Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Are We There Yet?

As if the Republican presidential nomination contest wasn't in enough of a muddle, now rumors are running rampant that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is re-considering his reconsideration of his consideration about whether or not to throw his hat into the ring.  Honestly, any normal person would be embarassed by the attention being fauned onto the man!  Should voters be troubled that he's not?  That, despite his repeated protestations that he was NOT going to run for president, he does nothing to actually tamp-down the rhetoric surrounding his 'flirting' with a presidential bid.  In fact, the way he's been jet-setting around the country the last few months, if one didn't know better they could easily assume that he is, in fact, running for the nomination and the presidency itself. 

Despite the dearth of amusing missteps, episodes of epic foot-in-mouth disease, and general hilarity that oft-times arises when a bunch of grown adults run-around acting like so many 10-year olds, that the contest for the Republican presidential nomination continues to drag-on without any clear frontrunner coming to the fore should be and indication to those on the Right that they should perhaps do some serious party-wide soul searching about their true motives behind their drive to the 2012 election.  If only ...

No doubt if Republican party members did consider their respective and collective situations they would come to a few sad (some could even say almost pathetic) realizations.  First among them being that they seem to have misplaced the 'soul' of the party.  Granted, amorphous non-tangible entities do not possess the ability to have an actual 'soul'.  In this circumstance references to a political parties' 'soul' describes those key principles upon which all that they do is based.  If asked there's no doubt that many members of the party would spout the standard party "talking points" of their being 'for' lower taxes, smaller government, strong national security and continuing to secure our civil rights and personal freedoms and liberties.  But how exactly does such a laundry list actually address the issues our nation and its citizens face today?  They largely don't.  Therein lies the second problem Republicans would realize should they embark upon their spiritual stock-taking.

Unemployment continues to hover around 9% (although the 'actual' unemployment figures are north of 15%).  Economic growth is anemic, at best.  The U.S. is STILL embroiled in two major conflicts, in Iraq and Afghanistan respectively.  Natural disasters (which have only strengthened the resolve of those professing the woes of climate change) have seemingly run amok across the country, sowing widespread death, injury and immense property damage and general devastation.  Now, how do the Republican "talking points" address those issues?  Well, in a word, they DON'T. 

Lower (or no, if they had their way) taxes is a nice thought.  And sadly, under the guidance (if we want to hazard calling his leadership 'guidance') of the Bush Administration the U.S. currently has the lowest overall tax rates since the 1940's.  The premise behind W's lowering of taxes was that doing so is the right thing to do because that money belongs to the American people, along with the notion that a lower tax rate will promote and support economic growth.  Apparently the economic 'gods' (and no, I'm not talking about former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan) weren't paying enough attention to the Bush years, because not only was economic growth lackluster during Bush's tenure, but family incomes fell and prices began to climb.  No less than David Stockman, the guru President Reagan put in-charge of slashing tax rates in the 1980's, has come-out describing how the Bush economic policies not only embraced bad or failed policies of previous administrations (including Democrats), but they essentially doubled-down on them.  Couple those tax cuts with a spending orgy the likes we've not seen since, well, the Reagan era actually, and you have federal budget deficits that now threaten the economic stability of the entire planet!

Now, reducing tax rates is a sure-fire "winner" for many voters.  Particularly those on the Right who have long believed that taxes, in and of themselves, are the root of all evil.  And reducing taxes would be fine if the general condition of our society was A-OK.  But one only needs to walk out the front door of their homes to know that such is not the case.  In fact, there are a variety of segments of our society that are facing such a depletion of resources that this country is, in many respects, going backward!  For example, our national infrastructure (roads, bridges, dams, electrical grid, etc. ... the stuff we all use in one way or another every single day, period) has earned a grade of "D" from a national association of civil engineers.  Take a drive in any city, county or state and you're guaranteed to be subjected to an ever-increasing assault wrought by driving over/into/around potholes, dips and bulges in roadways, sagging and crumbling bridges, and unabated traffic congestion that shows no hope of diminishing in the near or far future. 

Add to the problems that our fairly pathetic infrastructure provides us the fact that our society has a whole host of "ills" and "woes" that are best (and in some situations can only be) addressed on a national level, and it doesn't take long before any sane person realizes that not only do we need to fully fund current federal government programs and policies, but we actually need to see some respectable increases in some funding areas. 
Every major, respected economist has loudly proclaimed that the U.S. federal government must increase revenues (aka, taxes ... please, don't gasp ... I actually said 'more taxes) in order to begin bringing its fiscal 'house' into order.  And while many on the Right continue to suggest that increasing tax rates would spell certain doom for our struggling economy, the fact that throughout the 1950s the top tax rate was in excess of 90% and the country experienced its longest period of sustained economic growth and genuine general prosperity for the majority of Americans in its history illustrates the falsehood of their rhetoric. 

The Right also beats the ol' "smaller government" drum like they're a stoned rock musician: oblivious to their surroundings and the consequences of their actions, but playing away just the same.  But let's look at the notion of 'smaller government' honestly and realistically.  The only way to have smaller government is for government to stop doing something it's currently doing.  Fine.  So, what should stopped?  Well, typically high on the Republican wish list of program repeals or elimination are doing away with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Dept. of Education, and the Dept. of Energy, to name a few.  Are these people high?!  What planet are they living on?!  Did they miss the colossal cluster you-know-what that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico last summer?!  It's a fairly reasonable conclusion to make that the Deep Horizon oil spill occurred primarily due to a serious LACK of appropriate regulation of the oil industry.  And they want to not only do away with the regulations the agency imposes and enforces, but they want to do away with the entire agency itself!!  So, what are they thinking?  That as the rules on safe and sensible conduct in the workplace go by the wayside that Corporate America is going to willingly "step into the breach" and self-police itself as well or better than the government did, does or ever will do?!  Once again, consider the Deepwater Horizon disaster ... which came-about largely because when it came to deep-water drilling for oil and natural gas, the industry was its own overseers.  Anyone heard of "putting the fox in charge of the hen house?" 

But that's not all!  As recent as this last week news reports have covered how more voluntary recalls by food processors/producers were underway because of fears of possible listeria and e coli contamination.  Consider what that means: despite the fact that food industry supporters believe they are over-regulated, foodstuffs continue to be contaminated in the plants that produce them and/or when they are enroute to food outlets and grocery stores.  So, in response to a marked increase in the number of reported food contamination cases (and the resultant illnesses and even deaths that have occurred), Republicans want to reduce or eliminate the regulation on the food industry!  That would be fine if we all still lived on farms and owned enough land and livestock with which to feed ourselves and our families.  But the reality is, at every turn possible Corporate America continues to remind us that they are not only unable, but are simply unwilling, to adequately monitor their own behavior and thus provide goods and services that are safe to use and are of reasonably good quality. 

And as if those weren't example enough of they kind of irresponsible and just plain ignorant governance (or the sad semblance thereof) that today's Republican party is trumpeting, they are adamantly opposed to there being any reasonable and rational reduction in the amount this nation spends for national defense.  It's not enough that the U.S. spends more for defense than what, altogether, every other industrialized country spends.  It's not enough that the federal defense budget has grown from under $300 billion when W took office to more than $700 billion for fiscal 2012!  It's not enough that while our nation faces real economic uncertainty, we have Republican members of Congress who are out actively trying to drum-up even more conflicts in which we should become involved!  There is nothing wrong with a strong national defense.  And as the world's sole remaining true military superpower, the U.S. does have some moral responsibility to use its political, economic and military influence in an effort to improve the lives of Americans AND the citizens of the world.  But that doesn't mean we should be expected to be, or pay for being, the world's police force!   Want an example of the Bizarro-World thinking of some when it comes to national defense?  The Defense Department wishes to build a new Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier, with which it will anchor a new carrier battle group.  Price tag for the carrier?  $9 billion!  Price tag for the battle group (which includes the various cruisers, destroyers, submarines and maintenance and replenishment craft needed to service a carrier and its attendant escorts)?  $20 billion!  And guess where this particular battle group is intended to serve?  The Caribbean and South Atlantic!  Has anyone else been made aware of a growing threat to U.S. sovereignty and security from South America?  Are we facing the threat of a penguin invasion from Antartica?!  Get serious!

And finally, Republicans like to suggest that they are the champion of personal freedoms and liberties.  That's a nice sentiment.  Unfortunately, when considering Republican past performance on the issues of civil rights and personal freedoms and liberties, reality is a real bitch.  Not only has the "Party of Lincoln" actively strived to add blatant discrimination against a select group of Americans into the U.S. Constitution.  Their latest moves in support of our freedoms and liberties include a whole host of legislative initiatives across the country that seek to make voting more difficult, in general, and almost impossible for some potential voters who belong to the disenfranchised and/or poor.  America's 20th century saw the end of literacy tests and poll taxes that were once a part of citizens trying to exercise their right to vote.  The Voting Rights Act of the 1960's sought to put an official end to voter discrimination on the basis of race.  And yet, 2011 heralds in a new era of stringent voting laws and regulations that do nothing to significantly improve voter participation.  Nor do the various proprosed laws/regulations do much (if anything) to reduce voter fraud (which is largely non-existent in the first place). 

In 2008 when Barack Obama was sworn-in as President of the United States the Republican members of Congress, almost unanimously, declared that it was their sole mission-in-life to see that our first African-American president serve only one term: that they were going to do anything and everything (and they have, too!) to ensure that he would not win re-election.  Despite the President doing everything short of changing his party affiliation to Republican, and despite the fact that the U.S. is saddled with incredibly difficult challenges, the Republican members of Congress continue to refuse to act in any rational, reasonable or responsible manner when it comes to actually striving to govern, and improve, the United States. 

If Republicans wish to put-forth a presidential candidate who carries with them a genuine desire to make things better for all Americans, the country (and the world) is ready and waiting.  Who thinks they will step-up and meet that challenge?