From the Stool began as a man on the street column, attempting to analyze and often poke fun at everyday foibles. Early on the writer’s only purpose was to hopefully entertain the reader.
The column gradually morphed into a political commentary due to the performance of G. W. Bush and his team. Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rove combined to create a toxic environment in government that virtually eliminated civility and compromise. The Bush era ended with the TARP bailout of the banks to avert the potential collapse of the world economy, and left the worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression.
Two unfunded wars, massive tax cuts for the wealthy, and a refusal from either party to balance revenues and expenditures, put the Obama administration in a deep hole with few tools to keep the patient breathing.
Despite the assertion that “the fog has lifted” in the last column written on the night of Obama’s inauguration, it would have been impossible for anyone to have fast forwarded to the debt ceiling spectacle to which our leaders from both parties subjected the world over the past few months.
Whether the stimulus created or saved jobs, whether Obamacare will reduce healthcare costs by mandating universal coverage or not, our government borrows forty cents of every dollar it spends which can’t continue indefinitely.
To default on our debt, destroy the full faith and credit of the United States by downgrading our government bonds to junk status is a strategy only a handful of wackjobs could endorse. Yet, the leaders of both parties led their respective constituencies, like lemmings, to the very edge of the cliff for all the wrong reasons, and finally struck a deal, so unsatisfactory that it prompted a ratings downgrade which severely impacted our financial markets.
The inability of the world’s largest economy and only superpower to seize a real opportunity to fix over time a fixable problem created severe stress in financial markets worldwide, particularly in Europe.
Intractable doctrinaire positions regarding entitlement reform from the left, and opposition to prudent, long overdue revenue enhancements by the Tea Party diehards on the right, have convinced the majority of Americans and economists of every persuasion that we are unable to govern effectively. Congress gets a negative approval rating from ninety per cent of our population. If this doesn’t change quickly a global economic collapse is not unthinkable.
Obama may well deserve to be beaten by a strong centrist with the leadership skills to balance the budget in a manner which benefits the greatest number for the longest time.
At the moment with the likes of Romney, Gingrich, Perry, Paul, Santorum, Huntsman and Bachman building border fences while bringing God back into government, a solid alternative to Obama seems doubtful. Noteworthy that last week, Bachman, while polling less than five percent with Republican voters announced that Donald Trump was her first choice for a running mate. Trump also announced that he may reenter the race if he doesn’t believe the G.O.P. choice can win.
We must find a way to reduce spending on everything from defense to nation building, and from Social Security to Medicare. At the same time we need to raise revenues with a more equitable tax system. One percent of the population controlling ninety percent of the wealth, fifty percent of Americans paying no taxes, with huge subsidies for oil companies and others who neither need nor deserve it makes no sense.
The massive amount of special interest money on both the left and the right is further corrupting an already broken system, where getting elected takes precedence over the American dream of a good job, a good education, home ownership, affordable healthcare and a secure retirement.
I have written a number of columns in past years on social issues which for many are unresolvable, non-negotiable, and counterproductive. This is not the time to bring God into government, a fact our founding fathers well understood, or overwhelm the airwaves with issues pertaining to gun rights, abortion rights, gay rights, capital punishment, or the definition of marriage. In what has always been the most open and free society on earth, individuals for the most part, seem to resolve these quietly among themselves. Legislating morality never works. It didn’t for Prohibition and won’t if we repeal Roe v. Wade.
To lead the free world requires consensus, an enlightened direction which can garner the respect of world leaders. Clearly Obama is struggling. Is it possible that we would be better off with the current crop of G.O.P. hopefuls, whose collective character and accomplishments are hidden, if they exist, by their fanatical allegiance to the Tea Party and the evangelical right? At the risk of picking on Donald Trump, perhaps the most pompous and supercilious scion of privilege in reality television, building a presidential campaign around Obama’s citizenship, must look preposterous to the rest of the world.
For some reason the best and the brightest avoid public service, perhaps because they know they cannot be elected if they take moderate common sense positions. Bigger crowds are attracted by accusing Obama of being a socialist, or the Tea Party of being racist, than by pointing out that A-Rod could still afford his high stakes poker, and CEO’s could still own multiple Mc Mansions, if they had to resume paying tax rates in effect when George W. became president.
When the writer got his Social Security card at age thirteen, life expectancy for white males was a tad more than sixty-five. MetLife recently advised that as a relatively healthy seventy, actuarially I should reach eighty-seven, an objective, the wisdom of which my arthritic body parts question. Clearly the system did not envision the boomers collecting earlier, and living considerably longer. Adjustments that are fair and equitable must be made to assure the safety net survives. As Pelosi didn’t agree to members on the Select Committee who understood this, and Boehner didn’t appoint members who accept revenue enhancements, the Committee failed, as did Simpson-Bowles, a much more comprehensive program with the potential for a real solution over time.
We have held fast to the notion that we alone can afford guns and butter. We can no longer, however, afford weapons which are neither needed nor wanted simply because they create jobs. Defense spending at six and one-half times the rest of the world, like the entitlements, are unsustainable if we are to deal with our debt.
Campaigning is the antithesis of governing. The war chest required renders even the most principled politicians impotent. Who on the right would have the courage to say, “Enough with the defense of marriage; it’s the economy, stupid.” or on the left that excessive demands for uncompetitive wages and benefits by the UAW contributed to the collapse of the auto industry at the same time Japanese and Korean manufacturers built highly successful and profitable product on American soil. No union will ever agree that a giveback, even if only temporary, is a good idea.
A fresh start requires compromise and confidence. If the NFL and NBA billionaires and millionaires could compromise to save their respective seasons, is it too much to ask our political leaders to do the same to save the nation?
At age seventy, with a comfortable retirement on the water, it would be easier to sleep mouthing the same platitudes we have heard from politicians of every persuasion on the inherent superiority of the American
Way … free markets, entrepreneurship, and pullable bootstraps. While I believe it is not too late, the end of the runway is in sight. If those in the stern don’t move forward and start baling when the bow springs a leak the ship will sink.
Fifty percent of eligible voters vote. Median family income is only $50,000 a year. The number of people at or below the poverty line and those barely surviving, approach fifty million. The enormous disparity in living costs between urban and rural areas is so great that more middle class families are becoming homeless. The tax system is broken. To deny the potential catastrophic effects of our debt crisis is as ludicrous as denying climate change or evolution.
Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan, unwinnable wars of little merit financed with debt ought to convince us that nation building doesn’t work. While we must be able to defend ourselves and our global interests, exporting/imposing the American dream on others if ever a valid strategy clearly won’t fly when it isn’t working at home.
In the last thirty years virtually all of the gains from our economic growth have gone to the wealthiest one percent of our people. When tycoons like Buffett and Gates complain they are under taxed, openly criticize the chasm between worker and executive salaries, and rail against the fifteen percent tax rate paid by billion dollar- a-year hedge fund managers, there is clearly a lack of balance and fairness, and a growing number of average, ordinary citizens knows it.
Technology makes controlling information even in the most totalitarian environment impossible. Once Tiger Woods’, Newt Gringrich’s, Herman Cain’s and Bill Clinton’s trysts were consummated they became public. As dysfunctional and beholden to special interests as our elected officials are, our free press, Constitution, Bill of Rights and the internet should preserve our freedoms and democracy.
What’s missing on both sides of the aisle is the kind of courage Harry Truman showed in 1948 when he personally broke up a Ku Klux Klan gathering in Missouri, calling the hooded protesters shameless cowards and sent them home … a very unpopular act with his base. When Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act he knew the Democrats had lost the South, perhaps permanently.
The fact that the majority of Americans support abortion rights and oppose the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest, has no influence on the most electable centrists seeking the G.O.P. nomination as the “base”, somewhat less than twenty-five percent of potential voters, demands lock step allegiance to their minority beliefs. A pledge to Grover Norquist overshadows an obligation to at least listen to the majority of our citizens.
Conversely, Obama, as intelligent and articulate as any president, with the passion required to defeat the party establishment, and despite being black, get elected, will not challenge his base on entitlement reform, notwithstanding that AARP and organized labor reflect a minority point of view.
A constitutional amendment will not balance the budget. Only a government committed to balancing revenues and expenditures over time can restore fiscal sanity. That it is easier and safer to defend water boarding than to advocate adjusting Social Security eligibility, says much about the current condition.
At the moment there appears no likelihood of Pelosi and Reid, Boehner and McConnell setting aside the doctrinaire bias of their respective bases, and jointly developing a doable plan. Neither Obama nor the current crop of G.O.P. hopefuls shows any willingness to wade into the crowd.
A fresh start looks to be unachievable.