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“Enduring In Stranger Forms”: The Reagan Era Is Still Going

Religious leaders and religious communities are mostly united on the idea that we humans are bound together in a web of reciprocity and mutual support – and that there is something godly about such interdependence. Thus, for example, Gov. John Winthrop, adjuring the company that was about to sail from Southampton to the New World in 1630:

We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body.

Ethicist and historian Gary Dorrien finds very little of Winthrop’s spirit in the never-ending attacks mounted against progressive taxation by today’s Republicans: they all like the “City Upon a Hill” part of Winthrop’s sermon, but they ignore the part about what it takes, values-wise, to deserve that hilltop. – eds.

The Reagan era was supposed to have ended in November 2008—killed off by 30 years of flat wages and capitulation to Wall Street leading to a colossal financial crash. But today the Reagan era is enduring in stranger forms than ever.

Republican leaders want to bust unions and give another tax cut to corporations and the rich, plus eliminate taxes on capital gains and inheritance. They want to privatize Social Security, turn Medicare into a voucher program, reduce Medicaid to block grants, and abolish the Affordable Care Act. They want a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution that caps federal spending at 18 percent of the total economy, a figure last reached in 1966. They took the nation hostage in a debt ceiling drama to win an atrocious budget deal. And much of the Republican Party thrives on conspiracy theories about America’s first black president.

It should be politically fatal to lurch so far into a bizarre-world of anti-government ultimatums and related obsessions. But the Republican Party tells a story of our time that many Americans find compelling. It is the Reagan story about a great people being throttled by a voracious federal government. According to this story, government is always the problem, Americans are over-taxed, and America has a debt crisis because Democrats overgrew the government. Every Republican contender for president tells this story, notwithstanding that Americans are not over-taxed and it was chiefly the Republican Party that exploded the debt.

From the early 1970s through the 1990s, Americans averaged 27 percent of their income on federal, state, and local taxes. Today that figure is 23 percent, a 53-year low. As a percentage of GDP, American taxation is at its lowest level since 1950, 14.8 percent—well below the take of other wealthy nations.

More importantly, the debt problem is a byproduct of tax policies that have fueled massive inequality since the early 1980s. It cannot be solved with any moral decency without rectifying the legacy of Ronald Reagan, who led the Republican Party and many Democrats into temptation by contending that deficits don’t matter because tax cuts pay for themselves. When Reagan took office in 1981 the national debt was $907 billion and America was the world’s leading creditor nation. In eight years Reagan tripled the national debt and turned America into the world’s leading debtor nation. Reagan slashed the marginal tax rate from 70 percent to 28 percent, and the top rate on capital gains from 49 percent to 20 percent, fueling a blowout for inequality. George H. W. Bush, vowing to maintain Reagan’s winning approach, let the debt escalate to almost $4 trillion, which scared him enough to break his vow, raise the marginal rate to 35 percent, demoralize his party, and lose a second term.

The only break in America’s post-1980 record of escalating debt was the Clinton Administration, which raised the marginal rate to 39.6 percent and rang up budget surpluses of $70 billion in 1998, $124 billion in 1999, and $237 billion in 2000. Had the U.S. stuck with Clinton’s fiscal policy, the cumulative budget surplus would have reached $5.6 trillion by 2011, wiping out the national debt.

George W. Bush quickly squandered all of that. His tax cuts blew a $2 trillion hole in the deficit. He charged the expenses for two wars, officially over $1 trillion, with long-term costs that will triple that figure. He added a $1 trillion Medicare prescription drug benefit without paying for it either, creating the first entitlement in American history lacking a revenue source. Then the casino economy that Clinton and Bush deregulated crashed. In eight years the Bush administration piled up new debt and accrued obligations of $10.35 trillion, and doubled the national debt from $5.7 trillion to $11.3 trillion. Bush amassed more debt in eight years than America’s previous forty-two presidents combined, and the record keeps growing, as three-quarters of the debt amassed on Obama’s watch is the outgrowth of Bush’s unpaid tax cuts, unpaid wars, and unpaid drug benefit, and much of the rest is cleanup for the financial crash.

Obama inherited a deflating economy teetering on an outright depression, a skyrocketing debt, and two wars. When he took office the economy was shrinking by 6 percent annually. Had these losses continued, the U.S. would have been in a depression within 9 months of his inauguration.

Obama averted a depression with a modest, under-funded stimulus that Republicans condemned as outrageously radical, Socialist, and un-American. This absurd position enabled Republicans to win a huge political windfall, which has made the Republican Party crazier than ever.

Mitt Romney proposes to cut income tax rates by 20 percent and the corporate rate by 10 points, plus abolish the estate tax. Rick Santorum proposes to cut the marginal rate by 7 points, reduce the number of tax brackets from six to two, cut the corporate rate in half to 17.5 percent, and eliminate the estate tax and corporate taxes in the manufacturing sector. Newt Gingrich proposes to install a 15 percent flat tax for income and to abolish the capital gains tax, so one-percenters like Romney could pay no taxes at all instead of 14 percent. All of these plans wildly exceed George W. Bush’s disastrous cuts of 4 percent in the marginal rate and 5 percent in capital gains, with no compensating proposals to eliminate shelters and loopholes. All would reduce federal tax revenue by at least 40 percent.

We are supposed to rest assured that Republicans would find savings by breaking America’s social contracts on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. But Americans support Medicare by 85 percent, and over two-thirds believe that the wealthy should pay more taxes. This is the year, and the election, in which the Reagan era really needs to be ended.

 

By: Gary Dorrien, Religion Dispatches, March 7, 2012

March 8, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

” A Load Of Self-Serving Nonsense”: Be Civil, Not Like Those Jerks

With Rush Limbaugh’s toxicity becoming (even more) of a problem for the conservative movement, the Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis is issuing a call for “civility” in our discourse:

Conservatives, of course, will point to liberal examples of hatred and bitterness and say, “they do it, too!” Both sides do this. Both sides should be more civil. Both sides should show more character.

But since I suspect I’m reaching more conservatives here, let me make the case that you should not allow yourself to become obsessed with the political fight. In this, I agree with Peggy Noonan, who writes, “[I]n their fight against liberalism and its demands, too many conservatives have unconsciously come to ape the left. They too became all politics all the time.”

At the end of the day — at the end of our lives — shouldn’t our life’s work — our purpose — have been noble? (Yes, political participation is honorable. Fighting for freedom is certainly honorable. But it is noble only if done in an honorable manner.)

What a load of self-serving nonsense.

This is a favorite defense for conservatives who find themselves in the unfortunate position of being forced to apologize: “I’m sorry for what I did, which happened only because I ‘unconsciously’ acted like a liberal.” It’s a neat little trick for sort-of accepting responsibility while at the same time heaping a considerable portion of blame on your ideological foes.

Limbaugh himself made good use of it in explaining his “apology” to Sandra Fluke: “I don’t expect…morality, intellectual honesty from the left. They’ve demonstrated over and over a willingness to say or do anything to advance their agenda. It’s what they do. It’s what we fight against here every day. But this is the mistake I made. In fighting them on this issue last week, I became like them.”

I suppose it’s possible that the conservative, in his natural state, is a peaceful and honorable being who only manages to debase himself after succumbing to the left’s proprietary tactic of non-stop politicking. Of course, Lewis and other people who argue that are implying that the liberals are the ultimate cause of all incivility in our discourse. And I don’t find that argument to be particularly civil.

By: Simon Maloy, Media Matters, March 6, 2012

March 8, 2012 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“This Is Not A Game”: The Difference A “Different Decider” Makes

We may be headed for disaster in Iran, but at least this time we may be able to have a sane debate about it.

As the bleating of the Republican war caucus gets louder and louder, it’s beginning to sound a lot like 2002, when the Bush administration was treating us to daily news about the terrifying threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s vast arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, ready to incinerate us all in weeks if we didn’t launch a war. Some of the same people who made the case then are making the case now that we need to start bombing Iran. As you’re watching them, it’s hard not to shake your head and say, “Are these people insane? Do they actually believe that it’s a good idea for America to start another war in the Middle East? My god, are we getting on this train to disaster again?!?”

But before we all get too frustrated, it’s important to remember one thing: now matter how loud people like Liz Cheney may shout (and somebody please remind me why anyone should give a crap what she thinks), no matter how much infantile chest-beating we get from the Republican candidates (sample Mitt Romney quote: “I will station multiple aircraft carriers and warships at Iran’s door”), this will be a very different debate from the one we had back then. The reason is simple: We’ve got a different Decider.

It was extremely satisfying to see President Obama, at his press conference yesterday, treat the grunts of those lusting for war with Iran with something approaching the contempt they deserve:

Now, what’s said on the campaign trail — those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities. They’re not Commander-in-Chief. And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war. I’m reminded that the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our young men and women into battle, and the impacts that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy.

This is not a game. There’s nothing casual about it. And when I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we’ve been doing over the last three years, it indicates to me that that’s more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem.

Now, the one thing that we have not done is we haven’t launched a war. If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so. And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk.

There are lots of reasons to be worried about this problem, from the horrifying possibility that a President Romney would feel obliged to follow up on the absurd things he’s saying now, to the unpredictability of Israeli actions, to the potentially awful consequences of an Israeli strike that occurs with or without Washington’s approval. But whatever else happens, in this country we aren’t going to see those calling for sanity get marginalized the way they were in 2002 and 2003. In any debate, particularly one on foreign policy or matters of war, the media will define the debate by where the president and the administration stand. He’s the one with the biggest megaphone. Ten years ago, that megaphone was booming, “They’re going to kill us! Be afraid! Warwarwar!” and that became the axis around which the debate turned, enabling the people who turned out to be right to be dismissed as loons whose ideas didn’t need to be part of serious discussions about Iraq. Today that megaphone is saying—and appropriately so—”Just calm the f–k down.”

For now, anyway.

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, March 7, 2012

March 8, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tea Party Nation: “We Simply Will Not Accept Mitt Romney

What is it about southerners and Mitt Romney? As a life-long southerner, I can tell you a few things. First, we do not trust Mitt Romney. As one southernism goes, “He is as fake as a three dollar bill.”

Southerners believe in a number of things. First, we believe you are a man or a woman of your word. Want to make a southerner mad? Lie to us. We expect honesty in our dealings. It does not always happen, and southerners are not always paragons of virtue, but we do expect it. Mitt Romney has taken at least two positions on every issue, with the possible exception of how you spell his middle name.

In the South, we are self-reliant. We do not like the government, we do not trust the government, and we do not want the government running our lives. Two years ago, Nashville flooded. We took care of it ourselves. We did not wait for the federal government to come in and rescue us. In fact, Barack Obama has not visited Nashville since the flood. There must be more Democrats in New Jersey where he did visit during flooding last year. That’s OK. We did not need him, nor did we miss him.

In the South, we do cling to our religion and our guns. Romney backed gun control legislation in the past. In the South, gun control means being able to hit your target.

There is a reason why the South is called the Bible belt. Mitt Romney does not understand this. The establishment and the left laughed when tapes of Rick Santorum came out talking about Satan, “the father of lies.” They thought he was speaking another language. In the South, this is what we hear in church every Sunday morning.

The South is conservative. We know conservatives. We do not like Mitt Romney because he is not a conservative. There is simply no way Mitt Romney can win without the South and there is no way he can win the South.

Tennessee is a great example. Mitt Romney spent a lot of money in Tennessee and Rick Santorum spent very little and Santorum decisively defeated Romney. We simply will not accept Mitt Romney. He is not a conservative. And like John McCain in 2008, he will never carry the South.

 

By: Judson Phillips, Founder, Teaparty Nation; Published in U. S. News and World Report, Debate Club, March 7, 2012

March 8, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Territorial Tax System”: CEO’s Of Tax Dodging Corporations Push Congress To Cut Corporate Tax Rates

Several corporate CEOs representing the Business Roundtable, a lobbying group, were on Capitol Hill today to unveil a set of measures that they claim will boost the economy. Not surprisingly, some of the high-profile items are a cut in the corporate tax rateand shifting to what’s known as a territorial tax system:

Fresh out of a meeting with members of the Blue Dog Coalition, dozens of CEOs in town for a series of Business Roundtable policy and lobbying meetings today unveiled proposals to boost the economy.

The plan, billed as “Taking Action for America,” calls for a balanced federal budget, a reform of federal regulations and a lower corporate tax rate based on a territorial tax system, among others.

A territorial system, as well as cutting the corporate tax rate without raising more corporate tax revenue, are both misguided proposals. But the interesting thing about these particular CEOs pushing this particular policy prescription is that several of them already run corporations that pay little to nothing in taxes.

For instance, Boeing CEO Jim McNerny is part of the group calling for corporate tax cuts, despite the fact that his company has a negative federal tax rate for the last decade. Only twice in the last ten years has Boeing had federal tax liability in a given year, and between 2008 and 2010, the company made $9 billion in profits without paying any federal corporate income tax.

Andrew Liveris, president and CEO of the Dow Chemical, also joined the lobbying party, even though his company received nearly half a billion dollars in tax refunds in 2010. Proctor & Gamble’s CEO also participated, while heading a company very fond of exploiting loopholes to avoid taxes.

Corporate tax rates are already at a 40 year low. As billionaire investor Warren Buffett explained, “it is a myth that American corporations are paying 35 percent or anything like it…Corporate taxes are not strangling American competitiveness.” Yet corporate CEOs whose companies already pay literally nothing think driving rates down further is the answer to boosting the economy.

 

By: Pat Garofalo, Think Progress, March 7, 2012

March 8, 2012 Posted by | Corporations, Taxes | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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