Sunday, May 30, 2010

The True Cost of War

This Memorial Day I feel it is fitting for the country to not only remember the sacrifice of the brave men and women who serve and have served in our military, but to also remember the cost of their sacrifice as well. Since 9/11 more combat soldiers have lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq than the total number who perished in that horrific attack that September morning. Further, the funding for both these wars has now exceeded the trillion-dollar mark as of December 2009, and even with the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq scheduled for this year, it will continue to be a major drain on budget expenditures for some time to come.

To be sure there have always been wars of necessity. It was appropriate for the U.S. to go after those who were responsible for murdering our citizens and attacking our sovereignty. And perhaps the most just military engagement our country has been involved in was World War II. As Barack Obama saliently remarked in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech appeasement would not have stopped Hitler. Pacifism clearly is no substitute for unbridled militarism. One hundred eighty degrees from wrong is still wrong.

The problem however is that the United States has long since past the point where its wars are fought simply on the merits of whether they are just or not. Chasing down Osama bin Laden was one thing; occupying two Middle-eastern countries and toppling one of their governments is going over the top to say the least. President Eisenhower, in his farewell speech to the nation, spoke of the growing influence of what he referred to as the Military-Industrial Complex. Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander of Allied forces during World War II and knew a thing or two about war and its infrastructure so he was certainly no left-wing ideologue who believed in pacifism. But he also could clearly see what was going on around him and he felt a need to warn the nation of its potential consequences.

“A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.

“Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

“Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Today the Military Industrial Complex of the U.S. spends more than most European and Asian countries do on their entire budgets. But more to the point, it now dominates virtually every aspect of American society. So intertwined is it within the economy that even if we were able to shut it down completely the devastation that would ensue not only to the U.S. but to the world would be beyond description. The United States still has a sizable number of troops in Japan and Germany, as well as other locations that have not seen combat in more than three generations. There has not been one plausible explanation that has been able to defend this waste of spending.

Whenever legitimate attempts have been made to “trim” the Pentagon’s budget, they have been met with the usual cries from the neo-cons that such cuts would compromise America’s security and vital interests. The F-22 Raptor is a case in point. Designed primarily as a Cold-war era stealth bomber, it is an overpriced, outdated luxury that, at $350 million per jet, the U.S. simply can no longer afford. And yet resistance to cutting the program was fierce. Even some of President Obama’s closest allies turned against him when his administration tried to end the program last year.

Clearly Eisenhower’s warning fell on deaf ears. It is unlikely that we will ever witness in our lifetime or in our children’s lifetime a serious curtailing of the military industrial complex. And so long as that is the case, the U.S. will forever be locked in an endless array of global conflicts – some of them just, but many unnecessary – all in the name of preserving not our freedom, but our hegemony.

Many soldiers have given their lives in defense of this country throughout its long and bloodied history. We can honor them best, not by idly standing by and nodding tacitly with the very agency that sent them to their premature deaths, but by standing up to that very same agency and seeking a different path. We do not mock our nation or disgrace the service of our enlisted men and women by demanding of our government an accounting for such dubious and self-defeating policies; in deed if we can keep just one soldier from returning home in a body bag from the next senseless war, we have done our true patriotic duty as American citizens.

We owe the next soldier’s family that much at least.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Why Taking the High Road Doesn’t Always Work

It’s becoming increasingly clear that when it comes to dealing with the Right, ideas alone aren’t going to cut it. While the nation desperately needs a discussion on policy, the Right has been steadfast in its unwillingness to join in. Instead it has comported itself more like a lynch mob looking to rewrite history books and branding anyone who disagrees with it names like socialist, Nazi, un-American, terrorist sympathizer, and the like.

To be clear, divisiveness in American politics is nothing new. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson loathe each other; Teddy Roosevelt so despised William Howard Taft that he ran as an independent, thus securing the election of Democrat Woodrow Wilson. And in recent memory there have certainly been a few brouhahas between Democrat and Republican worthy of pen and paper. Negative politics – whether one wants to admit it or not or even whether one likes it or not – works. But of late the tone has grown noticeably malevolent. While it was never news worthy to hear personal insults and political attack ads that bore little resemblance to facts, the last few years have seen a slide into an abyss that is unique even in American politics and now threatens our very political system.

So what happened? How did a bad situation turn grave? I think we can trace the genesis of this rot back to the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine during the Reagan years. Despite what the Right has said about it, the Fairness Doctrine NEVER restricted speech over the airwaves. I wrote a blog back in June of 2008 on this very topic called “The Broadcaster Freedom Act: The truth about what’s really behind the resistance to the Fairness Doctrine” so I won’t go over all of it here. Suffice to say what the Fairness Doctrine required was that “all coverage of controversial issues by a broadcast station be balanced and fair.” Ironic isn’t it to see that phrase “balanced and fair” in an FCC transcript from 1949. Licensees were considered “public trustees” and had an obligation to permit discussion of “contrasting points of view on controversial issues of public importance.”

And therein lies the crux of the matter. An obligation to permit an actual discussion of contrasting points of view does not fit the paradigm of political talk radio and TV, where more often than not a ranting monologue is the preferred method of discourse. From about the late 1980s through today we have seen a flood of incendiary talk show hosts – mostly conservative – who have been relentless in their assaults and equally irresponsible in their dearth of fact-checking. With no Fairness Doctrine in place, they are free to spin whatever nonsense they choose to a mostly gullible audience. From the bombast of a Rush Limbaugh to the out and out hate of a Mark Levin, conservative talk radio now dominates most of the A.M. dial, with nary a peep from alternative sources to offer a counter argument. A non-stop, 24/7 assault on the senses of the general public over the last twenty years has produced a toxic environment that no longer invites debate, but demands of its opponents complete capitulation and stirs within its listeners a rage that holds no bounds. Even the most ardent optimist would find it difficult to escape such a conundrum. This is the America we find ourselves in, where reason is trumped by ignorance, and discussion is put aside as superfluous.  What used to be the classic conservative vs. liberal debate has now deteriorated into vitriolic insanity vs. reason.

Now what? Assuming the above is correct, where do we go? Well for one thing reinstating the Fairness Doctrine appears to be off the table. There is little stomach in Washington – even among Democrats – for putting the Jeannie back in the bottle. For all the drivel from the Right about Obama being a socialist, seems he’s not much of a progressive either. One is apt to be hit by lightning twice in the same spot as to see this president take such a courageous stand and call for reinstatement of the Doctrine.

It seems we are left to fend for our own. To coin a phrase the Right always seems to misappropriate for its own devices, we need to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Of course for us the problem isn’t that we don’t counter irrationality; our problem is that we try to reason with it, like a parent reasoning with a wayward child. We take the high road and use the intellect we were given to make what we believe are cogent and rational arguments to make our point.

The problem is that such tactics, while laudable, are akin to trying to put out a fire with a water pistol. The inferno rages on and consumes the building. The building in this case is the United States and the inferno is the rhetoric of hate that is engulfing everything in its way. At the rate of consumption we run the risk of waking up one day to see a pile of ashes before us.

We cannot let that happen. But what to do? For us that has always been the sixty-four thousand dollar question. Well for one thing as tough as it might be to swallow we must realize that our own worst enemy has been our intellect. We have been far too high-minded in our debates. We have the facts on our side as well as the bulk of history to support our stances but to no avail. For we have made the colossal blunder in assuming that this war raging around us has anything to do with facts. As progressives blessed with the ability to reason and persuade intelligently, we seek reasonable resolutions to disputes. We despise lowering ourselves and quietly congratulate each other for not sinking to the level of our opponents. We must get over this aversion. It is a character flaw our opponents do not possess.

Years ago while attending an American Sociological awards ceremony where I was presenting my thesis I had the good fortune to sit at a table with a few of the more distinguished scholars of the country. Men and women of all backgrounds who had made sociology their discipline. As I listened to all of them two things immediately struck me almost simultaneously: 1. They were all very intelligent and thought provoking individuals who knew an awful lot about what they were talking about, and 2. They were about as interesting and exciting as watching paint dry. Though I loved the discipline they exhibited, I knew deep down that five minutes after we left that room, most if not all of us would probably not remember what we talked about. As students of academia we were in love with ourselves. We were high-minded and high browed, and ultimately irrelevant.

That is the curse of the Left. High-minded intellectuals who have truth on their side and then slowly and quietly put the audience to sleep with their razor-sharp wit. Our brain, for lack of a better word, has always been our Achilles heal. We are too good to roll around in the mud; it is beneath us to engage in passionate displays to refute lies and ignorance. We count on the inevitable wisdom of the public to eventually come to their senses, and then are left speechless and dumbfounded when we discover that once more the mob has turned on us. See John Kerry and the Swiftboat ads of 2004 for reference.

We shouldn’t be shocked or awestruck. Shakespeare nailed the human condition perfectly in “Julius Caesar.” How many times must we see the likes of a Marc Antony rile up the crowd before we admit that Brutus was an idiot? The sobering truth is that for all its seeming accomplishments most of the human condition can be reduced to those few paragraphs in that epic play.

Since its early days – whether one prefers the biblical interpretation of an Adam and Eve in a garden or the more anthropologically correct interpretation of us crawling out of the cave – homo sapiens have been easily led astray and manipulated. They are about as steadfast as a rudderless ship caught in a gale. The countless wars, tragedies and pestilence reveal not an enlightened race, but a sadly misbegotten one. Hoping against hope that out of this throng called civilization something remotely resembling order and sanity will prevail on its own with no prodding is like heading out to the middle of the Atlantic and waiting for the Titanic to raise itself out of the water.

How in God’s name can we be so na├»ve? We need to stop being so damned high-minded and polite and start shouting back. We must put aside that age-old axiom that served us so well in our classrooms, but which affects nothing but the amusement of our opponents. And we must realize we do have opponents. Even if we do not like the idea, they are there. They are not afraid to call us their opponents and their relentlessness is, if nothing else, interminable. So ours must be as well. It is not our lack of intelligence that is at issue here; merely our lack of resolve. Deep down we despise the methods used by the hate mongers; we cannot bring ourselves to believe that such ugliness is that pervasive. It is, and we must end our denial over it. It isn’t going to back down, so neither must we.

At the risk of going a little Glenn Beck here, there is a parallel from history, which should serve as a sobering reminder of what complacency and complicity can lead to. The Jews in Germany during the 1930s could scarcely believe what they were seeing in their beloved country. They had witnessed prejudice against them in the past, but nothing like this. To a man and woman they believed that cooler heads would prevail; that the ranting and raving of Hitler would eventually be dismissed by the bulk of the public in good time and that in the end things would return to normal. They were wrong and six million of them died in the death camps.

There is always a price to pay for silence; but not just silence, snobbishness, aloofness, call it whatever you wish. A belief that it is beneath oneself to rise up and confront the foolishness of others is the lesson of history. It is a lesson we keep on learning mainly because we still don’t get it. We needn’t be doppelgangers of the bullies on the block to be effective agents of change. What we must stop doing is being the proverbial punching bags for such miscreants. We needn’t carry a club into the brawl; but we must resist the urge to bring just a pen. Our lungs may go weary, and our hearts faint, but we must not wither. It is not just for our sake but for the sake of all we hold near and dear. In Christendom there is a saying: love the sinner, hate the sin. We must realize that hate, when it is used properly, can be an effective tool. It must be our tool. We do not have the luxury of worrying about our stature or reputation; such things are transitory any way.

In the end, this isn’t about making those who are offensive to our common senses see the error of their ways. More than likely we will stoke a few more fires way before we put some out. No, it is not for the hate mongers that we do this; it is for the millions of rudderless souls whose future hangs precariously in the balance. For those who think this a rather laborious and debasing exercise, ask yourself just one question. Would Brutus have needed to flee Rome had he not ceded the stage to Antony?

We need to stand our ground. Emoting is not our enemy, anymore than pure intellect is our friend. We must use both the pen and the sword to thwart the evil that lies in men’s hearts. Yes, I realize there is always a danger that we too might be consumed by that very same evil. But being a reflective recluse is a poor excuse for a lack of will and a weak constitution. Once more we hear the cry, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.” How many times must we hear the words before we rise up and grab the podium? We can turn the ship around; we can help chart a new course away from hate and toward sanity. But to do it we must be willing to do what does not come naturally to us. We must abandon our tried and failed methods and employ a little of the enemy’s playbook.

The cause is just and the moment is now!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Defining the Narrative

What do Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton have in common? Besides the fact that both were two-term presidents, most would say nothing. Reagan was a conservative Republican from California and a staunch supply-sider; Clinton a moderate Democrat from the South who was a proponent of healthcare reform. Both men could not be further apart on the political spectrum, and yet with all the dissimilarities, there are a couple of things they shared. First off, both men were exceptionally adept at spinning their own message. For lack of a better term, they both defined the narrative of their respective administrations.

Politics, whether one likes to admit it or not, is less about reality and more about perception. Those presidents who can create and successfully control that perception more often than not get their agendas through. Additionally, when the road gets bumpy and they are confronted by criticisms, they effectively use their bully pulpits to ward off such attacks.

Reagan, despite historic deficits and a rough first two years that saw massive unemployment, was able to brush back critics of his policies while simultaneously blaming his predecessor. The unemployment and deficits were Jimmy Carter’s fault, despite the fact that Reagan had been in office two years. Reagan was relentless in his claims. Hence the perception became the reality. Three decades later, he is still regarded as one of the most successful presidents of the twentieth century.

Clinton, despite presiding over a healthcare debacle that deeply wounded his prestige, overseeing a colossal loss in the mid-terms that saw Republicans take control of both houses of Congress, and being embroiled in a sex scandal that compromised and threatened his very office, managed to enjoy a remarkably successful tenure, including being the first president since Truman to significantly reduce the debt and balance the budget. Like Reagan, the public’s perception of Clinton was greater than his acknowledged frailties. Hence, to this day he is viewed positively by presidential historians. Both men finished with a 68% approval rating when they left office.

Secondly, both men shared something else: an exceptional ability to relate to the difficulties of the electorate and make them their own. In layman’s terms: empathy. Reagan’s “My fellow Americans” and Clinton’s “I feel your pain,” were classic examples of both men’s ability to connect with the “common man” and garner support, even during difficult times. The political capital that such traits afforded them often was the difference between success and failure. In the case of Clinton his legislative accomplishments, especially during his second term, would’ve been impossible, save for his high approval rating among voters.

And that brings us to one President Barack Obama. Clearly Obama is one of the brightest and most astute presidents we’ve seen in quite some time. That he inherited the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression is not in dispute, at least not by anyone in possession of the facts. The steps that were taken averted a calamity, even if some thought they were either insufficient or over the top.

And therein lies the problem at hand.  For all his talents and ambition, Obama, so far, has shown little evidence of possessing even a sliver of the aforementioned character traits. He has been sorely bereft of defining his message and has shown little if any empathy. The latter of these two deficiencies has been particularly troubling given the desperate straits the economy has been in over the last year and a half. While poll after poll still confirms that the voters, as a whole, do not blame him for the recession, those same polls show a deepening dissatisfaction with the way he has handled the economy since entering office. They also reveal a president that has had a difficult time relating to their plight. The drop in both polls is alarming in that both are intrinsically mirror images of each other. Since people often form opinions of their elected officials in emotional and sometimes irrational ways, when those same people perceive a lack of caring and empathy that tends to translate to a lack of support for those elected officials’ policies. Now couple that with an unwillingness or inability to define his agenda thoroughly to the American people and it is little wonder we have seen his approval numbers dip so precipitously.

Both Reagan and Clinton would’ve had Obama for lunch in this department, especially Reagan, who never passed up an opportunity to rip his predecessor for the economic malaise the country was in. Not since Roosevelt had the country seen a president so successfully and brazenly manipulate the media, define his narrative, and still retain a direct channel to the voter. Even his staunchest adversaries were often forced to tip their hats to him in amazement.

Whatever transformation this president needs to do he must do and do fast. Whether Obama feels comfortable or not, he must take command of the bully pulpit and lead this nation. He must define the narrative of his administration. He must remove the political vacuum that is consuming his presidency and state unequivocally what his vision for the nation is. And while he is at it, he must develop a sense of empathy for the struggles of everyday Americans, many of whom still like him and believe in him, but who don’t think he believes in or cares about them. Like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz, Obama must find the heart he needs to be that president who can relate to his constituents instead of just preaching to them.

Of late he has shown signs that the visionary we thought we were voting for might be coming out of his shell. The healthcare bill was a case study in redemptive politics. Obama badly mishandled the whole issue and not until the very end did he finally find it within him to push back against the vicious attacks and bring the bill all the way to the finish line. While flawed, it was nonetheless a legislative accomplishment that not even Clinton could deliver on. The financial reform package showed yet again that when push comes to shove this president is capable of stepping up and forcing the issue. Like healthcare it is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction.

We need more of this from this president. He must, as Thomas Friedman adroitly wrote in an op-ed piece for The New York Times, seize the opportunity afforded him by the Gulf Oil disaster and strive to “end our addiction to oil,” move the country away from fossil fuels and towards safer and renewable energy sources. This is, as Friedman correctly pointed out, Obama’s 9/11. The next move is his. He must break out of his comfort zone and show the nation the backbone it so desperately needs. Regardless of whether he is a one-term president or not, the crises that are occurring now demand an aggressive, hands on approach of a president who is as mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore, not the cool collected demeanor of a candidate who ran the perfect campaign.

The election is over, Mr. President. You won. You got the job. Now it’s time to act like it. Governing is far more difficult than campaigning, but it is governing that the nation needs now more than ever. Your critics are having a grand time defining you and your administration. Now would be a good time to step up and take back the mantle you so ineptly ceded them. You once said you admired Ronald Reagan.  Good; perhaps it's time to borrow a chapter or two from his playbook.  He wasn't called The Great Communicator for nothing. The nation is waiting, sir.  It’s your move.

Montezuma’s Ultimate Revenge: What goes around comes around.

With all the talk about Arizona’s new immigration law, and the outrage by many progressives over the racial profiling aspect of it, there remains one nagging question that few have dared asked: why is illegal immigration still such a pervasive problem for the United States? Certainly Mexico was not the first country whose citizens saw fit to leave for greener pastures. Italy, Ireland, Poland and Germany sent uncounted multitudes to these shores. With few exceptions, all those immigrants came here legally and with the exception of the typical myopic backlash that greeted European immigrants of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, all were eventually assimilated into the mainstream culture; generations later their descendents have become a vital part of the American story. All except Mexico. It has remained an enigma. And not just Mexico; virtually all of Central America as well.

In an op-ed piece titled, “Reagan’s Refugees: Why Undocumented Migrants Have a Right To Work Here” Roger Hollander places the blame for the flood of illegal immigration squarely on U.S. foreign and domestic policy.

“Most U.S. citizens have little idea of the devastation wrought by NAFTA in Mexico and what the murderous civil wars that the Reagan Administration funded and supported during the 1980s have done to El Salvador and Guatemala. In essence, the neo-liberal economic policies of the so-called Washington consensus, including NAFTA, have plunged Mexico into an economic crisis in the countryside. More than 2 million agricultural workers have been forced off their land and have moved into urban areas that can’t absorb them. The undocumented workers from El Salvador and Guatemala, the two other main sources of migration into the U.S., are fleeing dysfunctional and oppressive social and economic systems maintained by U.S. military power and funding since Ronald Reagan and CIA director William Casey turned these small countries into demonstration projects for Cold War power.”

In short we gutted Latin America to such an extent that millions of impoverished people risked everything, even their very lives, to flee the oppression – both economic and political – just to have a chance at the life they were denied in their own countries. And that is why the United States has and will continue to have an illegal immigration problem. Any solution that does not deal with the carnage we inflicted on that region will ultimately fail. Hollander goes on to explain further,

“The basic problem is that Mexican tariffs were lowered under NAFTA so that inexpensive corn and other agricultural products from U.S. agribusiness flooded Mexico and drove out up to 2.3 million small and medium-sized farmers. The idea was that they would move to the cities and provide the labor for new, more advanced industries to export.

“The only problem is that such a plan depended on Mexico’s GDP growing at 6 percent to 7 percent — almost two-thirds of the rate of China’s growth. In fact, Mexico’s growth has stagnated under NAFTA at half the expected rate. Besides, it isn’t clear what these ‘new advanced industries’ were supposed to be, except for the sweatshops along the U.S. border. Cheap labor is not what economists would call ‘a competitive advantage,’ because there’s always another country with even cheaper labor to exploit.”

According to Hollander, for every one million new workers Mexico adds to its labor force, it creates only half a million jobs. This means that every year, half a million Mexicans must either enter what he calls “the informal economy” of low-wage work without benefits, the criminal and black market economy, or leave the country. Ironically, it is the drug cartel, estimated at two percent of GDP that has become Mexico’s new export-oriented industry. In deed the incessant demand for drugs here in the States and the ever-increasing poverty in Mexico have proven to be a deadly combination. And there is no end in sight.

El Salvador and Guatemala are hardly walks in the park. “In El Salvador, there’s a separate problem stemming from the violence of the Reagan wars of the 1980s — and now compounded by the recent deportation of U.S. gang members back to El Salvador. Originally, they entered the U.S. as children with their undocumented parents, learned their gang skills in the U.S. and then once arrested, were deported back to El Salvador. As a result there’s been an explosion of gang violence in El Salvador. As for Guatemala, assassinations of community leaders opposing destructive mining operations are common. At another point, a well-known TV reporter was gunned down in broad daylight in the capital.”

Hollander believes the U.S. will never solve its illegal immigration problem by enforcement alone. “The ‘push’ out of these countries has become much greater than the ‘pull’ of a better economy and growing social networks of migrants now living in the U.S.” No law, immoral or otherwise, no wall regardless of height, and no threat of violence can deter people who have nothing left to lose.

The Arizona immigration law shows how depraved and insensitive we have become to basic moral values and how flippant we have become towards Constitutional law, but it also reveals a staggering ignorance of our own history and how that history has helped devastate a whole region.

British playwright Harold Pinter once wrote about the relationship of truth and lies to political power. “To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.”

The problem with feeding on that many lies is that it sometimes leads to indigestion.  Well don’t look know but I see a massive case of Montezuma’s Revenge coming on. Payback is always a bitch.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Checking Under the Hood

Watching Libertarians and conservative Republicans these days is a little like sitting down in the driver's seat of a fancy new car in a showroom. It looks great and has that brand new car smell that every one likes. It even has a great price. Everything seems like a go until you check under the hood and find out there’s no engine. All of a sudden that great price doesn’t seem so attractive anymore. Without even turning the ignition key you get the feeling that you were taken for a ride.

Rand Paul’s recent win in the Kentucky Republican primary is a case in point. Nice car, great price, nothing under the hood. Forget for a moment Paul’s brain fart on the air when he admitted what almost every politician and citizen south of the Mason Dixon line has felt for nearly five decades: that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 went way too far for their tastes. No, the real issue isn’t whether Paul is a racial bigot – for the record I don’t believe he is, just sadly one of those people who naively believes the market can root out racism if it’s given half a chance, as though it hasn’t been given every chance and failed miserably at it. For me the real issue with Paul and others like him is that they say all the right things, all the while knowing they can’t deliver on any of them.

I mean, seriously, how much political courage does it take to stand in front of a mic and announce you’re going to cut taxes and reduce the size of government. One might as well start singing the words to “God Bless America” and start handing out free candy to children. Like the fancy car, we’ve been titillated by the glitz, now we want the vroom. To coin a phrase from an old commercial, “Where’s the beef?”

Except there is no beef; just rhetoric. And Paul and the Right know it. With all the talk about cutting spending in Washington and reducing the deficit, the facts are that there is very little left in the budget that isn’t already tied up. Defense spending, entitlements and other mandatory spending account for almost 80 percent of all federal outlays, with social security taking the biggest bite. Of the $3.55 trillion budget, there is a whopping $713 billion available in discretionary spending. Assuming you slash all of that – and by the way that would include eliminating the departments of homeland security, health and human services, transportation (which includes the FAA), EPA, education, justice, and all of NASA – you would still be just over $400 billion in the red. Even if we pulled out of Iraq today, we would not make a significant dent in the deficit. Unless revenue – called receipts – increases significantly over the next few years, there will be a sizable budget deficit staring at us for quite some time, regardless of who’s in charge. There isn’t a single Republican in Washington who doesn’t know this.

And if by some weird circumstance you could actually manage to do without all the aforementioned departments – yes even homeland security – and you withdrew all troops, not just combat, from Iraq, and you could somehow live with a deficit somewhere around $350 billion, you would have a new problem. Job losses from closing those departments and the fallout that would have over connecting sectors in the economy could actually make the deficit worse than it is now. Revenues could fall by as much as 20% over current projections, and the unemployment rate would soar to 1930s levels and would likely remain that way for several years to come. We would no longer be in a recession; we would be in a depression and most of the world would be joining us very shortly. Cutting has never gotten a nation out of an economic downturn, let alone balanced a budget; in deed if history has taught us anything it is that spending, despite the negative connotations it has garnered, more often than not has jump-started sluggish economies and allowed the necessary time needed for markets to rebound. It is not the problem it has been made out to be, no matter what the likes of a Sarah Palin might say.

With all the talk of socialism from the far Right, the simple truth is that if the economy had been growing this year at the rate it was growing in 2007, the deficit would be less than half of what it is at present. Now imagine no Iraq War, no stimulus or TARP or bailout, and you’re within a couple hundred billion of breaking even. Not bad for a Stalinist.

So the next time you go shopping for a car, don’t fall for the glitter and shine of the paint job, or that new car smell. Be sure to kick the tires and check under the hood. Make sure it has an engine and that the engine is as advertised. Make sure that Corvette you’re buying isn’t really an Edsel in disguise. Don’t get taken for a ride! And if by some chance you come across a political candidate who promises you he’s going to balance the budget and at the same time cut your taxes, don’t be afraid to ask him how.