gridlock is inevitable. So, the message for the 2012 election cycle now begins to take shape. Who will most effectively position themselves to take advantage of the gridlock? Will the Republicans be able to capitalize on their momentum with the message that the voters need to give them more power? Will the Democrats and Obama be able to blame the gridlock on the Tea Party by attempting to push through more “popular” initiatives that they know will not be supported by the neocons? It will be interesting to watch.

One thing is for sure. The urgent needs of the moment, primarily
the skyrocketing national debt, will not be addressed by either party. The Tea Party will likely be as ineffective in the next two years as Obama is perceived to have been in the last two. And this country will be far worse off in 2012 than it is today.

A clarion voice of sanity in this sea of political polarization and confusion naturally comes from someone not directly involved with the political undercurrents of power.
David Stockman, former OMB director for President Reagan, saw the deficit mess for what it is way back in 1984. But few heeded his cry of “wolf!” That may still be the case. But, Stockman’s opinion remains fiscally pragmatic and unchanged. We have prospered on an illusion of wealth and we must now cut social programs (Social Security and Medicare – just the opposite of what Obamacare is doing) as well as scale back defense spending or face the consequences of national bankruptcy.

Today, Stockman's opinion of our future prospects in the face of Tuesday's election results
is featured in this great op-ed piece. Read it.

This, at first, sounds rather Tea Party-ish. But, like most things with the Tea Party, this is a fantasy. It is unlikely that any neocon is going to be able to rein-in such a vastly popular program as Social Security. It is unlikely that the Tea Party momentum consists of any elements to significantly reduce America’s military spending. So, the main culprits of the “white elephant” issue of national fiscal responsibility will go unaddressed. And, in spite of the recent Colbert-Stewart rally for toning down political rhetoric in an angry America, we are likely to be just getting started in terms of everybody shouting, no one really listening, and
our debt continuing to rise, somewhat exponentially.

It should be noted that
the GOP has reason to be a tad uneasy with the Tea Party philosophy so prevalent in its midst. There are indications that Tea Party momentum might attempt to not only take out Democrats but more traditional Republicans as well. That could be its undoing, however, as this will only lead to in-fighting within the GOP and a fragmentation of what appears to be a unified effort. Under the surface, however, this unity is not stitched together very well. Should the GOP fail to hold together under the pressure of what feels like a Tea Party “mandate” then the biggest winner in 2010 might ironically turn out to be President Obama, whose base will now likely solidify in the face of what many perceive as Republican right-wing extremism.

Rand Paul, the rather idealistic son of
Ron Paul – a libertarian republican I have voiced respect for in the past, is one of the big Tea Party winners. He is seen as a significant political phenomenon in his own right, though certainly not to the extent Obama was in 2008. Rand’s association with the Tea Party movement and the Tea Party’s vague but enthusiastic anti-Washington message seems to give the neocon faction a certain legitimacy.

By association, Ron Paul is now classified as a Tea Party figurehead. A recent, fascinating, article in the left-leaning periodical The Atlantic names the elder Paul as “The Tea Party’s Brain.” That is somewhat disingenuous though certainly Ron Paul has much in common with the Tea Party in terms of the role of government and economic policy. The fact is, Ron Paul has never courted the Tea Party and this movement has cropped up rather coincidentally close to Paul’s own economic beliefs, without any assistance from Paul himself. His son, Rand, was the real beneficiary of this in 2010.

But, back to the article in The Atlantic. What is well articulated in it is that Ron Paul’s own economic philosophy is based on the theories of the great Austrian economist
Ludwig von Mises, a name to which I have only recently become familiar. I agree with much of what I’ve been able to find about von Mises and, consequently, it has strengthened my own underpinnings for Ron Paul’s economic perspective of ending the Federal Reserve, opening up the free-market system, and specifically addressing the fundamental weakness and problem of fiat currency.

All of these issues lie central to our problems as a nation. President Obama is unlikely to do anything about the very real change that is needed in this country. Alas, in spite of Ron Paul’s hopefulness for the recent Tea Party successes and
his son’s rather pronounced idealism, I’m afraid little will come of these efforts as well.

But, I am becoming less pragmatic as
the situation of public debt worsens in this country. It is much easier for me to adopt positions sympathetic with the Tea Party with respect to domestic economic policy. Drastic change is needed, as non-Tea Party authorities like David Stockman have pointed out. Defense spending should be cut. Social Security and Medicare should not be broadened and should, in fact, be more tightly controlled. Unfortunately, too many voters benefit from these Welfare State policies. The action that is most needed is the action that will get you voted out of office. That is the fundamental truth of our situation. Nevertheless, I am certain that within the complex competitiveness of human ideas and truths, the position of Ron Paul must be advanced by every means available, even at the cost of harmonizing with the Tea Party movement itself.

The central problem with the article in The Atlantic is that it presents a highly one-sided analysis of Ron Paul. Certainly, he is a follower of von Mises and, consequently, has much in common in terms of fiscal policy with the Tea Party. But, it is equally true that Ron Paul is a genuine libertarian. He supports individual liberty in the social sphere. That means he advocates such positions as
the right of gay marriage, the legalization of marijuana and internet gambling. I’m rather certain that most Tea Party neocons would renege on any connection with Paul if these facts were considered, which the The Atlantic article chooses not even to mention.

So, to call the man who
works so diligently with congressman Barney Frank on so many issues “the Tea Party's brain” is grotesquely over-stating the case. (I might point out, however, that such cooperation between a republican and democrat, a liberal and a conservative, is rather unprecedented today, but exactly what this country needs.) But, this is to return to an earlier point. The Tea Party is, in truth, a loosely organized confederation of candidates. When push comes to shove they will have to try to work together and I believe their inherent diversity is far greater than anyone has hitherto reported upon in the press.

More likely than not, the Republicans will soon discover that
they are like the dog that chased the car and actually caught it. The nature of the problem is greater than most any political philosophy and its resolution is beyond the strength of the American voter to support. It is not just about reducing government. It is about reducing government in a way that takes entitlements away from many common voters. Few have the willpower to advance this truth and, for that reason alone, genuine change is unlikely to occur. Just as President Obama failed to live up to his mandate, the Tea Party will probably end up as nothing more than a huge chuck of the news cycle.

Very Late Note: On Nov. 10 President Obama's bipartisan Fiscal Deficit Commission recommended (in a preliminary report) sweeping cuts in federal spending including social security and defense spending. This is precisely what must happen if this country is to avoid going broke. The commission's report was met with immediate, intense criticism from a number of special interest groups and op ed journalists. In fact, it seems no one likes the truth of the matter. We are weak whiners and we will undoubtedly bankrupt ourselves.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the recent essays and appreciate the opportunity to read them.
Superficially on the current political trends over the last several decades in the USA I am reminded that in a liberal democracy where the people who have no property and pay no taxes are allowed to vote, they vote repeatedly for the candidate who promises more entitlements. Any office holder who actually tries to freeze or decrease the entitlements will shortly be forced to leave office and partake of the luxuriant pension he has voted for himself while in office. Term limits would take care of this fault in our system but brings in other problems.
Love the long sleeve t-shirts. Will try to find one.
Your comments on medicine are well taken and enjoyable reading. I don't know much about medicine or doctors but being an MD does get you dates with pretty nurses who otherwise would not give you the time of day, it pays well, and sure beats working.
Stuffey