Billions and billions…

I can still hear Carl Sagan’s voice saying it in those old documentaries. He was talking about stars, of course. Today, we think of dollars. Billions and billions of them, swelling our national debt, mortgaging the futures of your children and mine. I get almost physically sick when I dwell for too long on what has happened in the sordid mess our national economy has become. I’ve written about it many times before, but I’m doing it again today in my New Mexico Independent column.

The catalyst this time was the announcement of the banking “stress test” results. The very idea of the government “stress testing” private businesses would have been unthinkable not long ago. But so would the idea of the government bailing out failing companies, owning large chunks of private industries, hiring and firing CEOs, dictating executive pay, interfering in bankruptcy proceedings, and strong-arming private companies (I mean actually private companies, who aren’t in hock to Uncle Sam) into accepting however much on the dollar the President thinks they ought to accept.

The government and corporate worlds have become interpenetrated in a way that would have appalled our Founding Fathers. So what? some say. They lived in a simpler time, with an agrarian economy, and they could not foresee the intricacies of modern finance, and the changes in government that it would require. Maybe so, but the solutions we’ve come up with so far are not working. We may be more sophisticated and savvy than Adams and Jefferson, but we are surely no wiser.

In my column, I made the radical proposal of a new constitutional amendment to begin the fight to undo the unholy mess that corporate raiders and complicit politicians have made:

It’s been a long time since our Constitution has had a new amendment. I think the time has come, however, for an amendment to end privatized profits but socialized losses. The profit part I have no problem with. If companies are successful, more power to them. Let them reap their rich rewards, after paying a fair share in taxes. But when the going gets tough, I don’t ever want to see millionaires coming hat in hand to Congress to beg for my tax dollars to negate their losses. It’s not only shameful, it’s un-American.

Such an amendment — which I realize is utopian and will probably never come to pass — would be only the beginning, however. It would have to be followed up by a Balanced Budget Amendment, an idea that’s been around at least since the 1980s. I realize this is probably never going to happen, at least not without a cataclysmic depression or some other national calamity, anyway.

Our political system is so deeply, thoroughly corrupt that I believe it is incapable of genuine reform. Too many politicians in both parties have been bought and paid for by myriad special interests with millions of dollars at their disposal.

And don’t tell me that campaign finance reform is the answer. Anyone who thinks so is hopelessly naive. The rich and the ambitious will always find ways to circumvent such laws. The McCain-Feingold limit on individual contributions accomplished only two things: 1) it turned candidates into money-grubbing mendicants with their hands perpetually outstretched, and 2) it made the DNC and RNC, which are not subject to the limitations, far more powerful than they have ever been. Trying to legislate away the symbiosis between money and power is a fool’s game.

Too many politicians are driven by one goal, that overrides all others: getting re-elected, and for most, someday being elected to an even more exalted office. Almost every Congressman dreams of being a Senator, and almost every Senator dreams of being President.

But all men in all times have dreamed of power and sought it with every resource at their disposal. This simple fact of human nature is not enough to destroy a republic. The citizens must be complicit in that destruction, and surely we American citizens are. Election year after election year we return the same army of power-seekers to Washington. We do not hold them responsible for their actions.

Doing so would mean that we actually have to read the legislative reports in the newspaper or on the internet to see how our representatives voted. We would have to read enough background material to understand what that vote means. If we were really conscientious citizens, we would even inform ourselves about who was contributing to our representatives’ campaign funds, and how these individuals and companies and PACs and foundations were connected to the legislation being voted upon.

It’s not just that the vast majority of Americans are too lazy to do this, though a goodly portion of us are. Part of it is that the whole system is too big and too complicated for everyone to keep up with everything that goes on. I try to keep up with it, but there are days I feel like I’m drowning in information, that I just can’t read anymore because I have to cook dinner and do laundry and read to my kids and exercise and feed the dog and buy groceries and pay the bills and make dentist appointments and check the propane tank and water the plants and do all the other things that keep our household functioning.

Most of the people I know don’t even make the effort. They’re either overwhelmed by it all, or simply not interested. And that’s exactly the way the politicians and their big money contributors want it. They want it to be so damned complicated that the average American feels overwhelmed by even the idea of trying to keep up with it all.

Another useful constitutional amendment, as long as I’m setting forth my utopian agenda, would dictate that Congress shall pass no law that contains more than 2,500 words in its text, and that the proposed bill must be made available online for at least 72 hours prior to voting (with an exception for an emergency declaration of war in case our homeland is attacked). That way, every American could read the text of each and every piece of proposed legislation. I’m well aware that an appalling number of my fellow citizens would still not bother, but a lot more would than do now. As an added bonus, it would be awfully hard to hide pork in a bill that’s no more than ten double-spaced pages long.

When I was a naive young lady in school, I was taught that one of the functions of our wonderful watchdog media was to keep an eye on those shifty bastards in Washington so we wouldn’t have to. Obviously, a lot of my fellow Americans were taught the same thing, and thought they could just go about their business, concentrating on their careers, enjoying their time off, being active in the PTA and so forth, while Katie Couric et al. took care of the dull, dreary job of keeping the politicians honest. And we know how that plan turned out.

So why, you may be wondering, if I am so deeply cynical about American politics, do I bother being active in the Republican Party? Why, when my Facebook page says “Power corrupts” rather than “Conservative” or “Republican” where it asks for political views, do I dedicate my time and money to electing Republicans?

Because, as Voltaire said, the perfect is the enemy of the good. Even though a great many individual Republicans are deeply flawed people, and some of them abuse the power with which the public has entrusted them, their philosophy of government is still preferable to that of the Democrats. Think about it: if you’re cynical about government power, and had your choice between an enormous and ever-growing corrupt goverment, and a somewhat smaller corrupt government, wouldn’t you choose the latter?

Comments 17

  1. Dan wrote:

    Can you provide any evidence that the GOP’s rhetoric about smaller government translates to real life smaller government when they hold power? 2001-2006 provides not one shred of it. The closest they came was their tepid response to Hurricane Katrina.

    Posted 12 May 2009 at 4:02 pm
  2. Bowden Russell wrote:

    Wow, again Dan, you’ve got your Hyper-sensative Democrat view-point.

    Leave it to Dan, 100% anti-GOP.

    Posted 12 May 2009 at 4:10 pm
  3. Dan wrote:

    Bowden, can you provide any evidence that the GOP in power in fact leads to less government than the Dems in power?

    Posted 12 May 2009 at 4:18 pm
  4. Brigette Russell wrote:

    Can you provide any evidence that the GOP’s rhetoric about smaller government translates to real life smaller government when they hold power? 2001-2006 provides not one shred of it.

    Exactly the point real conservatives have been trying to make. Bush and the majority Republican Congress governed too much like Democrats.

    All the, “Oh, don’t tell me you lost because you weren’t conservative enough” mockery is just a talking point. We lost because our candidate was a RINO stiff and yours was young, eloquent and exciting.

    If you’d run someone who looked and talked exactly like Michael Dukakis, and said the same things Barack Obama did, while we ran someone who looked and talked exactly like Ronald Reagan and said the same things John McCain did, I think we both know how things would have turned out.

    Posted 12 May 2009 at 5:22 pm
  5. Dan wrote:

    Can you give an example of a “real conservative” who would in fact shrink government instead of actually mildly limiting the growth of parts of government that conservatives don’t like while hugely increasing the parts that conservatives do like? Because that’s what the last three Republican presidents have done, even supposed “true conservative” Ronald Reagan.

    Posted 12 May 2009 at 5:47 pm
  6. Brigette Russell wrote:

    Can you give proof…can you give an example…

    GOP philosophy is for smaller government. That’s what I want. GOP practice is all too often out of step with philosophy. That is a great pity. How does it make sense, however, that people who CLAIM to want a more activist government are going to give us a smaller one than the ones who CLAIM to want a smaller one but don’t deliver?

    How in God’s name do I know which Republican “would have” made govt smaller had he been elected in Bush’s stead? That’s just what if history, and it’s useless.

    This isn’t a high school history class, Dan. You can stop trying to hand out research project assignments.

    I grow increasingly bored with this approach — and with the repetitive nature of your comments — and you know what happens when people bore me.

    Posted 12 May 2009 at 6:14 pm
  7. Dan wrote:

    Yes, I know. You censor them.

    I suppose I should make it clear: Your stated preference is for a party that blatantly lies to you and you’re even aware of it. You can’t come up with any examples of “real conservatives” because they don’t exist outside the fairy tale echo chamber that the GOP has woven in their media machine. McCain had the strongest small-government controlled-spending credentials of any candidate the GOP put forth in 2008 but he was vilified by the echo chamber for his heresy on social issues such as immigration.

    Moderate Republicans aren’t being hounded out of the party because of their stance on small government. They’re being hounded out on issues that appeal strictly to social conservatives.

    Feel free to delete this comment for having the audacity to point out the plank in your eye.

    Posted 12 May 2009 at 6:51 pm
  8. Bowden Russell wrote:

    Bowden, can you provide any evidence that the GOP in power in fact leads to less government than the Dems in power?

    How many times have I told you, and I know I speak for Brigette on this one, we were diametrically opposed to the big spending of the Republican party whenever they have been in power?

    You keep making the same tired, old accusations calling upon Brigette or myself to answer for the faults of the Republican Party.

    WILL YOU NOW PLEASE STOP THIS?????

    Posted 12 May 2009 at 11:06 pm
  9. MIT Mommy wrote:

    I certainly find it interesting that ‘people on the street’ that I know do not seem at all alarmed at the way things are progressing. Honestly, I am very worried about my children’s future in this new world order.

    As much as the world is a complicated place, people need to be able to count on logical rules and fairness. I don’t mean ‘fair’ in the sense that everyone gets to share everything. That is fair in preschool.

    I mean the adult kind of fair, where people earn what their time is worth in the marketplace. Unfortunately, it appears that our society prepares people to work in the preschool type of fairness.

    Yeah, I really do think that if someone can sell ads because they are driving traffic for doing something rediculous on Youtube, they actually deserve that money.

    We vote with our dollars – well, that is, unless the government is voting with our dollars. In which case, we don’t really have a vote anymore.

    Posted 13 May 2009 at 3:08 am
  10. Lisa wrote:

    When you mentioned billions of dollars it made me think of the book I’m reading on the Great Depression. I’m amazed some of the same scenarios described that led up to the horrendous ’30’s sound like what we’re going through now. I wondered if we did not learn from our mistakes. I know history repeats itself. Few are active in business and politics today who went through the Depression. Maybe if we had longer life spans …!

    Posted 14 May 2009 at 1:44 am
  11. Brigette Russell wrote:

    I don’t mean ‘fair’ in the sense that everyone gets to share everything. That is fair in preschool.

    I mean the adult kind of fair, where people earn what their time is worth in the marketplace. Unfortunately, it appears that our society prepares people to work in the preschool type of fairness.

    Beautifully said, MIT Mommy! I was so busy with the kids yesterday, I didn’t even have a chance to look at the blog, let alone comment or post. Not sure why that’s happening more lately.

    Moderate Republicans aren’t being hounded out of the party because of their stance on small government. They’re being hounded out on issues that appeal strictly to social conservatives.

    That’s your narrative, Dan. Repeating it 8,000 times on my blog doesn’t make it any more true.

    Posted 14 May 2009 at 4:24 pm
  12. JT wrote:

    I don’t know that I agree that it is incapable of reform, but perhaps we need things to fall completely apart before we get to the point where it is capable of reform. We just keep pushing off the painful fix just like France did, borrowing more and more and more but the day may well come soon when no one will lend us money.

    Anyone who is not “cynical” about big government, under whatever guise, is a base moron or a communist, which is tantamount to the same thing. No person with sense could believe that the government can or should be doing what is doing now and what it is doing now was begun under the Bush administration. That makes it hard for Republicans to speak up. Not me as I was against it from the get go.

    It is funny, however, that the Democrats rant and rave about the rule of law when they are trampling contract and other rights on an almost daily basis. But it is in the name of necessity and I guess economic necessity is ok but necessity for security is not, at least when there is a man named Bush as the President.

    And then there is our dissembling Speaker of the House, Pelosi, who thinks that not only are her constituents fools (and I have no doubt the majority of them are), but we all are fools! She wants to have a “Truth Commission” (it is all I can do to keep from laughing as I write that) when she, by her own admission, knew that water-boarding was taking place by AT LEAST 2003 and said nothing against it – though someone else did. She argues (depending on the day) that she was mislead or that she was not allowed to speak up and adds that she concurred with Harman’s letter – apparently Harman thought she did have the right to speak up and Pelosi, though anonymously concurring in Harman’s sentiment, didn’t, then, see the need to memorialize her own disdain for “torture” by taking 20 mins to have staff member write a letter!!!!!

    Is there anyone in Washington who isn’t a liar?

    For the record, I don’t give a damn if the government water-boards suspected terrorists because the UN Convention on Torture isn’t worth the paper it is written on. One need only read it to see why.

    Posted 14 May 2009 at 10:38 pm
  13. Dan wrote:

    That’s your narrative, Dan. Repeating it 8,000 times on my blog doesn’t make it any more true.

    Feel free to point out what about John McCain makes him – as you yourself called him – a RINO that has to do with anything other than paleoconservative social issues.

    Posted 15 May 2009 at 1:04 am
  14. Bowden Russell wrote:

    Wow B, you were right. This guy always has to have the last word.

    And he can’t take a hint either.

    ;->

    Posted 15 May 2009 at 1:49 am
  15. Bowden Russell wrote:

    For the record, I don’t give a damn if the government water-boards suspected terrorists because the UN Convention on Torture isn’t worth the paper it is written on. One need only read it to see why.

    Actually, by the Geneva Convention, the US is 100% within it’s rights to do whatever they want with BFC.

    They aren’t soldiers, more of a Partisan, and they can therefore be shot and it’s legal to boot.

    Posted 15 May 2009 at 1:51 am
  16. JT wrote:

    Indeed, Bowden, you are correct on that. People whine about the UN Torture Convention and have no idea what it says, rather what it really means. If it were taken on its face NO ONE, except the Netherlands and maybe Sweden, would sign it.

    Posted 15 May 2009 at 3:53 am
  17. Julia wrote:

    Is there anyone in Washington who isn’t a liar?

    Indeed, one wonders.

    Posted 15 May 2009 at 5:28 pm

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